Game Review: Tomb Raider – Directed by Noah Hughes and Published by Square Enix

Wow. Tomb Raider got gritty. The new re-vamp of the Tomb Raider series sees a new origin story published by Square Enix (who brought us Hitman:Absolution, Final Fantasy III and VII, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Sleeping Dogs back in 2012). This version began with heroine Lara Croft’s first job out of university. At age 21, Lara is inexperienced and lacks confidence in her abilities and we see her gradually build up her survival and fighting skills throughout gameplay. In this adventure, Lara and her team crash on a mysterious island in the Dragon Triangle, looking for a lost religious civilisation. They find a cult following and must try both to explore their findings and find routes of escape from their island prison.

The gameplay follows that of previous Tomb Raider games. It’s a third person, part free-world but mainly set-route action-puzzler with additional shooting aspects. The ‘puzzles’ are generally easy to do, especially if you use the games ‘left bumper-reveal’ that highlights any item in the game that’s needed. The puzzles, in this sense, become more ‘working out which action to use’ than ‘working out from scratch’. A couple need timing, though… which can be a pain in the arse. What’s an even bigger pain in the arse, however, are the cinematic-dodge sequences. For example at one point you’re falling down a fast-paced river trying to dodge pieces of wood and the next you’re parachuting through some trees avoiding tree branches. I saw Lara die so many times in those two sequences, I feel I’ve been de-sensitised to the image of someone being stabbed through the neck/stomach by wooden spears.

The fighting is all about long-distance and sneak attacks. You find various ranged weapons along the way and generally spend your time trying to get head-shots so you go largely un-noticed. There’s usually plenty of ammo around, but there was still one mini-boss with a shield that left me running around in circles because I’d ran out of bullets and arrows. There is no visible health bar for Lara. This can be a little problematic as you have to rely on how bloody the screen is as to whether you should run away or fight. I presume that the play is based on how quickly you get hurt, rather than a ‘bar’. Fighting is made slightly easier by a lock-on feature; those that want more of a challenge can ignore this but it sure helps anyone that’s less prone to shooters.  The game does feel a little like a shooter at times, as you’re unsure why exactly you’re firing at some enemies. Eventually, the story is revealed and you get some backstory.

Any big negatives would be small things. The menus are a little flashy; especially the campfire menu where if you flick through it too fast seems like it could give you a seizure. It’s a little annoying that Lara has no health bar. The writing is horribly small that even on a 42” TV you can’t read it. It’s also not that clear when you gain XP, so you just have to keep checking at camp fires to see if you have any skill points to use. These general little annoyances don’t affect gameplay too much, though. The main positive is the grittiness. I’d not played the other Tomb Raider games, but this one sure is dark. And I love it! I was surprised to see it was an eighteen rating at first, but it was when I was swimming through a river of blood and skulls I came to appreciate it. Some parts (to a gamer that hasn’t really played any horror genres) were genuinely scary!

I may have focused on the negatives here, but Tomb Raider is a truly satisfying game to play. It covers a wide range of genre types and its visuals are stunning. There are lots of cinematic sequences that shake things up a little and the dark atmosphere really helps build the story. Overall, I love the game… despite the small things. I’d say it was worth the price (always an issue for Xbox games nowadays) and I hope some sequels are offered in the same gritty tone.

Rating: 8/10

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Game Review: City of Horrors (Board Game) by Nicolas Normandon

City of Horror: a board game of tact, negotiation and a slowly growing swarm of terrifying zombies. Prepare for an epic battle and race for survival as you take up a team of 4-6 different characters to battle their way through crowds of the living dead. Team-work, negotiation and careful planning is the name of the game, as you have to handle the growing threat using action cards and character perks. The variety of teams, board-areas, action cards and different zombie movements also add a real dynamic to the game and greatly increase the re-play value.  However the general gameplay is active, even though would be significantly slower with only three players. The more interaction and debating you have during gameplay vastly increases playability, so the more bargaining prowess the better! The game naturally gets tougher, with two areas of the board being destroyed by certain player actions, while the number of zombies slowly increases over four rounds.

Beautifully illustrated by Miguel Coimbra, the images really add a new dimension to the game. Everything about it: the board, the cards, characters, box and even the rule books are flourished with intricate, crafted pictures. Such imagery makes the game very visual and helps bring the game-world to life. You do get quite confused at first with the amount of icons, however, which brings one of the main issues with the game. While the majority of it runs quite smoothly, some of the rules seem too complex and un-needed. It comes to a point during play where you begin to cut rules out or make your own, generalised versions, just because it makes it that little bit easier. Gameplay can become a little flawed with the number of characters verses the number of action cards you’re given too. There’s a fine balance between the gameplay being too easy and there being no chance of winning; staying perfectly on the balance-beam of the rules can be a little tricky.

Overall, however, this is a strong contender for my list of favourite games. It takes a while to get around the rules, but it’s beautifully designed and illustrated and is good fun to play. Little bags provided help you keep all of the small parts safe, too, so you can have a well organised world apocalypse to keep and treasure at home. Though on the pricey side, between £35 -£39, City of Horror is a unique, quirky game that is worth its’ money for replay-value.

To buy:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-of-Horror-Board-Game/dp/B009ROKVUE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1353116031&sr=8-1

Rating: 9/10