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Tomb raider: a sort of review

I've just finished Tomb Raider (2013). It was pretty excellent.

You don't get a huge amount of game for your money. It took me 44 hours of game time (and 8 days of real time) to get to 100% completion (i.e. including all the optional objectives) on hard, and it doesn't really have any replayability. However, even if I'd paid full price for it, that would still work out at 1 hour and 28 minutes entertainment per pound. Since I got it in the Steam sale daily deal at 80% off, I actually got over 7 hours of entertainment per pound, which certainly works out as much better value than renting a film.

It is beautiful, even by the standards of big budget games made in 2013. The environment is lush with vegetation, small animals and waterfalls. The playable area is mountainous which gives plenty of scope for wide open vistas. Lara's hair blows in the wind almost realistically. There are the usual shadow, reflection and light source effects. There are also lens effects, which I'm not really sure about, but are probably right for one of the most filmic games I've played. By and large, it avoided weird graphical artifacts (although by trick jumping you can occasionally reach a position where things go planar). On settings slightly higher than 'ultimate'* it did mildly strain my rig (i.e. occasionally dropped to 40 fps) so it probably looks slightly less fabulous on more typical machines.

Similarly high production values applied to the music and voice acting. The music seemed significantly more effective than is usually the case, which is partly because the game is short and linear, partly because it was used sparingly and partly because Jason Graves' score is excellent (also he apparently invented a new percussion instrument for the purpose, which is pretty cool).

The gameplay is broadly faithful to the conventions of both 3D platformers and over-the-shoulder shooters. If something looks like a platform but it's hard to see how to get to it then nine times out of ten (a) there is a way to get to it and (b) there'll be something interesting on it. There are various optional objectives which involve finding a set of objects within a particular area, which I think are judged fairly well, in that the objects aren't easy to find, but they're in the sort of places you'd expect them to be. The rock climbing mechanic is fun, if implausible (Lara can leap from one cliff face towards another, apply her ice axe in mid-air and start climbing the second cliff, which I'm pretty sure is not actually possible).

The combat involves the usual seven tactics: (i) shoot unsuspecting enemies in the head, (ii) blitz, cover, reload, (iii) remain behind cover, wait for enemy to reload, take head-shot, (iv) camp behind a corner and blast opponents as they come round, (v) dodge, counter, execute, (vi) shoot explosive barrel or inflammable liquid by which the enemy have foolishly position themselves and (vii) sneak up behind unsuspecting victim and push Y, with the last two occuring only rarely. There's nothing original here, but it's all well executed. The game requires you to make judicious use of different techniques in different situations and the enemies (particularly towards the end of the game) do attempt to flank your position or flush you out of cover (although they have a slightly odd habit of announcing that's what they're going to do).

While Lara's story development is well done, the character development is weak in game mechanic terms. Most of the skills are of no real significance and it's easy to get all of them, so there's no real player choice as to how to develop the character. The gear development works a bit better, but there are still quite a few pointless additions. For example, a one stage Lara acquires a silencer, so she can stealth shoot opponents with a pistol, but there's no actual advantage to this, because since very early in the game Lara has been perfectly effective at stealth shooting with her bow. (It might conceivably be useful to have the option of alternate weapons if ammo management was an issue, but it really isn't: the game contains a vast amount of ammo.) Also, there's no reason why explosive arrows should be in the game. I never once used them and the concept is ridiculous.

The game doesn't allow you to keep multiple save points, it only allows you to save at all a few specific locations and it autosaves frequently. I understand the reasoning behind this: the game is so narrative driven that it wants to keep pushing the player forward. However, it's a bit annoying that it autosaves in the middle of combat sequences. I don't really feel that I've properly beaten the sequence unless I've done the whole thing in one go. Sometimes the autosave also moves the character into a better position.

Overall though, these are minor niggles. The game isn't particularly original or challenging, but it is enormous fun.

*The game has five graphic settings: low, normal, high, ultra and ultimate. However, if you go into the advanced options, ultimate is not actually highest possible setting. My graphics card comes with a program called GeForce Experience which optimises games, in this case by adding additional anti-aliasing and pushing shadows to ultra. It benchmarks at min 40 fps on these optimal settings and at min 58 fps on 'ultimate'.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Dec. 31st, 2013 07:07 pm (UTC)
That's a useful review. I've been wondering whether to give this a try.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Robert Jones

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