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Game Review: Tomb Raider

Sorry for the delay in posts, but I’ve been dealing with both personal illness as well as my dad being really sick.  Plus, unlike most people, I don’t get off for Christmas.  But, in spite of living a house that’s suddenly become a hospital ward, I did manage to finish playing Tomb Raider… by which I mean the original Tomb Raider, or Tomb Raider 1, or whatever it’s supposed to be known as now.  Seriously, is there a rule that when you reboot a series you have to give it the exact same name as the first one in the series?

I noticed Lara doesn't actually have a braid in the game

I noticed Lara doesn’t actually have a braid in the game

In the first Tomb Raider, as with all the games in the series, you play as Lara Croft — an adventurous, gun-totting explorer/archeologist.  In her first game, she’s hired to find an artifact called the Scion by a business woman.  But, as is usually the case in these stories, her employer betrays her.  So Lara sets out to collect the other pieces of the Scion first while dealing with wild animals, hired goons, mummies & eventually an ancient demigod.  Her adventure eventually takes her to the great pyramid of Atlantis.

Dinosaur for no real reason

Dinosaur for no real reason

Tomb Raider is primarily an adventure-platformer with some action thrown in.  Exploring the various tombs & caverns Lara finds herself in is the main draw.  And Lara is very equipped at exploration.  She’s extremely acrobatic, with a range of moves to help her navigate tricky jumps, ledges & hazards.  You’ll have to use her skills properly to reach various key items needed to progress through the game, as well as to discover secret areas which contain all sorts of goodies.  You’ll also face a variety of enemies, from natural to very unnatural, that you’ll have to deal with.  Lara starts the game with dual pistols, which have unlimited ammo, but picks up more powerful weapons over the course of the game.

Narrative: The story is a bit threadbare.  I mean, you can tell what the overall plot is, but it’s just presented very sparingly.  All of the plot twists were a bit like, “Oh, okay then.”  Yeah, I didn’t see them coming, but how could I when most the story is only in the few cutscenes?  It just felt… disjointed.  There were a lot of things I didn’t understand, & some information just came in out of nowhere.  For example, why did Natla try to have Lara killed after she got the first piece if she’d already hired her to find it?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to just pay her for her job & not try to kill her, thus not giving her any reason to hunt you down?  And where was the genetic mutation bomb they just dropped on us in the last few levels hinted at?  As for the characters, most of them are throwaways — even the main boss — except for Lara.  And even though there aren’t a lot of section with Lara talking, I think the game does a good job of building character through action, even when it’s your own actions.  The game paints a picture of an adventurous, intelligent, capable woman.  She acts on her own & does, ultimately, what she feels is right.  But she also doesn’t take herself too seriously, able to joke & roll with the punches.  So overall, I feel that the experience with Lara’s character is able to redeem the lackluster story a bit.  Score: 3

Not sure if unintentional bad camera or intention attempt to show off Lara's figure

Not sure if unintentional bad camera or intention attempt to show off Lara’s figure

Mechanics: It took me while to get used to the controls for the game because it uses the arrow keys instead of WASD for movement, but if found that overall the controls worked really well for this type of game.  They seem to be really complicated at first; Lara’s repertoire of moves makes it necessary to have lots of different commands.  For example, holding Shift makes her walk & prevents her from walking off ledges.  Different types of moves are necessary to get over different obstacles, & after a while you’ll quickly recognize what you need to do.  You get in this Zen state of mind where you really feel like part of the game.  Even when I messed up, it was impressive just what you can make Lara do.  The first time I accidentally sent Lara into a diving long jump, which I’m sure was supposed to end in a roll, she landed awkwardly & broke her neck, killing her instantly.  I couldn’t help but laugh at how the whole scene played out.  I also really enjoyed the exploration aspect.  While most of the puzzles themselves just involve finding the right key item to unlock the door, the puzzle seems to be more about finding the right path to get to the item.  Avoiding the traps was actually a lot of fun for me, even when it felt like sometimes the game was trolling me.  Expect to have a lot of Indiana Jones moments.  That being said, however, there are problems with the controls.  One of the biggest ones for me was the lack of proper camera control.  Aside from the Look Around button, which only lets you move the camera as far as Lara could naturally look, you can’t control it.  It makes for some very annoying sections when you’re trying to line up a jump but can’t see where you’re going or can’t see around the corner of a corridor.  It also, surprisingly, makes it difficult to get around sometimes.  Because you can’t control the camera the way you can in modern games, I often found myself having to stop, turn in the direction I want to face, then move forward again.  There’s also a problem with the collision detection; expect to get stuck on corners a lot.  The game is also very picky about standing in just the right spot it interact with an object, which is very frustrating when you’re trying to pick up ammo underwater but can’t get it just right.  I also had some trouble with the auto-aim, where Lara would stay locked onto a dead enemy instead of targeting the very alive one trying to kill me.  And while I really enjoyed the exploration aspects of the game, I felt that towards the end it focused too much on killing things.  Particularly in the Atlantis level, where you spend your time shooting things in between finding the next lever to pull.  So overall, while for the most part the mechanics work really well, there were a lot of frustrations as well.  Score: 4

Everyone is so shiny

Everyone is so shiny

Aesthetics: It’s hard to honestly criticize the graphics of a game that’s over a decade old.  The graphics are obviously dated, so expect a lot of jagged edges.  That being said, they’re serviceable.  You can tell what everything is supposed to be.  Actually, in some cases the jagged edges work well with the game’s platforming because the edges help you see where you can go.  You’ll quickly recognize what angles are too steep for Lara to make.  There are a few funny aspects to the graphics, however.  I found the snarling faces of the lions hilarious, but there are also a lot of times when you can see through walls to the various doors, traps of items that are on the other side.  The cutscenes fair a bit better, however.  The voiceacting is a bit high-&-miss.  Lara & Natla’s voices are okay, but the others are your typical stereotypes.  The sound design is pretty good as well.  Generally there’s no music so you can soak in the ambient noise for the level.  The sound cues for the enemies are very important & always give a good clue as to where they are in relation to Lara.  The music is decent as well when it’s there.  Score: 3

Replayability: Average.  Each level has secret areas that you probably won’t be able to find on your first run.  The game also keeps track of your times, kills, & item pick ups, so you can replay for bragging rights if that’s your thing.  But technically there’s no reason to play it more than once.  Score: 3

Breakdown

untitled

Overall Score: 3

Final Word: It’s tricky to review such an old game because certain aspects were probably more impressive when they first came out.  However, if you can overlook the dated graphics, a few control issues, & want to play a fun adventure game, Tomb Raider is worth checking out.

– GamerDame

Title: Tomb Raider
Console: PC, PS, PSN, Sega, iOS
Rating: T
Developer: Core Design
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: November 14, 1996
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Filed under Action, Adventure, PC, Platformer, Reviews

Games I’m Looking Forward to After E3 ’12

Another E3 has come & gone, leaving behind expectations for the coming year.  Honestly, I don’t pay much attention to the hardware news.  I’m only interested in the games.  So what games have piqued my interest this time?  For the sake of simplicity, I’m only including games on this list that I can actually play.  This means that even if a PS3 game looks good, since I don’t have that system I can’t play it, & therefore it won’t be listed here.

Dishonored

  

360, PS3 & PC

A brand new IP being published by Bethesda, Dishonored sounds less like Elder Scrolls & more like Deus Ex.  I guess that makes sense, given that the lead designer worked on both the Deus Ex & Thief series.  According the Wikipedia, the game is classified as a “first-person Neo-Victorian/steampunk stealth action videogame.”  Talk about a mouthful.  I have to admit, I love the steampunk genre, but it’s sadly underused in games.  The world of Dishonored looks to satisfy my empty cravings, though.  When I first saw the game, I thought it was your standard fantasy setting.  But the new trailer shows the right combination of fantasy, steampunk technology, magic & Victorian fashion to get me excited.

The player takes control of Corvo Atano, a former bodyguard for the Empress who is framed for her assassination.  While imprisoned, Corvo is given supernatural powers by a mysterious being called “The Outsider” to exact revenge on the government (in fact, the tagline for the game is “Revenge Solves Everything”).  After escaping, he becomes an assassin, becoming known for his mask a la V for Vendetta.  The game aims to be very open-world & allows the player to approach each mission however they like.  The powers you gain sound very fun & unique & affect how you play the game.  In one interview, the developers mentioned you could possess a rat to find a secret way inside a building, or slow time while a guard is shooting you, possess the guard & walk him in front of his own bullet.  Each player will have their own experience with the game.  According to a member of the Escapist staff who played the demo: “My first playthrough was entirely stealthy and I even bypassed some of the obstacles the designers had assumed could not be bypassed.  I can always tell a good open world game when it allows players to do things that the designers not only didn’t intend, but also never considered were even possible.”

The game is set to be released later this year.

Tomb Raider

  

360, PS3 & PC

I already talked about the new Tomb Raider game after last year’s E3, but I’m still excited for it.  At this year’s E3, Crystal Dynamics showed a new trailer as well as a gameplay demo.  Both shed a bit more light on the story as well as the mechanics.  Some fans have criticized the reboot for changing Lara too much, but I don’t think this is the case.  Sure, Lara Croft was one of the first really successful badass heroines in gaming, but do you think she was always like that?  This game tells the story of how Lara got to be so tough.  Personally, I love stories of people being forced to become heroes.

The demo clearly shows that, while less experienced & more vulnerable than in previous games, Lara is every bit as tough as before.  She sneaks around, takes out bad guys with a bow, pushes them off cliffs & blows them up, & falls off cliffs.  Gameplay resembles Uncharted… or is it the other way around since the original Tomb Raider influenced Uncharted?  A lot of sections require quick reactions.

The game is set for release on March 5.  Let’s hope they don’t push it back again.

DmC: Devil May Cry

  

360, PS3 & PC

I have to be honest, I’ve never played any of the Devil May Cry series.  I do intend to correct this with the HD release, hopefully before this game comes out in January.  Another reboot, DmC takes place even before Devil May Cry 3 with a teenage Dante as he explores a city called Limbo Town, a demonic city parallel to the human one.  This demon city influences the humans, controlling them without them even knowing.

As with Tomb Raider, DmC stirred up a lot of controversy with its first trailer, mainly due to Dante’s new appearance.  The dark-haired teen was at first assumed to be a completely new character.  But the reasoning behind this appears to be that Dante hasn’t come into full control of his demonic powers yet.  This is supported by the fact that his hair does turn white during combos.  Personality-wise, Dante’s still the same trash-talker as always, though perhaps a bit more punk-ish.  But since the gameplay demo, the game has gotten more positive opinions.  The combat seems very similar to previous titles, very fast & combo heavy.  Dante has a similar set of skills, such as knocking enemies into the air, juggling them with some gunplay before hovering in midair to slash them with his sword.  There’s also a demon/angel mechanic, where some moves have two different versions.  The example of this I saw in the demo was a move that’s demon version pulls enemies to you while the angel pulls you towards them.  Devil May Cry is also known for challenging gameplay, & it sounds like Capcom’s keeping with that tradition, as the developers said they start making the game at the highest difficulty & then adjust for the lower levels.

Hopefully the game will stay true to the franchise while breathing some fresh life into it.

Sleeping Dogs

  

360, PS3 & PC

Having been compared to Yakuza, Sleeping Dogs was originally a True Crime game before it was bought by Square Enix.  An open-world crime drama, Sleeping Dogs has you playing as undercover detective Wei Shen who has to infiltrate the Triad, the criminal underbelly of Hong Kong.  Wei faces many moral dilemmas as he must appease the Triad to climb their ranks while at the same time still holding to his code of justice.

The world of Sleeping Dogs looks very detailed.  I’ve never been to Hong Kong myself, but the city looks very impressive in the game.  Not only that, but according to the developers, there are over 100 side missions available for those willing to explore.  The game features a robust combat system with both martial arts & gunplay.  An interesting feature is the cinematic aspect of the game.  Wanting the player to feel like an action movie star, there are certain moves that slow the action down in this Wire-fu effect.  These can include vaulting over obstacles while shooting or flipping over cars.  Sleeping Dogs also has RPG elements, where you gain experience & skills as you use them.

The game comes out this August, & I really hope it lives up to its potential.

Watch Dogs

  

360, PS3 & PC

Ubisoft just announced this game at their E3 Press Conference, so there isn’t a lot of information on it yet.  However, from what I’ve seen, it has a very interesting premise.  The game is set in a slight alternate timeline where all technology is controlled by a Central Operating System (ctOS).  This includes all of your personal information, the way you think habits, etc.  The protagonist of the game is Aiden Pierce, a skilled hacker who can use the ctOS in many different ways to accomplish his goals.  He can hack phone signals, tamper with traffic lights & even view the information on people around him.  His exact goals aren’t known yet, but from the demo I saw he appears to be a vigilante.

The game is set to be an open-world action-adventure game.  Aiden can accomplish his goals in a variety of ways, from distracting people to using guns & melee.  The demo showed him hacking a traffic signal as his target passed through, causing a multi-car accident to trap the target.  After taking out the target & his guards, he stole a car & hacked a drawbridge to rise, blocking police pursuit.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more information on this game as time goes on.  A tentative release date of 2013 has been given.

In the next few days I’ll be posting an Honorable Mentions page, highlighting games that looked good but that I won’t be able to play.

– GamerDame

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