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Hands On: Tomb Raider (OS X, Windows)
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NewsPoster
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Oct 24, 2014, 02:19 PM
 
Last year, Square Enix published a new take on a fan favorite character that made a debut on the PlayStation back in 1996. Under the development of Crystal Dynamics, Tomb Raider was rebooted to reintroduce the origins of Lara Croft. Rather than rely on some of the typical tropes associated with the character, the development team added a depth and human touch that was welcome in the series. Earlier this year, the game was ported to OS X by Feral Interactive, giving Mac owners a chance to experience Croft's new story.

Tomb Raider looks to drastically change things from earlier entries in the franchise, taking Croft in a different direction. Rather than immediately being a badass treasure hunter, she's a green archaeologist thrown into chaos after her boat is shipwrecked during an eerie storm. She finds herself stranded on the mysterious island of Yamatai with some of the boat's crew -- though unknown to them at the time. The team initially sets out to find the island based on Croft's intuition, a discovery mission to find Himiko, the Sun Queen.



On the island, Croft is quickly faced with the harsh reality that one must kill to survive. Using found items and piecing together upgrades, Croft traverses the landscape looking for a way to escape the island that holds an unnatural grip over its inhabitants. Escape must be secured in time to stop a group of crazed worshipers from sacrificing one of her friends for a mythical deity. The story then takes a supernatural turn, as the background of the island and Himiko are unraveled, pushing the story and action to new heights. All of the information is pieced together through findings in journals, conversations and experience, with the game making heavy use of cutscenes to bind everything together.

In the reboot, Croft emerges as a character that is more fleshed-out and empathetic, making players care about her fate as they watch hardships befall her. These aren't minor events that shape her character, either. Croft's apparent best friend is kidnapped, several crew members meet harsh deaths, the brutality of nature is constantly at odds with her well-being, and members of a fanatical cult that have lost a grip on reality make frequent attempts on her life.



Through it all, Croft grows while trying to hold herself together. She continuously pushes herself, both physically and emotionally, determined to make it through what is likely the worst experience in her life. Though her surroundings come with a sense of dread and hopelessness, combined with extreme violence and the persistent fear of death, Croft survives to come out stronger in the end. She even discovers some truth in her own past, while learning she is more like her explorer father than she was willing to admit. It's a gripping story, even in its more unbelievable parts.

To build on the strong story, the gameplay for Tomb Raider has a significant focus on action and exploration. Throughout the game, players will loop back on different areas, each time with added abilities that should help them reach areas or items that were previously unreachable. The island is small, but Crystal Dynamics makes everything feel grand, with stunning backdrops and detailed landscapes. Players get to experience every corner of this world, as finding nuggets of information through exploration enriches the story.



As the game progresses, players can elect to return to areas to collect artifacts or explore tombs. While these are all optional to complete, working through a tomb can grant character skill points for special abilities like takedowns or weapon expertise. These skills are important, as they influence how the game is played; either in a confrontation manner or through stealth.

However, the idea of trying to make it through the game without harming anyone works against the experience and upgrade systems Crystal Dynamics put in place. To access the best weapons and abilities, experience must be gained and scrap needs to be gathered. While experience and resources can be gathered without harming anyone, committing murder expedites the process. Both of the systems enrich the gameplay giving Croft perks and special attacks, but it doesn't fit into the world that was created.



For instance, there are one early moment that helps define Croft's character. The moment paints Croft as a sympathetic person with a firm grip on a good-aligned morality after she kills a deer for food. Croft apologies and thanks the animal in a solemn cutscene. This is at extreme odds with a system that promotes killing any person or animal on the island that could be a threat. It solidifies the idea that to survive the island, it's kill or be killed. It's an inconsistent application after a huge story point at the beginning of Tomb Raider.

Gameplay is fluid, without any significant issues hindering or slowing it down. Actions aren't lazy to respond or frivolous, making every character action feel important. Deaths can be a tad annoying, as well as running into items that can't be reached due to a lack of skills the first time around. Even the user interface is well-constructed, with menus that make sense, a minimal overlay, quick selects for weapons, and easy navigation at the campsite save and upgrade points.



Tomb Raider was clearly made for a controller in mind, as a DualShock 3 provided the best playing experience. The game can be played with a keyboard and mouse, but something doesn't feel right about it. It's similar to the feel experienced in latest Devil May Cry game, where it's passable, but not optimal. The sticks make it easier for roaming the land, jumping across ice-faced cliffs or ducking behind a pillar to avoid damage.

Players can expect to play Tomb Raider for 14 hours to progress through the entire storyline, spending a small amount of time exploring extra areas or trying to complete artifact collections. Collecting the relics or working through tombs isn't necessary to beating the game, but it can be a fun distraction from its serious nature. Tombs are the biggest distraction, as players will be forced to solve a physical puzzle to reach a treasure at the end.



As mentioned before, tombs can be important to character upgrades, including those for upgrading weapons like a bow or shotgun. The resources collected can be spent to upgrade various aspects, but weapon parts must be collected first. There is a multiplayer portion of the game available for extra play, but gamers will be hard-pressed to find anyone to play with.

On a technical level, a 2011 MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM had enough power to run Tomb Raider. However, it wasn't without issue. While the game doesn't seem very demanding at first glance, the rendered cutscenes can impact the system. Some of these bogged the notebook down enough to cause clipping, but it wasn't enough to detract from what was happening. Most of the gameplay was exempt from any slowdowns, minus one section of the game that seemed to tax the system. As a city burned down around Croft, the number of things going on caused the notebook to choke and drop frames. On the other hand, a 2012 Retina MacBook Pro had little problem maintaining framerate throughout.



Tomb Raider is one of the most enjoyable games of the last year, producing a story that keeps driving players forward as they plunge headfirst into the world Crystal Dynamics created. Croft is given a story deeper than any other game in the franchise, doubling down with the demands on emotional connections to the characters. The story isn't without issue, nor are the systems put in place that battle with the morality the game set up. Even with its flaws, Tomb Raider smooth gameplay and thirst for adventure propels players past the problems into a thrilling world that should be experienced at least once.

Who is Tomb Raider for?
Players that want a captivating story with a character that feels human, but also enjoys action, exploration and a touch of puzzle solving.

Who is Tomb Raider not suited for?
Players that don't want story or cutscene interruptions to take away from the action.

Until October 31, Electronista has five Tomb Raider redemption codes to give away. These codes can be redeemed at Gabe Newell's Steam store -- Steampowered.com.
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Oct 24, 2014 at 08:44 PM. )
     
scr1967
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Oct 24, 2014, 04:26 PM
 
This is a great game. I was sad when it was announced that the follow up would be X-Box only, at least initially. Hopefully a Mac port of it will be in the works too.

On a side note, it played great on my 2011 MBP. Of course it might be because of playing games like this one that I've burned through 3 motherboards, just like thousands of others.
     
Kees
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Oct 26, 2014, 04:31 AM
 
this was on sale at Steam the other day, picked it up for $5,- or so. What a great game. On a 2011 27" iMac 3,4 GHZ i7 with a 2GB Radeon HD 9670 it runs very smoothly at max quality. It's is great looking game and very fun. I finished the game with 75% completion, but the it allows you to fast travel back to camps you visited earlier to try and find stuff you missed. Still, it's not the longest game.
It doesn't have any ridiculous boss levels, a definite plus for me. There are a few harder/larger enemies that take a little longer to take down/figure out, but never over the top. Puzzles are generally quite easy to solve, but inventive. I particularly remember a puzzle involving a floating buoy in a stream which I thought was quite clever.
Overall great game, recommended.
     
Jordan Anderson
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Oct 26, 2014, 02:24 PM
 
I enjoyed the game immensely when I was reviewing it. It isn’t often that a game drives me to push through it because of my attachment to the story. I liked how Crystal Dynamics never really cast the story aside to focus on combat or repetitive tasks, but kept players interested in exploring by looping back around all the time.

@scr1976: I’m with you on Rise of the Tomb Raider. I was shocked that was announced, even as a limited, given the number of copies Tomb Raider sold across all platforms. My MBP ran it fine outside of the mentioned city where the fire, smoke and mass of enemies cause some frame drop, but it wasn’t so bad I couldn't keep playing. Some cutscenes also slowed down to where they were choppy, but again it wasn't so bad that it affected my enjoyment.

@Kees: Unless we’re talking RPGs, MMOs or multiplayer-only games, 14 hours for single player is pretty good in my opinion. I think I was 72 percent complete in that time frame. Consider that the Call of Duty franchise single player campaign has been around eight hours the last few installments. It could have been longer, but I wonder where the story could be drawn out. The second act was the longest (as it should have been), but I doubt the third act could be lengthened much without detracting from the experience.

I agree though, great as it stands. Players don’t really get caught up in any one battle or puzzle to detract from the experience.
     
   
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