To me the year of 2013 has started off with a fizzle rather than a full on bang. Amidst disappointing sequels and a real lack of anything fresh and exciting, the list of new releases so far has left me a little disappointing. Leave it to Square Enix though to revitalise a once sinking series and with it deliver an adventure full of plenty of excitement, atmosphere and genuine sense of fun. Enter Tomb Raider.
Rather than continuing where previous Tomb Raiders left off, the latest is instead a prequel of sorts showing us the origins of Lara Croft. On an expedition with a small group of colleagues, a huge storm causes their ship to wreck on a mysterious island. It isn’t long before Lara and her friends quickly realise the inhabitants are anything but friendly taking many of them hostage and attacking on sight. What then occurs is Lara’s transition from young, innocent lady to hardened survivor as she learns not only how to make the most of her constantly dwindling situation, but also the important lesson of kill or be killed.
While the story and its characters are a little generic and at times dull, it’s the rapid change in Lara herself from scared and harmless to a man killing machine that takes you out of the experience somewhat. Understandably Lara’s first “accidental” kill leaves quite an impression on her as she cries and questions her actions in the pouring rain. Five minutes later however she’s pulling off headshots and smashing heads with rocks without so much as a pause. Later in the game this isn’t so much a gripe as eventually seeing Lara transform into a more confident, vicious heroine, shouting back at enemies and almost taunting them is exhilarating to see. It’s just a shame her initial transformation feels too abrupt.
It’s easy to watch this game being played and immediately make connections to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. After all you have plenty of gun fights, climbing, treasure collecting and of course huge set pieces now made famous by the series. However Tomb Raider manages to hold its own offering a far grittier and more open adventure.
As you begin the game, Lara will start off with next to nothing but the clothes of her back relying on her platforming ability and handling of the basic bow and arrow combination. Almost every successful action rewards Lara with experience which can be used to upgrade her hunting, combat and survival abilities along the way.
Within the first couple of hours you’ll see plenty of unreachable sections that beg for a return once the correct tool has been obtained. Much like the Metroid series, as you discover areas of the island you’ll also come into possession of handy new items and weapons like a pick axe or pulley that can be used to unlock hidden extras and collectables. It’s this sense of freedom and exploration that a game like Uncharted sorely lacks.
Shooting plays a big part in the game and thankfully this part of the game feels great. Covering is handled automatically and for the most part works very well while shooting feels both satisfying and accurate. Using the bow, a weapon that usually feels weak and pointless in most games to me instead feels like the ultimate killing tool here. A pistol, machine gun and shotgun round off your arsenal that can themselves be upgraded with salvage found scattered around the island. Enemies become tougher as you progress, meaning you’ll face guys sporting helmets, armour and more powerful weapons. A handy dodge mechanic also helps to manoeuvre out of danger should enemies get too close.
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