Tomb Raider

Released in 1996 on Playstation by Eidos Interactive and developed by Core Design, a great game in almost every aspect. A popular game and successful enough to create a massive money making franchise that eventually led to Angelina Jolie playing the protagonist in a film adaptation. Some of my earliest gaming memories were of this game and the frustrating puzzles that drove me mad a kid. Still one of my favorite games of my youth and I will explain in this review why.

Its story-line is an interesting one, you follow Lara Croft an English archaeologist with a serious set of skills that puts Liam Neeson in Taken to shame. She has an unhealthy appetite for rare artifacts in which puts her life in danger in extraordinary ways. But we wont judge her for that as her adventures take us on an exciting journey through amazing places of geological and archaeological wonder. However, she is not the only one looking, she has a fair bit of competition. Enter Jacqueline Natla and Pierre Dupont, during the game they are also trying to obtain the “Scion”, which you learn about in the opening, as Lara you continuously come into contact with Pierre whom was hired by Natla to find the “Scion”, he is rather frustrating as he appears when you least expect it and he wields a pair of magnums and they hurt, big time. Not only are you trying to solve puzzles in ancient tombs owned by civilizations that clearly have a lot more to hide than meets the eye, you are trying to kill exotic wildlife, ancient monsters and competing archaeologists, so it does get rather complicated. It does include a fair bit of historical, mythological architecture and locations for all those history buffs out there. For me it made the game awesome as some of the puzzles included King Midas’s Hand and you can only imagine what happens if you come into contact with it and a massive room full of puzzles based on the Roman Gods. The whole game really brings to life the past and extinct civilizations even including dinosaurs. Yes dinosaurs. Not that long into the game you come across a Tyrannosaurus Rex and Raptors, awesome right? The puzzles themselves really take some thought and keep you on your toes, however they are not forgiving, as it is a save point based game, if you die due to the excessive amount of traps during long and tedious puzzles you do have to start all over again. The game does however make up for this by adding secrets which can give you new weapons and helpful health kits challenging you at the end of each level to go back and find them all.

The controls are not to be desired in regards to moving around and performing actions can be quite difficult, if you don’t aim Lara correctly or take the right amount of steps in a run up you can find yourself falling onto spikes, into an abyss or to the ground with bone crunching audio for added effect. It does require a fair bit of trial and error which can be frustrating but very rewarding once a puzzle is completed. The combat system is pretty decent but the only thing letting it down is the camera angles, as you don’t have control over the camera it can be quite the hindrance, it even holds you back during jumps but you normally have time to execute those. You do however, during combat end up dodge rolling until you can see your enemy clearly and then opening fire. The auto-aim on weapons is extremely helpful as Lara automatically aims at what is closest to her and this can help you locate hidden enemies or enemies not in plain view which is exceptionally helpful for when Pierre decides to make an appearance as he always appears at the most inopportune moments and his movement is less predicable than other enemies. You definitely need a controller for this game, do not try to play this on Android or IOS as the touch screen is impossible to execute any maneuvers you need to do without having 4 hands.

The graphics and audio are what you would expect from a game of this caliber. 3D polygon models and pre-rendered scenery which in some places becomes 2D, normally bushes, small foliage and scattered non-interactive artifacts you do tend to look past this though, as it was expected for the limitations of its era. The music is one of my favorite aspects of the game, just like any adventure game it continuously changes from area to area and even during important moments, for example when you have a time restraint due to a trap being set off such as a boulder rolling towards you (Indiana Jones style) or imminent danger. I would recommend checking out some of the soundtracks on YouTube. It has a classical feel to it in places and it really does set the scene for the areas you visit in your journey.

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Overall, a 7/10, its story-line and puzzle solving is really impressive and it really does get immersive, however, the only drawback is the trial and error, if you are impatient and one to lose interest after a dozen attempts this really isn’t your game. Graphics and audio are impressive for its day and add to the immersion for the player. However, what holds the game back is the controls and camera angles, if the game had better handling it would be much more enjoyable because you really can give yourself carpal tunnel trying to execute jumps and grapples to progress forward and complete puzzles and with its length it can be quite tedious. However it does give you a great sense of achievement once completed and you can really understand why the game is critically acclaimed by companies such as Metacritic.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the read.

Dec

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Resident Evil (Bio Hazard)

Another great franchise I am a fan of. Resident Evil released on Playstation on March 22nd 1996, now it is strange that this is one of my favorite games as when this was released I was 6 years old and the prospects of zombies or mutants terrified me. Its story-line and monsters played integral roles in many of my childhood nightmares. It was one of the first games I owned on my Playstation, my father bought the game for himself knowing full well I was not old enough to play it, therefore my first experience of this game was very much a spectator. After watching him play the iconic opening sequence and the introduction of the first zombie I did not sleep for weeks. Needless to say my mother was infuriated with my father for this. To be fair he wasn’t to know it would scare a 6 year old to his inner core. But I digress you didn’t come here to read my backstory, you came here to read a gaming review, but I guess you are now curious how something that scared me as a child is now one of my favorite games.

A first of its kind, Resident Evil set the scene for horror games paving the way for other franchises such as Silent Hill and games such as Nightmare Creatures and Parasite Eve. Capcom really did well with this storyline. It sets the scene in on the outskirts of a fictional city called Raccoon City, a series of bizarre murders have occurred in a town surrounding Spencer Mansion. You follow the protagonists the S.T.A.R.S Alpha Team comprised of Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Barry Burton, Brad Vickers, Jospeh Frost and Albert Wesker the teams captain. Initially Bravo Team was sent to investigate the murders but they had lost contact with them upon their entrance to Spencer Mansion. Alpha Team discovers their crashed helicopter and land hoping to find survivors. Now during the opening scene in the game, before CGI, they had actors filmed in full attire of the Alpha team, it made me laugh as it was extremely cheesy even for a 6 year old and even funnier for the elder version of me replaying the game years later. Again, I digress. They land looking for survivors and very soon afterwards Joseph Frost gets mauled by what appeared to be rabid dogs/wolves tearing his throat out before turning to the rest of the team poised to attack. Their pilot freaks out and takes off in the helicopter to escape leaving Jill, Chris, Barry and Albert Wesker to fend for themselves. They make a break for the mansion as their only point of safety and avoid further contact with the rabid animals.

From there the game is yours to explore, you get a choice of two playable characters; Jill Valentine, she started with a handgun which was ideal but had less space in her backpack for items or Chris Redfield, he started with a knife and more bag space. Essentially, Jill was the most appealing character as the handgun really comes in handy early on and fighting enemies with a knife, considering what enemies you were expecting to come across. In the GameCube remastered version they change the differences slightly aswell as some of the story. Jill has a pick-lock which is very useful and Chris has a lighter which is also helpful. However, they still leave the Jill character more appealing than Chris as you can obtain the lighter later on while you cannot find a pick-lock and have to survive with one-use keys and if they are used incorrectly or sporadically it can leave you in quite the predicament. Needless to say I chose Jill in the original and the remastered version. I will say though depending on the character you chose will determine many story-line differences so it is worth playing as both.

Once you have “ummed and ahhed” at what character you want to pick the game opens up and your placed in the eerie Spencer Mansion foyer. It’s quite impressive. After a small discussion regarding whats happened, the remaining three members of Alpha Team you decide to split up and look for Chris or Barry who has for some reason disappeared or not made it to the mansion with the team. Splitting up to investigate in a horror setting… always a recipe for disaster and a terrible cliche. As Jill you and Barry search the West Wing of the building and Wesker investigates the East Wing by himself. Eventually you come across a pool of blood and a body and back to tell Wesker who has not reappeared so you decide to continue by yourself. You then come to one of the most iconic scenes in the game and the whole of the horror gaming genre, it really is terrifying. The lead up to it and the door mechanics really adds terror to the game. Opening any door goes into a door opening sequence with a blacked out background and the door opening, with a loud cliched creaking sound, adding ridiculous amounts of mystery and tension every time you open a door. You genuinely have no idea what is on the other side before it is too late and you are thrown into horrific situation where everything in that room wants to cannibalize you and will stop at nothing to do so. They don’t even feel any pain, goddamned zombies. This scene introduces you to the enemy. You see a person crouched over what seems like a dying person, who you soon recognize as one of the Bravo Team (Kenneth) and just as his soul escapes his body the person who was crouched over him looks around displaying his/her horribly disfigured face covered in entrails and blood. If your heart doesn’t sink or your core temperature stays normal it has not had its full effect. As a kid I ran from the room I was that scared, these days it sends a shiver down my spine. The game cuts back in and you’re thrown into a situation you are not sure you can handle as this person/monster shuffles towards you with his/her arms outstretched. It’s not a spacious place this mansion and the controls are not forgiving so it is best to avoid contact with these monsters whenever possible and for other reasons I cannot explain without spoilers. So just avoid anything and everything as ammunition and heath kits are not easy to acquire. Before I spoil the rest of the game I will move on because I will end up writing about everything and it will become pointless to play. I have already spoiled the opening so I apologize for that. However, in the grand scheme of the game its but a mere taste of whats to come.

Left: 1996 Original Right: 2002 Remake

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The graphics of the original for 1996 was amazing, polygons had taken over sprites and were now the start of the gaming golden age. As polygon graphics were slowly becoming the norm, it really adds to the horror of the game. Limitations such as most of the zombies looking very similar, mangled face, white blood stained top and black trousers you dont tend to mind considering the era they came from. There are some variations later on but they mostly look the same. Once other monsters such as spiders, dogs and ravens make their arrival you do really get a feel for the complexity of the graphics for the game. Even the blood splatter is rather good for its time. Considering modern games tend to not even add blood splatter.

Overall, an excellent survival horror game, a real ground breaker of its day paving the way for survival horror games to come. The setting, puzzle solving, small enclosed rooms and terrifying enemies make this a difficult but enjoyable game. The only complaint I have is the controls. Inverted controls and awkward camera angles make it extremely difficult to take on enemies and avoid them from time to time you will hear something and not see it, as much as that is fun for suspense and horror trying to target something from a distance  it takes a lot of work and it’s not ideal to take on enemies in close combat considering its their strongest strategy. It is also one of a few games which have multiple endings, pushing you to go for the best ending which comes hand in hand with doing a hell of a lot more to achieve. Definitely a game I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of survival horror games. I would not however recommend the films, so don’t get me started on that.

I hope you enjoyed the read!

Dec