Wow is it a busy few weeks in your gaming calendar gamers out there. Personally speaking I’ve had a few days away from distractions to play some of these titles, as you’ll see with the Fallout 4 Article from the perspective of a Gamer Dad plus our MGLMix podcast out later today, all about Fallout 4.
But one game series I love is Uncharted, it was the first game that went into my PS3 and made one hell of a first impression. Tomb Raider on the other hand, from the original PlayStation era, was not particularly a favourite game of mine. It was good and had a level of challenge to it at the time, but personally I found it more frustrating than satisfying.
So when the reimagination of the Tomb Raider was announced as releasing in 2013, and it had that Uncharted feel to it, I was impressed and thought the new ideas really could make the game something special. Playing it for the first time was something special too, and the fact the game made the balance of action, platforming and storyline reminded me of that feeling of playing Uncharted.
Now I have my Xbox One running Rise of the Tomb Raider we are seeing the next level of Lara and action adventure gameplay. The new game is even more polished, beautiful and even a bit more Uncharted than the original game, in the most complimentary way possible.
I’m only halfway through but I already love it.
“Two Weeks Earlier…”
Without spoiling anything but the game’s beginnings, and this was the very same thing shown at E3 earlier in the year. Rise of The Tomb Raider starts off cold!
I mean so cold you actually think about turning for the thermostat up in the house. It’s just so convincing in two very separate ways that set the tone for the game up nicely.
Firstly, the environments are so beautifully detailed it’s untrue. The terrain looks genuinely icy and has bobbles, dips and lumps to gives it a more textured finish. Then there is the snow effect with the wind and swirling blasts of ice and snow heading right at you. Everything just makes a wonderful first impression and, at this point, I’m already sucked into the game.
But this is only one thing that got me, the other was Lara’s interactions with the world and just how much of a living character she is.
First she’s shivering and moving slowly forwards in the deep snow, dragging her heavy legs behind her. The snow tracks make small dragging trenches in her wake and it all looks incredibly realistic. But it’s her little sounds animations reacting to the wind and cold that really got me early on as she winces and protects her face. It’s all in the little things but it makes one big impression.
There is more I can and will say on this later but, I can honestly say this now: the performance and capture of Lara Croft in Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the most alive feeling gaming characters I have ever seen.
Often when you play a game a character is almost an empty shell until you move them. Most of the time there is nothing wrong with that either, but Lara feels more than that. As you progress she actively looks at things as you move, squeezes the water from her hair as she gets out of the various water traps around the tombs, she even moves awkwardly when hurt.
It’s just remarkable.
But then of course comes the gameplay, and the game just keeps on giving here because it’s everything you’d want and takes now shame in doing some Uncharted style moves. The way you climb up ledges with bits falling, crumbling as you move and have to adjust your path to the changes in platforming. The sense of desperation captured as Lara scrambles to survive a potentially life threatening fall, making you almost believe she should die, even though you know it’s not really going to happen.
But the best Uncharted series trick that had me smiling was the moment where Lara gets knocked out in the introduction, the screen fades to black and the words “Two weeks earlier” appeared on screen.
Nice play Crystal Dynamics, I enjoyed it.
Doing it Lara’s Way
OK, before we carry on, I do understand other games have done flashbacks and have similar gameplay to Tomb Raider and there are a lot of difference too. But this is self-confessed the Xbox answer to Uncharted from Big-Phil himself so the comparison is fair from my point of view.
As stated though there are differences. This game is done Lara’s way and, for me, I think parts are actually done better than Uncharted.
As I said, Lara herself is so well acted and portrayed that it really does take things to a new level of believable in her as a real person. Her facial expressions, eye movements and incredible voice acting in the cutscenes sell her so well. But in her adventures she gets really hurt, suffers the effects of the wilderness and needs to survive.
My main connection to Lara that really stands out is the way it makes you care about her. You want her to survive not just to get to the next action sequence, but because you like her and want to see her find what she’s after.
The story is more traditional Tomb Raider style this time, looking for an artefact her father was determined to prove existed. A rather shady group called Trinity tried, as seeming succeeded in stopping him but now you are going to get the job done, and stop them in the process.
Lara’s personality and the remarkable performance of Camilla Ludington really sell the premise so far and it’s more than enough to establish a reason for searching for the lost city.
Gameplay wise the game is very much a modification of the 2013 Tomb Raider game, with save points being campfires, available across the land you explore. Rather than being a linear path the game is a sort of linear-sandbox idea where areas are more open with things to do within them but, ultimately you move on into the next area.
There is also a number of reasons to go back with better equipment however since there are blocked caves or unbreakable locks on items that make it worth using the fast travel function. This takes you back to discovered camps so it’s not a long winded process.
Combat is cool too; it tends to be more orientated around being stealthy which works for me. I like using the bow or causing distractions to do a silent to keep alarms at bay. But when it does kick off there is a lot of fast and fun 3rd person shooting that makes for a good action game, if you want to play it that way.
Upgrades and crafting return for more this time as you create Lara how you want her to be. It’s not anywhere near the levels found in RPGs of course but for an action-adventure title it’s certainly enough and gives that sense of choice and freedom to create Lara how you want her along with getting that equipment that suits your gameplay style.
There is very little not to like so far but the presentation of Lara as a real character really is next level. Xbox really have made a good deal here, with the game taking 6 months to come on any other format and a year before their rival console, it’s as good an answer to Uncharted as they could have done in the time frame. For me there are elements to the gameplay that suit me better but that is up for debate of course.
Next time I’ll talk more on Lara’s journey but, (and I want to make it clear now this is my opinion as an individual) of all the exclusives on Xbox One, and some very good ones at that, this is the one I would call the “console seller” even after the first half of the game. It’s that damn good.
I’m not saying Halo 5, Forza or Sunset Overdrive are not great games. But, for me, this is the best yet for Xbox One and is an essential purchase if you have one.