Posts Tagged ‘tomb raider

Snap Judgment – Tomb Raider (2013): Definitive Edition (PS4)

Crystal Dynamics’s Tomb Raider is right in my wheelhouse for the kinds of games I enjoy most: third-person gameplay with interspersed platforming, puzzling, and combat elements.  And it delivers on all of these in spades: truth be told, I think the gameplay mechanics alone are the best I’ve ever played in games, period.  Because of this, I put Tomb Raider up there with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time with my favorite entries in Action/Adventure games.

Tomb Raider also features stunning graphics.  It did even back on its original Xbox 360/PS3 release, but this PS4 edition is mind-bogglingly good looking.  It evens hold up well against dedicated next-gen titles like Killzone: Shadow Fall and inFAMOUS: Second Son.  That’s a hell of a graphics upgrade that Nixxes, the small studio responsible for the port to PS4, completed.  Tomb Raider also features excellent use of DualShock 4’s external speaker, echoing certain in-game sounds to create a 3D sound experience.  Another clever use is the decision to use the DS4’s lightbar to simulate muzzle flashes and oscillating reds and oranges to simulate Lara’s torch – this is especially awesome in the dark.

Where most reviews criticize Tomb Raider is its story, but this point of contention centers more on how the supernatural figure into it.  What I find odd about this point of view is how it’s not applied to the other great tomb-raiding series, Uncharted, which makes heavy use of quasi-supernatural elements at the ends of each installment.  (Naughty Dog, to its credit perhaps, usually leaves just how supernatural these elements are to interpretation, but the climaxes sure feature general surreality out of nowhere.)  Further still, both franchises draw inspiration from the Indiana Jones films, which did the very same thing when it was mostly realistic through 90% of each film, and then whipped out melting Nazis and so on.  The difference I’m going to point to here is that Tomb Raider at least hinted at and foreshadowed its supernatural twists a lot more than Indiana Jones or Uncharted did.  I’m frankly dumbfounded as to why there’s a double standard here.

If anything, what I will criticize is the generally weak characters in the game, save Lara.  Ms. Croft is portrayed expertly by Camilla Luddington, who I believe ought to portray the character in a feature film if someone dares to revisit the franchise after the Angelina Jolie releases.  There’s a genuinely interesting and complex journey for Lara to become the actual badass we all know so well from her other portrayals, one in which the game’s equipment and skills-upgrade mechanics actually complement well.  (Further still, Crystal Dynamics wisely and respectfully portrayed Lara as a human being rather than as an objectified sex object.)  But for as good as Lara herself is, her fellow marooned shipmates are thin with few character moments: you have the bear-sized guy who’s actually a big softie, the touch-as-nails single mom who’s trying to get back to her daughter but doesn’t entirely trust Lara’s judgment, the geeky computer guy who’s got a big crush on Lara but is out her league, and several others.  I won’t list them all here to avoid spoilers, but these characters are pretty much exactly as they’re described and nothing more.  Stereotyping, despite its bad name, is actually incredibly useful in stories where you want to use stock characters to avoid distracting the reader/viewer/player, but there are so many here (eight, I think) that their predicability is in itself distracting.  I would have rather the list of survivors be much smaller and more intimate, with stronger characterizations for each.

The plot itself is fine if farfetched, but despite the much-criticized supernatural elements, I found the heavy use of Japanese artifacts and mythology to be fascinating.  I applaud the game’s writers for doing something very different with the mystery of the island than some cookie-cutter alternative.

Superior gameplay, a decent plot, and a strong central character make for one of my favorite games ever, one which I was happy to buy and replay again on PS4.  A+


Written by Michael

31 March 2014 at 2:32 pm

Posted in Games, Reviews

Tagged with ,

Top 10 Games I Played in 2013

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Due to how slow I can be at getting to new titles and finishing them, this list includes games that were published before 2013 – the only requirement here is that I played and beat it in 2013.  I have not added any PS4 titles either, since I intend to do a First Year of PS4 Retrospective at some point after November 15.

1. The Last of Us (PS3)
No surprise here.  This was Game of the Year for many sites, and it truly was one of those situations where all the hype and anticipation I had for it was rewarded by a title that exceeded what I thought a video game narrative could accomplish.  The ending of this game stayed with me, even vexed me, for days after with its profundity.  Naughty Dog turned in four spectacular games this last generation, and I believe they represent the very best of what the industry currently offers.

2. Tomb Raider (Xbox 360)
This game is really excellent – and is actually the last game I finished on Xbox 360 before liquidating that collection.  I think there were many who went into it with suspicion due to how poorly the series had been going in recent years, but I think Crystal Dynamics turned in a worthy reboot.  This title features some of the best third-person platforming and combat I’ve ever seen (truly), and the portrayal of Lara Croft was extremely well done (kudos to the lovely and talented Camilla Luddington).  For a long time, Lara was presented in a very objectified way, with her cartoonishly out-of-proportion features.  After years of this sexist portrayal, this reboot presents us with a very reasonable and human portrayal of the character.  I liked it so much I purchased it again for PS4.  (My God, it’s beautiful in 1080p/60fps.)

3. Journey (PS3)
For only being a couple of hours, there is no better example of a profound and moving experience in such an efficient package.  As I said in my review, Thatgamecompany’s take on multiplayer is especially noteworthy, as it manages to bring a sense of companionship and cooperation to a game that literally features no verbal communication whatsoever.  You don’t even know the name of the person you might end up journeying with until the credits roll.  And it works.  Beautiful, haunting score, and dazzling graphics.  This game is truly great.  And it means so much to so many different people; this was so strongly evidenced by hearing Shuhei Yoshida (President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment) in tears as he described how it comforted him through tragedy (PlayStation Blogcast 099: Best of a Generation at timestamp 1:41:05).

4. Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series set the bar for action/adventure platformers this last generation.  (It wasn’t until Tomb Raider that I thought a game had better mechanics for it.)  This title was developed by Sony Bend, however, and they did an extremely admirable job with it.  Using the same voice actor for series star, Nathan Drake, as well as the same sound design (including Uncharted’s great score), Golden Abyss was just about everything I wanted from a handheld version of this now classic series.  Indeed, this title alone convinced me that the Vita was worth owning, and I was rewarded with many other great experiences because of it.

5. inFAMOUS (PS3)
This is quite an old game now, but I didn’t get around to playing it until I heard for the millionth time how great this series is.  What’s so great is that you ostensibly play a superhero, and you feel powerful right from the start.  Despite this, the game designers at Sucker Punch found ways to give you more powers as the storyline progresses, to the point that you feel nearly godlike at the end.  (It’s still quite challenging in areas, despite your abilities.  I died a lot until I started being more strategic about my approach.)  inFAMOUS 2 is supposed to be even better, and with inFAMOUS: Second Son for the PS4 coming soon, I’ve got a lot more heroics ahead of me.

6. Gravity Rush (PS Vita)
Project Siren developed what is probably my second favorite Vita game.  Admittedly, I didn’t get it at first, and I nearly gave up on it after a few minutes.  I’m thankful that I stuck with it, however, because this title is pretty rad.  You play a character who has the ability to control gravity for short periods of time, which allows you to engage in challenging forms of combat, exploration, and platforming.  Its anime tropes and sensibilities are welcome, since I don’t possess many games like this.  The story is compelling but not always well executed upon (there are some dangling plot threads that it’s announced sequel will hopefully tackle).

7. Unfinished Swan (PS3)
Like Journey, this is another great indie title.  This one is by a developer named Giant Sparrow, and it’s a spectacular first effort.  You play a boy who gets pulled into another world through an unfinished painting of a swan – one where a king from long ago used a magic paint brush to build his own kingdom – and your objective is to pursue that swan who manages to lead you through a beautiful world full of charming narration and wonder.  Unfinished Swan also features a story that teaches an important lesson about the impermanence of human legacy and how it’s more important to appreciate the here and now of life more than your longterm contributions.  I’m excited to see where this studio goes.

8. Limbo (PS3)
Limbo features some of the simplest but strongest art direction you’ll see in video games, using inky black silhouettes and bright, blown-out lighting.  Limbo is also one of the harshest games I’ve played, reveling in its unfairness and darkly comical death animations, which you’ll see much of since you will die many, many times – be that by the creepiest giant spiders ever portrayed skewering you, drowning, getting cut in half by buzz saws, electrocution, being crushed, or any other sick idea the designers had.  But there is a masochist pleasure in playing this indie game, which like Journey features no spoken dialog or narration, but still manages to convey a sense of purpose, a goal to achieve and a reason to achieve it.  Bravo.

9. Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
Despite being maligned by various members of the video game press, I think this game is about on par with Heavy Rain, which received far more acclaim.  But the tricks Quantum Dream employed this time weren’t all that different, and I think there’s a certain fatigue in playing Heavy Rain and then following it up with this one.  There’s also a sense of frustration for some of those people, who were engrossed by the illusion of choice that Heavy Rain used, whereas Beyond: Two Souls has a much more lead-by-the-nose, linear plot line – a vision that the writers wanted to execute on and not dilute with branching plot alternatives.  The decision to tell the story out of chronological order also baffled many, including myself.  That all said, I found the acting to be hugely compelling (kudos to Ellen Paige and Willem Dafoe for their powerhouse performances), and the conceit was far more intoxicating and intriguing an idea than the one featured in Heavy Rain to me.  It’s worth the time, if you can get past not having as much agency in it as some other games.

10. The Walking Dead: The Complete First Season (PS Vita)
This is a game that would probably have been higher on my list if its performance on Vita weren’t so terrible.  (And I blame Telltale Games for that, since Vita runs every other game I’ve played on its so well.)  That said, there’s a lot to like here, including good voice acting and general sound design, as well as a compelling story lines in each episode – the ending, in particular, is quite impressive.  Telltale made a great decision to not try to create a game directly involving the comic book or television show cast, but instead the developers chose to simply use the “universe” of The Walking Dead and create all-new characters and situations.  Also great is the included add-on 400 Days, which is a set of vignettes about the early days of the zombie outbreak following previously unseen characters.  Very strong stuff.  As for Season Two, I’m now debating whether I should simply switch to PS3 for it, in which case I would feel compelled to re-buy and re-play Season One on that console for the ability to transfer my save.  (That’s a great feature this series has.)  Alternatively, I would have to wait for a Season 2 port to Vita and hope it has good performance.

Looking back at this list, I’m pleased to see three indie titles (Journey, Unfinished Swan, and Limbo), as well as two games by small studios (Gravity Rush and The Walking Dead).  One of the defining developments of this last generation was the fall of the second-tier developer, that is, the ones who made your so-so games (usually rated 5, 6, 7, and occasionally 8 on gaming review sites).  The top-tier developers have remained strong, and are usually the ones who have major blockbuster releases each year, and have regrettably crushed those smaller developers with their onslaught of successful sequels.  In the vacuum that has resulted in these bankruptcies and mergers, indie studios have arisen and really taken the gaming world by storm with thoughtful, innovative titles, the likes of which has come to help define the PlayStation 4’s launch lineup due to Sony’s embrace of these guys.  The notion of playing a handful of large-scale AAA titles per year and filling in the rest of the time with indie titles excites me.  Because of this, I think that gaming is healthier than it’s ever been.