A bit of personal history:
I remember when the first Tomb Raider got released for PC back in 1996. I was still subjected to my parents' poverty. My desperately slow (even for those years) IBM compatible 286 (and old hand me down) was only good for some Street Rod 1&2, Leisure Suit Larry, Arkanoid, and other Dos games of the 1980s. My friends had PlayStations, Sega Saturns, and 486DX4 & Intel Pentium 1 PCs. While they were playing the new smash hit Tomb Raider and each day exchanging thrilling stories of their progress through the game, I was stuck with a dozen or so pictures and an orgasmic review contained in my gaming magazine (that was all I could afford of the Tomb Raider craze at the time).
Even sadder is the fact that it would be another five years later before my dad's job gave him a home computer and I could finally play Tomb Raider 1, and the new Tomb Raider 2 & 3 (but by then, the Tomb Raider games were already starting to feel dated).
Fast forward to 2013...
I've made some progress since those austere days. In front of me is my R28,000 gaming computer with a Full HD 3D 42" LED TV for the display. Ahead of me is the rare weekend free from the taint of overtime. Downloading on my Steam client is the new Tomb Raider; the download is averaging 12MBps (that is MEGABYTES, not megabits--read it and weep dear 'forced' Telkom customers) through my FTTH (fiber to the home internet connection. The days of me having to beg my selfish friends if I can come over and play games at their place (I was mostly just forced to watch them play) are over!
I must say, wow, gaming technology has really moved forward in a major way! This latest game's in-game graphics look better than any of the pre-rendered cut scenes of even the previous (Tomb Raider: Legend) title form a few years back. I am really happy and fortunate to have seen such a progression in my lifetime, and I still have decade-worth of life left (I hope) to see the technology improve even further!
I loved the first four Tomb Raider games despite the fact that I only got to experience them long after their shine had faded. The Tomb Raider games were phenomenally engrossing, challenging, and fun to play! The Tomb Raider franchise deserves every bit the same status and pioneering recognition as games such as Wolfenstein, Doom 1&2, MDK, Star Craft, etc.
There was something about 1990s gaming that to me still feels like it was the best decade to be a PC gamer. Perhaps it was the fact that almost every second game offered something never before seen, or, perhaps, it was the near absence of sequels and prequels that helped diversify one's gaming experience and make new virtual acquaintances with vibrantly different heroes. Whatever the reason(s), there was definitely something magical about that era in PC gaming. Today, I have finished every A-rated title that has been released over the last decade, but only a few of them seem to capture that soul of what gaming was about in those early days.
Can this new Tomb Raider help me relive my fondest memories of my first experience with PC gaming? Here follows my review of the new Tomb Raider:
The game review:
The new Tomb Raider is a prequel. It tells the story of Lara Croft taking her first step into her new role as a legendary tomb raider. This new Tomb Raider does not have some mumbled fragile story told in cut scenes that are cleverly used to disguise long loading times between levels. This game actually has a real story and Lara has some really emotional encounters that will help temper her personality.
I can't say the game's story is anything we haven't seen before, but it is well told throughout the game and brilliantly brought to life with great voice acting and impeccable environmental detailing. This game has more drama and honesty to it than many block buster Hollywood titles of late. With that said, let's move on to the graphics.
I am far more a mature gamer to be impressed by pretty graphics. I've updated some older titles with graphics mods that make even the newest games look outdated (go check out the ENB mods for GTA IV and Skyrim, for example). This new Tomb Raider game is pretty, but not because it is driven by a super advanced graphics engine, but because of the meticulous attention to detail in every aspect of the games environment and characters. This is something I really wish would become the norm in game development!
I marvelled at each scene and being a 3D designer, I know how to look for signs of haste. One section, I had to direct Lara up an ancient Japanese staircase, and I inspected each row of tiles. In no place did I see any pattern repeat. This really is where the magic of great graphics lies. You can throw all the post-processing a modern game engine has at a scene, but it is your base meshes and textures that will really determine how good the final result looks. In this regard, I can only give praise to the developers of the game. This game is really a work of art!
Another pleasant change is that Lara Croft is now a realistically modelled female character. Gone are the days where she sported abnormally long legs, had overdone fat lips, and fought gravity with her enormous chest. The new Lara Croft model looks very human and believably so! I hope this is a change that is going to stay in the upcoming titles! She is expertly voice acted, but sometimes her yammering and orgasmic squeals can become a bit much.
I feel that the designers gave her a suitable personality. She is insecure, unsure, easily scared, and somewhat timid. She does not come across as a professional adventurer, and this is exactly the type of character you want to give a young Lara Croft who is having her first experience of a misadventure. Her character develops slowly over the span of the game, but she still feels fragile and over capacitated by the events that she must face to survive.
What stayed the same:
There is the unmistakable Tomb Raider feel to this new game, though cut scenes are now blended so smoothly that I sometimes did not realise I had been robbed of control or given back control over Lara. I feel this is brilliantly done and it kept me in the game and far more alert than with previous titles. One moment you are watching a cut scene (all rendered in real-time by the game engine) and the next moment you have to mash buttons to grab onto a ledge or fend off an attacker.
It only really got a bit boring near the end as they kept using the same scripted sequence for these sorts of transitions.
Other than that, Lara moves really well in this game, but perhaps a bit too well. The level of precision needed to pull off jumps and other manoeuvres is non-existent. In the first few games, if you were to jump from a ledge to a rock face, and you were off just an inch, Lara would end up in the spikes or the tiger pit. This game saw me pulling off superhuman feats of strength and agility.
I can't say I am a fan of this, especially considering that they really tried to make Lara, as a character, feel uninitiated, inexperienced, and fragile, yet, somehow, they think it is ok to give her the agility of Spider Man and the strength of the Hulk. It just made some aspects of the gameplay feel so unbelievable, which is sad because this game's story, characters, and environment are so believable!
What has changed:
There are now slowdowns that help you keep up with some of the action scenes. These pauses do not happen too frequently, but I personally feel it made the game too easy. This new Tomb Raider is one of the easiest games I've played. The old games were brutally difficult and actually had really complex puzzles. Some may disagree, but playing with the walkthrough or cheat-sheet nearby is not exactly going to subject you to the difficulty of the games puzzles.
I am very disappointed that this new game feels like a typical dumbed-down console game designed to help retarded people feel like they are really good at playing 'challenging' games. Console gamers are the scum of gaming--a bunch of popcorn munching, beer drinking morons that like to fart in each other's faces! They have no skill and such is evident when you take a console gamer and put him/her behind a PC mouse and keyboard...
I forced myself to complete some of the old Tomb Raider games without reading any walkthroughs, and those games were a real challenge! With the new physics engines, I am sad to see that a game that could have made great use of physics puzzles, practically had none of them. I played this game at its highest difficulty level and finished it in 12 hours flat. No part of it was particularly challenging. The game also saves way too frequently, so, unlike the old games, you don't get punished for screwing up one jump, by having to reply from a save point that is 30 minutes old.
I also don't like the instant hint system where you can just push a button and know exactly where to go or what to shoot at to advance through the stage. Even without it, objectives and target objects are so obvious to see because they all use the same distinguishing decoration: white rope! This is TOMB RAIDER for god's sake, not MARIO KART!
There is also a new levelling-up element to the game (this nonsense is going viral in games these days). I hardly used the levelling-up system and just upgraded some of my weapons with the salvage that one now collects in crates, boxes, and on dead bodies. There is not much depth here and I honestly thing they could have taken out this entire system. Just let Lara discover better weapons as she progresses through the game. Don't send me on a massive diversion just to collect more 'shotgun parts' to upgrade from a primitive shotgun to a modern one. Lara has her full array of weapons from the old games and even some new ones (the bow). She can also now shoot ropes to surfaces to create a zipline, but this becomes a bit repetitive after a while. Unfortunately, you don't get the duel-wielding pistols until the very end of the game. But I'm sure the upcoming DLC releases will allow one full use of the duel wield pistols that are so iconic of the Tomb Raider games.
The weapons have a satisfying kick to them, and the upgrade options are somewhat useful and fun (it gets really fun when you upgrade the bow to shoot fire and explosive arrows). I also like the fact that auto-aim is now permanently disabled! That was one aspect of the old games that I did not want to see repeated ever again!
Recap and final score:
This is the most believable and realistic Lara Croft episode ever told, yet directing her character makes her feel like a veteran tomb raider. This dissonance means that I can't take the new Tomb Raider as seriously as I want to, but at the same time, I have to admit that there is something new and special here that has restored the legend to her rightful place in the gaming world. Tomb Raider is back and the future is looking bright again for the big-breasted beauty from Britain! Now all we need is the Lara mansion level, a few tigers and T-rex's, and some truly challenging puzzles and we are set for another series of EPIC adventures with Lara, the Tomb Raider!
Graphics: 9/10 - Attention to detail proves that all the fancy post-processing means nothing if it is applied to crap.
Story: 7/10 - Nothing original, but something very original for a Tomb Raider game. There is some real drama, emotion, and conflict in this story and it helps Lara look like so much more than a pair of tits leaping about scaffolding and over gorges! Even though this is the youngest Lara we've ever gotten to play with in a Tomb Raider game, she feels a lot more mature as a person than ever before!
Gameplay: 6/10 - You can make Lara speed across a collapsing bridge with one hand while eating popcorn with the other. The emotional impact of this game can be enhanced much more if it was not so easy to make Lara do superhuman feats!
Atmosphere: 9/10 - This game feels phenomenal on the senses! As a resident of Asia, they really nailed the look and feel of the ancient Japanese city where Lara is forced into her first ever adventure. I can and will replay this game many times just to experience the various locations again and take in the atmosphere. Well done to the developers and artists! What a stunning atmosphere to heighten one's senses and brink the story and characters to life!
Overall: 8/10 - This game has brought back a legend to the gaming world, and I hope future titles will bring back some of the challenges and diligence that distinguished early Tomb Raider games. Nonetheless, if you are a fan of the Tomb Raider series, then you owe it to both your nostalgia and your ongoing cravings for more to play this new Tomb Raider game. You will not be disappointed!
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