Tomb Raider (PC/XBX 360/PS3)
Hours Played: 15-20 Hours (Single Player)
After successfully reviving the Deus Ex franchise, Square Enix attempts to reinvent a franchise known best for its beautiful protagonist, Lara Croft. The franchise has seen its rise and fall from glory, and this time around developers bring a new face to reinvent the franchise.
Story & Character: The story takes Lara along with a crew shooting a documentary, on an expedition to seek out the legend of the sun queen, Himiko. Lara leads them to the right location but no one is aware of the unknown forces surrounding the island which leave Lara and her crew stranded on an island whose occupants are anything but welcoming. The story is three parts survival and one part treasure hunting, where Lara is constantly on the move trying to save herself and her friends. That does not mean there isn’t enough content for players who wish to explore, it’s just that most of the “tomb raiding” isn’t tied in to the perspective of the story.
Since it is Lara’s initiation, the character too is seen transforming from a girl who is unaware of what needs to be done in order to survive, to a hard hitting woman who the enemies flee from when she takes down their comrades. She gets horrified when she kills her first man and is apologetic when she kills her first animal, but beyond that she feels no remorse gunning down enemies and hunting animals. Her physical prowess as well, is shown to develop from a woman who falls off ledges, oh so many times, to scaling heights and using the tools she has at her disposal to scale breathtaking heights. The story and the character are stereotypical at best, but keep the experience together for the most part. (8/10)
Game Design: Tomb Raider’s game design has two facets- Killing and exploring (not necessarily in that order). You earn experience points and salvage points through dispatching enemies and finding hidden items and challenges strewn around in the world, in order to upgrade Lara’s skills as well as her arsenal. Players can train Lara to become better at finding hidden items or make her a more efficient killer through the three branches of skills. The skill tree although adds a further dimension to gameplay, but all the skills available aren’t nearly as important to unlock. The weapon upgrades are better thought out though, with players using the salvage points to modify existing weapons and upgrading as they come across new weapon parts.
As opposed to the innocent character portrayed in the main narrative, Lara is an efficient killer who can sneak around taking down enemies or let all hell break loose. She can deal death from afar or choose a more violent ‘up-close and personal’ approach which requires players to incapacitate enemies and take them down with quick time executions.
Puzzles as well are a mix of light and moderate difficulty, where some areas become open to exploration only when Lara comes across certain equipment. Lara can back track to areas previously visited through the camp sites (save points) in order to further find hidden treasures to complete sets. The moderate difficulty is encountered in tombs which Lara can explore usually requiring her to execute certain actions. The puzzles are made more accessible through the survival instinct which highlights the interactivity of relevant objects in the puzzle. The puzzles although make intelligent use of Lara’s tools and skills but there is nothing really challenging for those more adept at puzzle solving. (8/10)
Lara kicking Ass:
Game-Play: To compliment the game design, the game-play is a good mix of frantic action sequences and exploring the world, interspersed with quick time sequences, which can at times lead to some cheap deaths. Quick time events over the years have, for the most part, become a nuisance in games but are pretty well scripted here, offering moments of frantic survival while sliding down a mountain or maneuvering your parachute from pine trees. Instead of making Quick Time events a chore, the execution in Tomb Raider is for the most part genuinely surprising.
Most of the action takes place either through sneaking upon enemies or sitting under cover and shooting them. There are three enemy classes Lara goes up against throughout the game- the machete/pickaxe wielding melee, the ranged enemies, and from time to time, special enemies who have tougher armor and require dodging and quick time executions in the up-close approach. The AI is mostly challenging, with enemies ducking behind cover or flushing out Lara from cover by throwing an endless supply of molotovs and dynamite as the melee class reach closer to her, always keeping players on their toes. (9/10)
Production Design: Even for a small island, Tomb Raider is a grand experience from start to finish. The different areas are well envisioned and populated with objects from an age long forgotten to the more recent. Lara gets to explore a variety of environments from jungles and mountains to monasteries and WWII bunkers. The level of detail gone into populating these environments is awe-inspiring although the same cannot be said of the wildlife which exists on the island. The M-Rated Tag is well justified here as players will find plenty of blood and gore as Lara executes her foes splattering the screen with blood at times. The cut-scenes offer a closer level of detail of characters’ expressions which are as life like as possible though spotty at times.
The sound design compliments what is on-screen as the grandeur of the world is accentuated by the music playing the background. The sound of Lara jumping off a ledge and landing are cringe-worthy but the same cannot be said about the effect it has on Lara’s physical condition. Players can hide behind cover and listen to conversations between enemies before dispatching them which adds another dimension to the overall experience and sheds light on the happenings of the island. (9/10)
Final Verdict: Square Enix has definitely and successfully recreated a memorable protagonist of the gaming industry but there is a lot of scope for improvement. The story is more Far Cry than Tomb Raider and is a missed opportunity for putting the actual exploration into a better perspective. The experience although is complete in itself but may leave new players and old veterans wanting more of every aspect – be it story, puzzles or treasures.
Final Final Verdict: Must Buy!!!
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