Aug 06 2017

Late Rise Of The Tomb Raider Review

This did feel more of an expansion pack to Tomb Raider rather than stand on its own two feet, not really introducing any new game mechanics, with simplistic puzzles and enemies as well as a story that was both predictable and lackluster, but those graphics still shone through.

I’m not too sure why everyone gives DirectX 12 such a hard time. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of benchmarks on plenty of cards, showing that DirectX 12 performance could come 1 or 2 frames under that of DirectX 11, but I found it was crucial for this game to run properly, fully utilising the SLI 970s whilst DirectX 11 for some reason limited utilisation to 50%. After about an hour of changing every other setting, even putting everything down to low on DX11, it was still running into frame rate issues, as a last ditched attempt, I switched to DX12 and boom, the benchmarks were running perfect on ultrawide very high settings. So I’ll keep an eye out for that one in the future. There was some micro-stuttering at certain parts in the game, but I feel that’s always going to be down to the badly optimised 3.5gb bullshit VRAM in the 970s.

The series so far hasn’t been a bad reboot. I never really got into the original PS1 games, and probably never was going to what with the aging 3D graphics (it’s weird how 2D can stand the test of time better than 3D), so I’m glad that they did recreate the series from scratch which gives us all a chance to have a go and not have an excuse. I don’t mind the platforming, though it’s a bit simplistic and not as in-depth as say Assassin’s Creed parkour climbing skills. Being able to see how Lara becomes The Tomb Raider has been interesting, though I think the first game had you rooting for her more as she was a complete civilian in having to learn to survive and kill those that wanted her dead. In this, it’s more of feeling that you’re along for the ride into a quest even she hasn’t got a clue what it’s about.

Most of the campaign is very linear, with maps being nothing more than corridors with obstacles you have to easily navigate around. There’s not really a sustained sense of having to rush or make quick decisions throughout these as any action required is usually highlighted by the slowing of time and a wide camera shot of the obstacle ahead. Gameplay is further slowed down by the artifacts you’re constantly on the lookout for. I can’t remember how exactly they were found in the first game other than using the map, but in Rise Of The Tomb Raider, you’re having to constantly hit the R3 button every 5 seconds to see if anything flashes up in gold. Some of the loot is worthwhile, unlocking weapons and upgrades though I’m not actually sure how she’s manufacturing these without the use of a workbench next to her campfires, but it gradually allows you to become stronger alongside the stronger enemies. Some of the loot is some lovely 3D relics, which you can rotate and zoom around onto, being able to see how the object was even casted using ancient methods, but overall it doesn’t really contribute to gameplay. Having one that behaved as a 3D map of a 3D maze may have been interesting as an example.

I don’t at all mind linear gameplay, as it allows the Director to ensure that everyone playing this game has the exact same experience of playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and also follow the story as it’s supposed to be told, the only problem here is that there isn’t really much of a story. There are some areas that open up for you to explore, taking a couple of hours to find objects, complete tombs and hunt animals. They are beautiful, natural areas and a pleasure for the eye, even though the civilisation that has lived in the area for hundreds of years have somehow let the area become run down, the lazy bastards.

Following on with the local tribes being lazy bastards, it’s also a bit incomprehensible how hardly any of them over the generations have not bothered exploring the local ruins, complaining about how hard life is whilst an outsider in the form of a small woman can uncover so much of their own history. The tombs aren’t exactly the most complex, usually each containing a single large puzzle that involves Lara having to jump around on platforms to solve, so any slip ups here and you have to climb back up all the way from the bottom. On completion of a tomb, you unlock an ability that Lara can use. These abilities tend to make the game easier to play throughout, so ensure to start off on a hard difficulty or atleast increase the difficulty as you go along, which was what I found myself doing.

One of the issues I had with the game was Lara’s jump. It sadly doesn’t follow the Laws of Physics, as she defies gravitational acceleration and also somehow able to change her course of travel in mid-jump. She can even jump a distance of 5 metres without a running start. Fair enough, it makes jumping onto platforms and cliff edges easier for certain players, but breaks any realism thus immersion, whilst again making the game a bit too easy. But there are many things in this game that are unexplainable, so exaggerated jump mechanics are just a drop in the ocean.

The game does feel a bit like Far Cry 4, in many ways really, but primarily the fact that it just feels an expansion of their prior iterations. There are many similarities with Tomb Raider and ROTTR, with exploring, platforming, combat and slow-mo scenes. The graphics are also very similar, which is to say that they are absolutely beautiful and atmospheric, with character models really high def, it’s just not straight away obvious what upgrades to graphics and performance there is compared to the first game which was released in 2012. After the first initial hours of gameplay, it does become quite repetitive, especially after having already played the first game, which atleast had originality going for it. I think having possibly had a fully fledged, populated city and car chases could have been assets the game would have benefited from, maybe playing a bit more like the cinematic Uncharted series, quite the fun series that managed to push the PS3 and Vita to their limits.

As a protagonist, I like the determination and toughness of Lara, though she seems to be a bit slow coming to conclusions. The only thing I hate the most with character development in any story is having them swapping between being strong then weak, every 5 minutes. One minute she’s walking off being buried under avalanches and animal encounters, the next she’s holding her side from falling over. I get that the hero can have a setback from time to time, but I want to see them continually get stronger, and not be on a rollercoaster ride. Though by the end of the game, Lara’s so tough that she’s facing off helicopter missiles and shotgun blasts to the face, so maybe we shouldn’t get everything that we ask for, as the ‘stronger’ dial was turned too far to the right. It’s not the worst thing when Lara does die, as watching her deaths are usually quite inhumanly funny as she falls over the side of the mountain, screaming all the way down as the camera remains totally motionless.

The plot is quite out there. A lot of it is religious cult stuff that clashes with the sensibilities of the rest of the game. It derives around how Lara’s murdered father was criticised amongst the archaeology community for believing in powers of longevity, which in real life, of course this would be the normal thing to happen to a person, yet we’re supposed to feel empathy for Lara who want’s to uncover her father’s dream of a long-lost artifact that can stop death and the ageing process. It’s hard to be on Lara’s side for going into dangerous situations when even every normal person in the game is telling her not to pull stupid shit for a ridiculous myth. It’s quite lucky it pays off of course for her at the end of the game with a mystical artifact, but if this had been real life, she would have come off as an absolute idiot still preaching there is something out there.

Combat is very average, either being able to use melee attacks or guns. You could also attack in stealth, though apart from a small extra exp boost, that isn’t much of a reward if you were planning to stalk your enemies over the course of half an hour, much easier to just shotgun through them all. Both the pistol and rifle early on acquire silencers, so including the bow, you now have 3 weapons that attack with stealth, requiring zero strategy in the use of these guns early on in the game, only depending on what ammo you have remaining for each weapon. It’s only later with the inclusion of attachments does any differences in performance become obvious. Head shots are easy enough to pull off, though animals and armoured soldiers will require a few bullets to finish. Obtaining alternative weapons are no fun, with no actual challenge involved and usually not providing a boost in stats, just a compromise. Simply opening the crafting screen gives access to a library of firearms, which I don’t have a clue where she stores it all.

Melee attacks will always overpower big, heavy, combat experienced, armoured mercenaries. I never once had to use a dodge or counter attack. It does become dulling every time enemies miraculously appear every time you discover an area that hasn’t had human presence for over 500 years. Also immersive breaking and unusual is that you’ll find many guards stood on high, rickety platforms with no access to other than clinging to the smallest of cliff edges in the middle of nowhere that even you struggled to get up to. The absolute worst problem with combat is that the AI is some of the worst I’ve seen in years.. There were so many head shots that I missed by a fraction of an inch, yet the AI would never react to an arrow only just grazing past their head. When they did finally engage, they didn’t present much of a challenge, going down the usual cliches of either taking cover behind explosive barrels, slowly jogging upto you as though they were an old guy giving the impression that he was running as he was catching upto a friend, or just being blind as I stood clearly in front of them.

A lot of the characters fill the regular clichés, and so obvious from the first moment of seeing them what role they would play out. There’s nothing more boring than a revelation that we’ve all known for hours of gameplay. I honestly called each character out within the first 5 seconds, only shocked once throughout the whole campaign when I found out in a missive, that the evil step-mother had actually used her own doting brother for her agenda. I actually thought they were both in it together, but for some unexplainable reason other than greed, it turns out the sister is even more devious than the brother. Also not sure if the developers were also trying to hint towards a Game of Thrones relationship here.

I actually found Jacob to be an absolute dickhead. Amongst all the dodgy looks he kept giving Lara throughout the campaign which actually scared me about whether he was going to try anything with my female protagonist (even though I’m an adult male playing this game), he then leads generations of people under false pretenses just to save his own skin. I don’t know why at any point Lara ever feels sorry for him, as he honestly deserves burning in hell. What Ana and her brother had in mind for the artifact didn’t sound half as bad as what Jacob had got up to. Voice acting wasn’t the best, most of the males npcs sounded like they had only been voiced between two voice actors.

I’m never a fan of watching cutscenes which the main character is not present for, as they don’t then have a clue what is currently transpiring somewhere else in the world, usually a scene that involves the bad guys, as it creates a distance now between me and Lara as I now know something she doesn’t. There were also times I had to endure some terrible cutscenes, one of which involved an enemy running right up behind me with a gun drawn, could have easily just blown Lara’s head off and received his promotion, instead decides to throw a frag and run for cover, giving Lara the opportunity to escape. There’s only so many times you can run through gunfire from a helicopter before it gets old, I don’t know why Lara doesn’t just walk her dog amongst the carnage, it’s obvious she isn’t going to get hit by anything. Having said that, the endgame action scenes of infiltrating a temple is quite sick, with plenty of quick reflexes required amongst the explosions that occur whilst in mid-jump. Something straight out of a Micheal Bay movie. The tempo finally does pick up, though the game is still very forgiving if you do make a mistake and sadly, there’s only an easy boss at the end of this that doesn’t fulfil the hard work and leveling up we’d done throughout the game, as after that, it’s a 10 minute cutscene which we have not a single ounce of interaction with. I honestly thought playing on the Seasoned Raider difficulty would be hard enough, as I didn’t want to play on the next difficulty that requires you to gather even more loot to craft upgrades, there was enough of that already.

The DLC is nothing to write home about – literally. There are game modes in which you can replay previous chapters with modifiers on, no thanks. There are modes in which you can play against hordes, including a zombie mode, which I’m not really up for based on how basic the combat is. There is also an expansion in which you can explore the Croft Manor, a dilapidated home that Lara explores to find evidence of her ownership. It can be played in VR I think on the PS4, but overall, it was a drag just walking around and learning of Lara’s family tree and dramas. If I was interested in such things, I would first turn to my own family history before turning to someone elses.

Overall, the game can be a grind at times, but is certainly playable, a worthy enough sequel and absolutely beautiful to look at. I hope that Eidos have made the most of this game engine and would be open to incorporate some new elements. What I will say though, is that if there is something else that you can play, than you maybe better off playing that, as whilst grinding through this game, I was watching many twitch streams playing Horizon Zero Dawn on my second screen, and between that and this, both containing badass female protagonists and a nonsensical story, Horizon is set in a world where nonsensical makes sense, which then makes more sense to us. I can’t say I’ve played that game yet, and whether it will be just as much of a grind as Rise was, but I certainly did feel that I would rather have wanted to embrace that campaign rather than go along with the cliches in this one.

I wonder if the next Tomb Raider will return to Croft’s old ways of training around her mansion, a butler in the background, dual wielding pistols, all whilst wearing a pair of cargo shorts having gotten used to the life of a tomb raider. I’d say her confidence is certainly now there to pull all this off, and I think she’s qualified from being the petit, unassuming girl who’s still learning the ropes.


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