I had long ago lost hope in seeing another great Tomb Raider game. I am not saying that every single one up until now was bad, some were okay, but, none of them truly stood out among other games throughout the years. I approached the new Tomb Raider with caution mostly because it looked like, to me, at least, a darker version of Uncharted; and I was not really feeling up to playing the same game again (I just recently platinum-ed two of the games in the series). Now Uncharted is my favorite series this generation, and I was slightly worried that I would be a little biased due to this, but, I am glad to report that I found the new Tomb Raider to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had with a game in a long time. The game is not perfect, but, what makes it great to me is the fact that it stands out as the prime example of a game that has a fun factor so grand that it overshadows everything else. I will go ahead and start off with the negatives and then end things with the positive.
Tomb Raider is a game that strives to give you that “you are surviving the impossible” feel. It accomplishes this in many ways, but fails in others. For instance, the hunting aspect of the game is only there to provide another way to gain experience. There is a part early in the game that gives off the impression that you will be hunting to eat, which goes as follows: Lara must go and hunt for meat and then bring it back to the first bonfire she gained access to. After this “mission,” you quickly discover that hunting does nothing more than, as I stated, a way to gain experience. I feel that a hunger meter, or even a stamina meter, would have really helped immerse me in the whole “stranded on an island” theme. I could go into more detail about this, but, I feel that it goes without saying that being stranded on an island means you are going to need to hunt and forage to survive. I may be nitpicking this, but, the fact that it was implied early in the game really left me feeling letdown.
Another way the game fails to play upon the “survival” feel is that Laura just does not feel human enough (well, enough in a way that makes sense to still have the action game they were going for). There are times throughout the game where Lara will get hurt, but, this is only really seen during the scripted cut-scenes (e.g. pulling an arrow from her side, being impaled by branches, and even cauterizing a wound). It would have been more powerful and engaging if you could dress wounds and mend broken bones, kind of how you can in Far Cry 3 and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater. I just ended up feeling that this ended up underplaying the graphic, dark, gory, grittiness that the game was advertised to have and does show occasionally. With all of that being said, a stamina bar that depletes the more you do things would have been a great addition that would have really made you feel like you need to pace yourself and think to survive.
My last and final complaint that I have, before I get into what I really liked, is that there is not a whole lot of sense of danger as you wonder throughout the island. In the beginning you encounter wolves quite often, but as the game goes on, they become few and far between. I did find myself getting bored with just running around a level with nothing to do along the way, besides look for salvage to make better weapons (the game is still pretty linear for how "open" it was advertised to be). The game really could have only gained by having the wolves appear randomly and more often. It could have also gained by having a variety of dangerous animals (only wolves are present) attack you. There could have been other environmental hazards besides animals, such as booby traps left by generations of people who were stuck on the island before Laura, and those who are currently residing there. You see a fishing contraption that the cult uses, so, why can you not see them hunting via traps.
With all of the negative stuff out of the way, I can now get into what I really liked. One great thing about the game is that when there is action, there is action. Its non-stop and adrenaline filled action that really makes you feel like you are in a movie. The different weapons you get really help create a game where you can play how you want. If you want to use the bow and rope to grab someone of a ledge, do it. If you want to use a silenced pistol to dispatch enemies ala Splinter Cell, then do it. You can even take out a single arrow to use as a knife against someone. As in most games, there are explosive items found throughout the game that can give you the upper hand while fighting. Ultimately, what I am trying to say, is that the game does a good job of making you feel awesome!
My other favorite part of the game is that the climbing does not feel as automated as what is found in Uncharted and Assassin's Creed. There are times where you will jump to a ledge and find yourself having to quickly press a button to throw your other arm up to grab hold. The pickaxe you get in the game allows you to traverse the mountain sides found throughout the island. This is a cool feature in that you have to time using it while jumping (although, there are times where it is automatic). Another thing that I liked was that you cannot just go and climb everything, you had to find the tools and the means to do so. I am not saying that this makes the game better than Uncharted, mostly because Uncharted is not based off of realism, but giving you that action/adventure movie feel; but, in comparison to a game like Assassin's Creed, I would say it is better and more rewarding, in a way.
I actually really enjoyed the story used in the game. I like the idea of having to deal with a cult that may or may not know the extent of what they are doing. There is also a good amount of fantasy mixed in with reality, which, although it is underplayed a little, is really cool to see. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to watch Indiana Jones. I always loved the fact that the movie played off the idea that there may be more than what we know. If you are, like me, a fan of fantasy adventure movies, than you will enjoy the story that is to be found here.
All in all, what I love the most about this game is that it is an amazingly fun, but flawed, game. There is enough fun to be had here to where you will want to return, but there is also enough that is not there to make you excited for a sequel. This game, although really fun, did not set a bar so high that a sequel would have to live in it's predecessor's shadow; which, most of the time, ends up hurting a sequel (see Dark Knight Rises to Dark Knight, or Uncharted 3 to 2).
Tomb Raider is one of the greatest games released this year, maybe even this generation. With fun, adrenaline filled gameplay and a story that will satisfy any adventure junkie, your purchase at any price is justified. Even though the game could have been so much more, this is not necessarily a bad thing, for it will keep you wanting and leave you anxious to see what the sequel will have to offer.
Fun factor: One of the most exhilarating games to do date. With the different weapons and upgrades that can be applied, fighting however you like is definitely an option.
Control and gameplay: The controls for the game are pretty good. It would be nice to have a dedicated stealth button, though. As far as gameplay goes, there is enough fun to be had here with the rope arrows, fire arrows, and the various different ways to dispatch enemies. The game could have added a few things to help immerse the player in the “you are surviving” feel, like the need to tend to your wounds and different environmental hazards. It is also a little on the easy side.
Graphics: The graphics are definitely top notch. I did not notice any textures popping and out, but, there are frame-rate issues that pop up every-so-often.
Sound: Nothing to note here, everything sounded as it should.
Replayability: I will definitely be going back and getting all of the achievements/trophies for this game. There are certain things in each of the areas that cannot be accessed until you gain the tools and means to reach them. The different difficulty setting also provide a different, more intense spin on things (rifle bursts will kill you in one shot, quick-time events are faster, and body shots do less damage to enemies are a few differences that I noticed).
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My Extremely Late Review of Tomb Raider
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