Tag Archives: PC

Review: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

Lara Croft  was once  at the pinnacle of her genre. She is probably still the most recognisable female character in videogames today but in terms of explorers she has been rather left behind.

Crystal Dynamics’ life has been made rather difficult by Naughty Dog. Many years ago Lara and Crash Bandicoot stood side by side, almost like a pair of unofficial mascots for the PSOne. Nowadays though, Lara is available on every system under the sun and Naughty Dog have sent Crash on to find a new home. Instead, they are working with Nathan Drake and he is desperate for Lara’s crown.

The Uncharted series provide the kind of exciting thrill ride that is usually reserved for the cinema. Bombastic and excitable plots are propelled forward with action style gameplay, adrenaline inducing set pieces and the kind of graphics that are usually the reserve for high powered PC’s.

So, with the latest reboot to the Tomb Raider franchise, Crystal Dynamics  had their work set out for them and as a result they decided that they were going to send Lara into a grittier world. A dirty world where she would have to hunt animals in the wild with a bow and arrow, face a tribe of cannibalistic lunatics and deal with the most realistic weather effects ever conjured up by GPU’s.

Tomb Raider

Crystal Dynamics seemed to have cottoned onto the fact that while a attractive young woman running around with two guns raiding tombs was a lot of fun in the nineties, gamers want characters to have four dimensions these days, not just three. Gamers want to be able to relate to their character or at least empathise with them in some way. So, Crystal Dynamics seemed to have taken a note out of the ‘Kitchen Sink Drama’ book and decided to make everything as miserable as possible for poor old Lara. Everyone knows, the more gritty and miserable something is, the more believable it is.

Obviously we don’t believe that there is a tribe of immortal Japanese warriors waiting on an island for their god queen to return. But, as gamers we are more readily willing to suspend our disbelief if a story and character has been cemented upon a foundation of some believability. Within the first hour or so of the game, Crystal Dynamics creates this foundation by forcing Lara to survive a horrific series of events including crawling through a pile of savaged bodies, and trying to escape an attacker with horrifying sexual undertones.

Tomb Raider

These events set Lara up to look like she is more fallible, no longer is she the gun toting super woman, bouncing around with duel pistols. She is a cold, frightened young adult armed with just a bow and arrow. She is less Bayonetta and more Clementine. We can’t help but get the feeling that Crystal Dynamics got fed up with creating games where most gamers wanted to date their antagonist. So they made one where even the most sexist pre pubescent oink could feel sympathy for their leading lady and look after her. Looking up walkthrough guides for levels, so that they could guide her to the end of sections unscathed as opposed to scouring the internet for the nudity cheat.

It was sad that prior to the game’s release the angry mob got wind  of a possible rape scene. It’s depressing that videogames are not given the same freedom of exploration of themes that other mediums are. Granted, historical title’s like Custer’s Revenge are an abhorent reminder of some of the trash that crawled out of the early primordial soup of  game creation. But that doesn’t mean that more modern games shouldn’t be able to broach more adult areas. In Tomb Raider, playing as a character trapped in a menacing environment does a great deal to make the player feel like the victim, sex attacks are by no means glorified in Tomb Raider. Maybe one or two gamers should be made to play Tomb Raider and be made to feel like a victim for once. Then they would be able to understand that rape isn’t the kind of thing you threaten over your Xbox microphone or on a YouTube video. On a side note, it was quite surprising that when Ellie faced a similar threat towards the end of The Last Of Us, no one even battered an eye lid. Even though Ellie was just a teenager.

The story of Tomb Raider is a reasonable affair, Lara and some friends on a university expedition are seeking ancient artefacts, when they stray to close to an old island and find themselves  ship wrecked. Unfortunately, it turns out  the island is guarded by a supernatural deity that refuses to allow anyone to leave.

Tomb Raider

At first, Lara must  evade the locals, assuming they are a bunch of survivors who slowly lost their minds to the superstitious relics on the island. It’s not long though before Lara discovers that their is method to their madness and their are supernatural forces at work on the island.

Core Design missed the opportunity to spring the supernatural elements on us in the same way that Naughty Dog did with the first Uncharted. Turning the first game into a terrifying survival horror in the final quarter was a masterstroke and gave the game more of an Indiana Jones feel.

Tomb Raider does offer a lot more in the way of exploration than Uncharted does, but then again I’m not sure how great that is. Uncharted is a streamlined experience allowing players to progress forwards through levels with little in the way of back tracking. This helps  emphasize the game’s cinematic qualities. How often do you watch films where the lead character wanders around for twenty minutes trying to locate a key or figure out a particular jump. Tomb Raider loses this due to the level of exploration and the puzzles. This isn’t so much a negative, some people like to have lots of collectibles that will cause them to revisit the game time after time. Personally, I just prefer the seamless experience of Uncharted.

Tomb Raider

The combat and weapons in Tomb Raider have all been greatly improved. When you do endeavour to go off the beaten track and search for items, you can find salvage which can be used to upgrade  weapons with fun extra’s such as Rambo style fire arrows. The campsites are a particularly handy gameplay addition, as not only do they offer a chance to level up and save your game but once a Camp Site has been located, Lara can fast travel from one campsite to the other. This helps to alleviate some of the boredom from backtracking in the search for elusive items and extra salvage.

Tomb Raider is an excellent platforming adventure title, and even though it doesn’t quite manage to usurp Uncharted, Core Design have built an incredibly strong foundation from which they can continue the Tomb Raider series. The sheer fact that Lara has been going for so long, and is still regarded as gaming’s number one heroine is testament to her appeal. What Lara achieved is something a lot more impressive than what Nathan Drake has achieved so far. Who knows if over time Nathan will still be bounding around with Sully and Co. in the same way that Lara has found herself.

8/10

System: PC (AMD 8320 CPU, AMD ATI 7970 GPU, 8GB RAM)

Bought From: Free with GPU

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Review: Shadow Warrior 2013

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Who wants some Wang?

That’s the question we are being asked again by Flying Wild Hog with this reboot to the classic Shadow Warrior franchise. For those not familiar with the series, Shadow Warrior is an fps originally dreamt up by 3D realms, the same guys who brought the macho misogynistic Duke Nukem kicking and screaming into the world. Instead of Alien ass kicking and misogyny, with Wang we are dealt Demon slicing and borderline racism.

Much like Duke, Wang would quip his way through incredibly violent missions. If you have never played the original Shadow Warrior, I implore you to do so. It was one of my favorites as I grew up arriving a bit later than Duke Nukem 3D but using exactly the same BUILD engine. If you have a steam account then you can pick up the original for the amazing price of absolutely nothing, if you enjoy it, you can get the complete package with all of the add on packs for just £6.99.

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Now, many of you will be wondering why you should even care about Shadow Warrior. After all Duke Nukem Forever pretty much killed the Duke Nukem franchise. Well, Shadow Warrior is a bit different because it was picked up by a rather capable young studio, whose previous endeavor Hard Reset was a very promising first attempt at a fps. Also, Shadow Warrior wasn’t in development for decades, being rebuilt time and time again using newer game engines, only to be rushed out at the last minute because the studio was bankrupt.

As a result, Shadow Warrior feels like the game Duke Nukem Forever should have been. The graphics are very impressive, and the reflections on polished surfaces makes smothering them in blood even more satisfying. At times the sheer amount of visceral gore flying around the screen is like watching Leatherface skipping merrily through an abattoir leaving a monsoon of blood and guts in his wake.

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Gameplay is fast, brutal and at times very hard, as a twitch shooter though, there is a huge amount of depth. Players are given the opportunity to build up Wang’s abilities and improve his arsenal using Karma Points, Money or Ki Crystals that are found or earned from slicing and dicing demons in a particularly stylish way.

 Guns get upgrades such as the ability to dual wield SMG’s, or even transform the shotgun into a quad barrel one that tears apart smaller demons like a starving tramp would tear apart a roast chicken. The weapons are all incredibly varied but it’s the Katana where Shadow Warrior really shines. An interesting alternative to Doom’s Chainsaw and Duke’s Fists in the original, the Katana used to be the last resort when ammo was depleted. In Lo Wang’s latest excursion, the Katana is the most satisfying weapon to use. Walking up a narrow stone path with a death-inducing drop either side, I had the most fun I have had in a game recently, chopping up a procession of Monsters, like a maniacal Chef creating a conveyor belt of Demonic Sushi. Lopping off limbs of monsters isn’t just visually rewarding, it also affect the demon’s ability to attack so by taking away the arm that carries his weapon you also seriously hinder their ability to do damage to Wang.

The Karma Points and Ki Crystals are where things get really interesting, bestowing upon Wang the ability to deal more devastating sword blows, the ability to block and repel damage and heal himself. I have to admit to being disappointed by the ability to self heal at first as I feel that the health regeneration mechanic is heavily over used in today’s fps genre, after COD popularised the technique having stolen it from Halo. COD’s and their subsequent copycats, use of a rechargeable health system in a supposedly ‘life-like’ setting where soldiers are able to ‘will’ gun shot wounds better is baffling. Its no wonder most Americans think that the Obama Care program is redundant when most of them spend the majority of their time plugged into Activision’s shooter online, vomiting a verbal tidal wave of hate and homophobia into their headsets.

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In Shadow Warrior, Wang doesn’t auto heal, you have to heal him yourself using a basic button combo. It actually becomes a skill to learn when to quickly heal up and for how long in the middle of a firefight. Sometimes there will be so much carnage and mayhem on screen it is very easy to miss how low your health is, and before you realise Lo Wang has received anything more than a flesh wound, you’ll find yourself being tea bagged by the AI. As the game isn’t exactly pretending to be realistic, with fornicating bunny rabbits that turn demonic and attack should you kill enough of them, and the way the health regeneration is implemented, I actually see no fault with it being used in Shadow Warrior.

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The use of the button combo’s on the mouse to deal different attacks sword and magical attacks results in no two confrontations being the same. You can build up your magical shielding and slowly wade your way through demons hacking at them like an explorer would hack his way through the jungle. Or you can just use your powers throw monsters into the air and treat them like a Demon Pigeon shoot. There is also a move that can only be described as a Star Wars style force push that shoves enemies backwards. I cannot help but wonder what kind of amazing game Flying Wild Hog would create should they be given the Star Wars license. Maybe Disney might want to get in touch with them for the official licensed game of the new movie that will inevitably be released. Flying Wild Hog have more than proved they can turn out a quality title in a short period of time, and if you replace Lo Wang with a Jedi, the Katana with a Light Sabre and his Chi with the Force, then you’ve got yourself one of the most enjoyable FPS Star Wars titles for some time.

The story, whilst not a knee deep four disc Final Fantasy affair, has enough meat to keep players interested. Demons are trying to cause some trouble with an ancient sword so Lo Wang must set out and assemble the sword before they can with the help of a Rabbit masked demon called Hoji. Everyone’s motives are slowly revealed through the use of cut scenes and banter between Wang and Hoji that drives the narrative forward revealing the odd twist along the way. This game is set before the first Shadow Warrior and as such acts as a bit of an ‘origin story.’ A phrase Wang himself would commend as he has a fixation for comic books, and we even get to see his very own super hero man cave in the second level.

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Lo Wang’s quipping, Demon de-limbing and fast paced explosive action are all firmly entrenched in the 90’s, when Carmageddon was the number one racing game not Forza, and no one had yet cottoned onto the fact that Mortal Kombat’s combat was flawed. A game only had to be violent with lashings of blood and humour in order to be become a cult classic.  However Flying Wild Hog have also managed to make Lo Wang relevant again, avoiding the pitfalls that trapped Duke Nukem Forever, and by making a game that is as humorous, tactical and challenging as it is mindlessly violent. Flying Wild Hog have been so successful in updating Shadow Warrior that it’s almost difficult to call it mindlessly violent now.

Shadow Warrior is an experience more gamers should Wang off too. The perfectly judged learning curve, excellent graphics, constant unveiling of weapons and abilities mean that you won’t get bored during the 16 hours it will take you to finish the game. Here’s hoping Flying Wild Hog get the opportunity to update some more classic franchises such as Redneck Rampage.

Score: 7/10

System: PC (AMD 8320 CPU, AMD ATI 7970 GPU, 8GB RAM)

Bought from: Steam Download