Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tomb Raider Review (2013, PS3)

Why I tried the game: I guess the main reason was recommendation by friends for this one. I remember everyone hyping it when it first came out, but I didn't really believe it. Honestly I hadn't watched any gameplay videos, and I don't even really recall reading the Game Informer review. I've been waiting for it to dip down to $20, but I had a friend who was going to trade it in to gamestop so I grabbed it from him before he did. I'm a fan of the Uncharted series for sure (not as much as others) so when I kept hearing the comparisons of the two, my interest piqued. I'm super glad I gave this a try. I also played the Tomb Raider games quite a bit as a young'n, and can remember how awesome the second game seemed to me (don't recall playing the first). So while this was fun to play, I also got a neat trip down memory lane in the process.

Likes: I guess I should address the elephant in the room first off. The comparison to Uncharted. Uncharted is a game with similar gameplay, so it should be considered when I review this. I enjoy Uncharted. I like the gameplay of UC, and I really like the stories and the characters of UC. Lady Croft is obviously much easier on the eyes for a man than Nathan Drake (although nobody can deny Mr. Drakes charisma or handsomeness!) and is rendered pretty beautifully by the PS3. I remember my mind being blown by the original Lara Croft (c'mon, I was like 7 years old), again by Angelia Jolies role of Lara, and now again by this Lara. She is younger and doesn't have the ridiculous breasts from the original game. They've made her much more realistic (not just graphically) in their design. While shes lacking Drakes charm, she seems to make up for it in determination and instinct.

The gameplay is pretty excellent. I only ran into one part in the game (sliding down a river bed) that was genuinely frustrating. Most of the times I failed to complete a jump or screwed something up, it was because I wasn't paying full attention to playing. While Uncharted is mostly run, jump, climb, repeat, Tomb Raider added some flavor to that equation by including an axe for climbing, and a quick time event for slipping off ledges. The camera angles are always snappy and make intricate sequences a breeze to manipulate. There is rarely any confusion about where you should go, or where you should climb. The climbing wasn't constant as it is in Uncharted either. Uncharted is pretty much climbing, shooting, or puzzle solving in 3 equal portions. TR has less climbing and feels more naturally integrated into the experience.

I'm generally not a fan of "open world" games, but this one pulled it off quite stylishly. It was completely optional to explore and I never felt lost due to the convenient "survivor sense" (a simple press of L2 reveals the destination marker indicating which direction you should be heading). The optional tombs are really neat and require a bit of puzzle solving finesse (a la Uncharted) and didn't feel unnecessary or boring (although I went back to a few of them after completing the game). Theres a handy fast travel available via campsites scattered across the island. Each quick travel is very nicely spaced, and returning to a previous area isn't annoying time spent searching for a campsite. 

The actual shooting and killing of the bad guys is comparable to most other TPS games, and didn't really feel like anything special. I don't think games like this NEED to feel like anything special though - the delivery of the experience is more through the environment and story than by clearing an area of enemies. The arsenal range is acceptable, and not too large. Many games (Uncharted again) have more than 4 guns, and sometimes it is difficult for newbies like myself to remember which ones are the good ones (especially when they're named "XYZ223403" or something equally stupid). 

The few RPG elements available in the form of upgrades are a welcome addition too. All too often game designers stick these things in places they don't belong, but it felt very natural leveling up myself and my weapons. There aren't "skills" persay to choose from, but various refinements to existing gameplay elements that feel natrual (and, dare I say, would probably be naturally attained through actually having to "survive".) 

 Dislikes: Well, the story wasn't anything to write home about. I didn't care about the characters (except Lara). I can't even tell you any of their names to be honest. Although Sully doesn't have a huge involvement in Uncharted - hes very memorable and shares some of the spotlight in each game. Laras crew were just a bunch of nameless stereotypes as far as I'm concerned. Also, the actual story seemed somewhat weak. Uncharted always seemed to focus on something recognizable to everyone (fountain of youth for example). TR focused on a random island tribe that I have never heard of, nor can I remember the name of. If I bothered to google it and it turns out to be a real legend, that is pretty rad. I guess it taught me something, but I'd rather have had it focus on something recognizable (someone needs to do Atlantis damnit!).

The multiplayer was just tacked on. This is a growing trend...and while I shouldn't complain about extra content, it was completely unnecessary. I don't know anyone raving about the multiplayer, and I feel like it should have been more optional tombs instead of a lame last minute multiplayer. I might be biased (I rarely play ANY multiplayer) but an optional co-op is always preferable to a random arena based team game. In my opinion, these things are best left to the big dogs and just take away from resources that could have been used in a way to make the single player experience better.

I can't really find much else to complain about with this one. It was a very pleasurable experience, and I'm excited to give it some post-game play (which I very rarely do, unless it is an RPG I fell in love with). 

 Conclusion: I'd like to definitely recommend this to anyone who likes TPS games. If you're a fan of Uncharted, definitely give this a look on the off chance that you haven't. It has really raised the bar as far as smoothness of gameplay, and I hope to see the next installment of Uncharted borrow a few things from this game. Although it lacked an excellent story, the environments are pretty to look at and the entertainment value of the game is well worth the investment. Maybe do as I did and try to find the game for about $20...for that money, there is plenty of game to enjoy!

 8 out of 10 climbing axes.


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