Tuesday 12 March 2013

Tomb Raider - Review

Tomb Raider is a franchise that's stuttered along like gamings bad joke for a while.  Lara Croft has long since been stripped (literally if you had the right cheat code) of any dignity but if anyone was ripe for a re-boot it was her.  To be honest there hadn't been much of a 'boot' in the first place, the early games preferring enormous puzzles over back story, so an origin made sense.  What's been delivered is something new, for Lara at least and something genuinely compelling and tense.  At times Tomb Raider out Nates Nate.  Uncharted beware, there's an old kid on the block with some new tricks.

This is, lets be clear, a fresh start.  This is not the Lara of the nineties' origin story, this is a Lara for a new breed of gamer for a new type of game.  There's polish aplenty here, the game is, visually stunning, easily on a par with Uncharted.  Games these days like to have a story, you can't just release a platformer, give your protagonist an unlikely pair of breasts and a plummy accent, there needs to be depth.  The set up here sees Lara on an archaeological trip to find a lost Island.  Her and the crew are left stranded on the Island when a storm smashes their ship on to the shore.  Lara hasn't even shot anyone at this point, there's no dual wielding of pistols here, her first job is to make a bow and do some hunting.  Before long she and her crew are being kidnapped by the locals.  It's a brutal start, shockingly brutal at times, the game doesn't hold back on the violence one bit.

Before long Lara is taking enemies down with headshots from her trusty bow and the jump from wide eyed innocent to cold blooded killer is a little jarring, games really do need to work on their narrative structure.  Once you're past the sudden shift Lara becomes a delight to control.  Skills are unlocked as you progress and they, for once, feel like natural progressions as she picks new weapons and increases their potency.  Areas are big and non linear(ish).  You're free to explore them as much as you like and it's worth poking around for the extras, in particular the entirely optional tombs.  Within these there are no enemies, just an old school Tomb Raider puzzle to complete.  Although short in nature the tombs help to flesh this Lara out and take us back to those classics from the PSone and missing them out would make the character arc feel considerably less valid.

If there's one minor gripe it would be the quick time events which really pull you out of the experience.  Games in general need to ditch them but when every one of them just uses the same button over and over again they become completely redundant.

By the games conclusion Lara is as she should be, a platforming maestro and a gun toting heroine.  There are some nice nods to the past, but for the most part Tomb Raider rises above what has gone before and finally delivers a TR game for this generation of console.  The platforming is more satisfying than Uncharted and the gunplay is equally as tense and exhilarating.  And the deaths...?  The deaths (and you will die a lot) are horrifically gruesome.

Make no mistake, Lara Croft is back.

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