Friday, 21 June 2013

Tomb Raider - Review (PS3)

Due to scenes of brutal violence, this game in not for Little Gamers.

Tomb Raider is one of gaming's great franchises. In the Nineties, the emergence of Lara Croft was especially important for me. It was the game that I got a Orchid Righteous 3D card for. It allowed me to lord over my common PlayStation owning friends with the superior looking Lara. How times have changed, as I have just played through the newest Tomb Raider game on my PlayStation 3, whilst my friends all played on the PC version and told how much better it looked on the PC.
Oh well, it doesn't detract from the fact that this latest Lara Croft outing is an amazing action title and one that puts the Tomb Raider franchise right back on the map. Since the last Tomb Raider outing in Underworld, Lara has seen the competition take her crown for being the best all around jumping, shooting treasure hunter in the world., by one Nathan Drake. Well she wants it back and there is only way known to come back to the top of your game.

Its time for a gritty reboot!

This new Tomb Raider game sees Lara on her first expedition, fresh faced and innocent, heading off into waters unknown with a crew of fellow scientists and adventurers. Naturally, following Lara's lead they change course to head into the Dragons Triangle, in search of the lost island of Yamatai. Naturally, the ship is immediately shipwrecked in a violent storm which sees all the surviving crew stranded on the island of Yamatai (Handy for the story!). Lara finds herself separated and captured by someone and suspended upside down in a cave. She escapes and attempts to reunite with her shipmates.

The opening section, sees a much different Lara Croft, to what we are used to. She is young and  inexperienced. Doing the things she needs to survive, have an emotional impact on her. Killing her first deer in order to eat, sees Lara apologizing to the deer. When finally reunited with her friends, they encounter the inhabitants of the island are not very friendly and during a struggle with one of them she is forced to shoot the man, at close range. Lara is visibly shaken up by the whole experience of taking a life. So sets the tone for the game. Far from the colorful eye candy that is Nathan Drakes world, Tomb Raider is a bleak affair. Apart from the struggle for survival that Lara faces, which is made worse by her apparent addiction to inuring herself. The island itself is a harsh and brutal environment. Made up of harsh mountains and valleys with very little vegetation. This is made even worse by the weather relative to the island, with high winds bombarding sections. Not a place you would want to go on holiday.

Lara's journey sees her attempt to rescue colleagues with relative success and by that I mean a lot people she tries to save ends up dead. Through the trauma of all of this death and captivity at the hands of various inhabitants, you start to see the heroine that we know starting to emerge.

The game itself takes a more cinematic approach than previous Tomb Raider titles and alot of that is influenced by Naughty Dog's Uncharted series. Rather than copy that template, Crystal Dymanics have amplified the experience adding all the thrills and set pieces that is expected from a modern action adventure title, but still kept in the puzzle element that made the original games so well loved. Tombs still make an appearance, although they are smaller single physic puzzle based levels in order to gain salvage. There are several larger areas scattered throughout the game world and these act as open world areas in which Lara can hunt animals and find collectables. These actions all add to your salvage and XP, which can be used to upgrade your Survival Instincts (abilities) and add modifications to your gear.

The gritty new tone of the game carries on with the combat. Bloody and brutal is a new direction for Lara and something doesn't sit quite right with it. Her bow can be upgraded to use fire arrows which send her assailants screaming engulfed in flames to death. Shotguns blast bodies through the air with blood streaming from the wounds. It is the melee combat that takes proceedings to a Tarantino level of violence. After some upgrading to her abilities Lara can use her Rock Pick as a melee weapon to finish off opponents by shoving it through their skulls. Sure, games have been more violent than this in the past, but after spending the first apart of the game shell shocked and horrified by the violent acts she had enacted on people, it seems odd that she then turns into a one woman murder machine by halfway through the game.

Of course, its a video game and it would be a pretty boring game if Lara went through the whole game just trying to talk things out with the crazies who live there. As games become more serious, smart and more real, when they suddenly drop back into video game mode in order to ramp the action up, its going to look pretty odd and kind of betrays the effort put in to make it more serious, smart and real.

Putting that aside, Tomb Raider delivers an action packed extravaganza filled with chases, gunfights, death defying leaps and the occasional quick time event. Action set pieces manage to move the story forward without feeling out of place. These range from escaping from the path of crashing cargo plane, to making your way across the side of a bridge, whilst your mentor picks off enemies from distance with a sniper rifle. It never quite reaches the heights of Uncharted 2's train sequence, but it is damn close.

Of course, platforming still plays a huge part of the game and Lara manages to scramble her way around the islands treacherous cliffs with relative ease. Gone though is the graceful elegance of her previous adventures, no handstands or swan dives here. The rock pick can be used to gain access to higher areas, but also can be used to latch onto outcrops of rock mid leap, which can lead to edge of your teeth moments.

Tomb Raider is a excellent example of what an modern action adventure should be about. It has all the thrills and spills that you would expect along with a story that keeps you glued to the game until the end credits pass. It should also be said that Tomb Raider should now be the template in which all series reboots should be treated. Smart, Gritty and still faithful to the original character.


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