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staticneuron

Tomb Raider Raider: A Buried Treasure Unearthed

by staticneuron

posted March 14, 2013 @ 4:31PM
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filed under Games

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It’s safe to say that fans are used to seeing Lara Croft by now; since her debut in 1996, she has starred in over nine games, including a remake of her first adventure and a spinoff, been played by Angelina Jolie in two films and had not only a comic book tie-in but also an animated series. She has done battle with enemies ranging from tigers and humans to dinosaurs and mythological creatures and travelled to every continent on the globe. It's safe to say Lara has seen and done it all, so what can Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix possibly do to make this iteration feel different?

With this iteration to the series, simply called Tomb Raider, we see the familiar protagonist in a situation unlike any her exploits in previous years; this time, she stands in the middle of a dark and eerie tomb as she says “I hate tombs” with a younger and more naïve tone of voice. This paints the scene for this game's premise: Tomb Raider is an origin story that brings us back to the days when Croft first began hunting around tombs for treasure.

Given that it is, in fact, an origin story, fans cannot expect Croft to be quite as experienced and capable as we know her to be in previous games. As expected, she doesn’t perform the same kinds of somersaults and calculated jumping fans have come to expect, though there’s enough sliding around and lighting torches to satisfy veterans of the series. While there isn't much to say about the story without spoiling it, fans of Lara and the Tomb Raider series and fresh faces to the series will both be enthralled from start to finish.

Even beyond the fact that Crystal Dynamics opted to make a prequel for the series, the first thing players with very high-end AMD-powered computers will notice is the ability to use the new TressFX feature, exclusive only to the PC version of the game. As the name suggests, this is a powerful feature that greatly enhances Croft’s hair; while the effects are not absolutely perfect, enabling this effect really makes a huge difference in creating a sense of realism as every strand floats individually from one another. Of course, considering how impressive the graphics are in Final Fantasy games, we are not really surprised to find that another game made with Square Enix’s money has the same benefit.

The superior graphics come from beyond the hair as well; all throughout the game, it is easy to clearly read the expression on Croft’s face as she parades through a beautifully crafted environment that trickles puddles and flickers light from the torches within the looming stones of the tombs in which she must face.

As another, perhaps darker, testament to the developer’s attention to detail comes with the death animations. Sometimes, players make a misstep and come to a quick and sudden death where the screen fades to black before resuming at an earlier point. Other times, the game shows the exact moment and method in which Croft died, whether it was due to breaking her neck, becoming impaled or some other means of death. It’s a very interesting thing to consider that Crystal Dynamics thought of every intricacy, but it can bother some players who didn’t come here for a gruesome time.

One of the nicest things about Tomb Raider is that Croft makes a rather relatable character this time around, and being able to easily read all of her expressions certainly helps with that. Unlike previous games, Croft seems much more human this time around as she previously led a fairly normal life up until this point. We watch as she takes her first human life squeamishly and as she remarks how frighteningly easy it was to do – and apparently, it really was easy as she quickly resumes wreaking terror on the island as she kills nearly anybody in her path. Much like Far Cry 3's main character Jason Brody, its sad to see this plot point discarded so quickly; while the first kill shook both characters to their core, killing soon becomes second nature. It's great that games are exploring this in more depth but in the case of Tomb Raider, the route from "never killing" to "always killing" is a quick one.

And there will be a lot of killing. Tomb Raider rivals Uncharted in the amount of human opponents you must gun down. While the game eventually segues into the tomb raiding aspects the title promises, expect a lot of shooting to get to that part. However, the shooting isn't bad; instead, it's actually quite fun. Lara sports the "suddenly super popular out of nowhere" bow and arrow, also seen in Far Cry 3 and Crysis 3, which is a lot of fun to use and will most likely be your go-to weapon. An experience system and a wealth of other guns make the shooting bits just as good as the exploration ones.

While the game works largely well for the most part, there is the problem with not having a crouch button. Instead, the game decides whether or not the player should be stealthy at any given moment by automatically standing up or crouching whenever it deems appropriate. This may not bother players who tend to go for the direct route anyway, but those who prefer to remain stealthy at all times will definitely not appreciate the lack of manual toggle for this mechanic.

Outside of this problem, however, Tomb Raider offers excellent control of Croft and her environment. For example, once she leaps off in one direction, players can change their minds and switch direction while in mid-air. While this is a bit of an immersion breaker as Crystal Dynamics tried to make this game as realistic as possible, it is still nice to have a solid bit of control in a game that requires such precision in platforming.

Though the direction differs from what players are used to at first, Tomb Raider will not alienate its veteran fans. In a series where cinematic touches proved to be common throughout each game, this year’s iteration retains this but does not restrict the player’s movements just to get the best Hollywood shot in the game; the most that the game funnels players in a linear path is to guide them to clear the way to a new area when it is otherwise not accessible. In an industry where most games seem to hold the player’s hand and guide them to the end, this is a welcome change.

Of course, Tomb Raider is far from a sandbox game. Still, there are plenty of secrets to find throughout the island, such as salvage that will help Croft upgrade her weapons or journal entries to help provide some more context to the world in which she currently resides. Players can easily find the game takes several extra hours thanks to the addiction of searching every nook and cranny for a new hidden secret.

This year, Tomb Raider features a multiplayer mode that is a strange counterpart to the single-player mode. While the single-player mode was built on some of the best ideas that other developers have had in the last few years, the Eidos Montreal-developed multiplayer seems to have been built on some of the worst ideas that other developers have had in the last few years – including putting multiplayer in a game that neither needs it nor would benefit from it.

In the multiplayer mode, several players are pitted against one another to try and find medical supplies, kill one another or capture radio towers, depending on the game mode chosen. Though there is a leveling system and a nice amount of customization options, it just doesn’t make sense to have a multiplayer mode for this game at all; the single-player is more than enough game for players to enjoy. Tomb Raider is another in a long line of games where multiplayer felt like it was mandated just to check off a box in a list of features the publisher wanted, rather than what the developer wanted; the fact multiplayer was outsourced to a different studio altogether is indicative of this.

We have no doubt that this game will be a big hit that successfully reboots the series, even in spite of some of the minor flaws that it sports.

 

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