Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Back to Tomb Raider?

How did I start playing a Tomb Raider game again?

I swore many many years ago that I would never go back. Lara had betrayed me and she was never to be forgiven! The day Tomb Raider II was cancelled for the Sega Saturn was the cause of all this turmoil. That was a dark day for me. It was the first time I realised that the Saturn was dying...

Anyhow I felt somewhat vindicated over the years as I watched the endless new mediocre Tomb Raider games spew out one after the other in a manner that made latter day Sonic seem classy. So just how did this change? How did the Tomb Raider reboot win me over?

I was in my post-great game blues. I had just finished the Last of Us and needed something to fill the void. I had downloaded Tomb Raider for free from PlayStation Plus a while back, and it had been sitting there gathering digital dust on my hard drive. I heard positive rumblings about it. But then I also remember all the controversy from the ill-judged scenes that were supposed to build Lara's character.

I decided to stop umming and ahhing and go ahead and play the damn game, otherwise I'd end up in an all-consuming Tetris or Topspin vortex for a couple of months again.

It all started well enough. Everything looks pretty, even the creepy blood-splattered cannibal who chases after Lara. The oriental Bermuda Triangle-esque island setting was neat. The bow and arrow was quite fun and actually useful (for a change). I wouldn't say I was outright impressed at this stage, but it was winning me over.

Then it happened. I was jumping over the rooftops of crumbling shacks built into the side of a sheer cliff face when it hit me. I was actually enjoying this, even though it was seemed so familiar...

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what it was, but I was reminded of playing through The Last of Us. Although the stories are radically different there is a tone and feel to these games that make them feel similar. Lara's survival instinct reminds me of Joel's hearing mode, as did getting caught in a trap and having to shoot at enemies upside down or even just rummaging around to get salvage to upgrade your weapons. At no point did it ever distract me enough to stop enjoying the game, but the feelings remained.

Crystal Dynamics have overhauled Tomb Raider from an adventure/exploration game to more of a focused dynamic action game. And it works. Maybe that's why is succeeded where all the other Tomb Raider sequels failed, it avoided trying to just ape what made the first game successful and instead try to forge ahead with their own vision for the series.

It will be interesting to see where Crystal Dynamics take the series from here, although it might be a long time until I get to play it if this Xbox One timed exclusive business is true. I may not even play it at all, as I said earlier I don't play Tomb Raider sequels...

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