Still in the sound department – the voice acting. Compared to the music and SFX, this is something of a mixed bag. There’s quite a lot of it, because in addition to the various small treasures and relics to be found, there are loads of fully-voiced diaries, scrolls and tape recorders too. (As well as maps, murals, plaques, tablets and monuments. Depending on your disposition, this game is either a nightmare or a dream come true). Most obviously, the impeccable Keeley Hawes and her marvellous Marylebone mouth have been replaced by the breathy, gushing Camilla Luddington, who does a brilliant job on the whole, but who does randomly deploy a really annoying glottal stop in the word ‘got’. And Lara says this a lot – ‘I’ve goh- to find a way across this bridge’, ‘There’s goh- to be another way around’, and so on. It’s distracting to me, as a professional linguist, but probably not a problem for the majority of players. I’m also perturbed by some of the voice direction, mainly the fact that Lara adopts American pronunciation for certain words, most glaringly ‘leather’ for ‘lever’. I imagine it was some kind of idiotic executive mandate along the lines of, ‘Oh yeah, console sales of the game about the English woman who never stops talking need to be big here in the Midwest too.’ (No offence American readers, I do love you all). Still, a good deal of the voice work is utterly brilliant, especially the guy who does “The Tracker”, whose journey is narrated with righteous vigour and murderous resolve before dissolving into a broken, dejected, deathly whisper. (Much as I sound at 3 am after another 4-hour session with Ms. Croft).
If it feels like I’m ticking boxes on a list entitled ‘Things To Mention In A Review’, then you’re more or less correct. This is partly because I’ve already thrown out about nine pages, covering three completely different approaches to this text. The brain damage Rise has caused me is complete, as at this point I must confess that the unexpected has happened: I am now, if not totally in love with ‘Nu Raider’, then at least really keen to see more of it. I’ve already been to Steam, purchased and installed Tomb Raider (2013). I still have 14% of the treasures to find in Rise, all within one single, huge, glorious zone, so I’ll definitely be going back to that as relief from a slightly less polished predecessor. But we shall see. For now, I’m not quite done here – there are still some flies in this otherwise lovely ointment that need tweezering out.
I said earlier that Rise is a conflicted game, full of tension. That’s because for the first few hours, it seems to never quite know what it wants to be. Is it a game, or a semi-interactive presentation? Am I playing this, or watching it? Several times, I became confused upon suddenly realising that I hadn’t actually been controlling Lara for the last few seconds, then confused again when I sat here staring at her, not realising control had been returned to me. And the UI, so unobtrusive and determined to keep you immersed in the game’s world, suddenly sprang a giant splash screen in my face after I’d killed a bear, advertising the fact that I’d just earned a “gift pack” that can be accessed by visiting the Marketplace from the main menu. You what? Is it somehow more exciting to have this layer of nudge-nudge, wink-wink commercial glamour in the game, than just have my rewards shoot out of the bear’s arse upon death? (You know, the usual way). Why work hard to create immersion, then destroy it by pulling the player back into reality with an in-your-face reminder that it’s all just a game?
Although the context-sensitive control scheme is the best it’s ever been since its Tomb Raider debut back in Legends, there are certain simple things you just can’t do, or that are suddenly very difficult to do. There’s no crouching in the game unless Lara wants to crouch; she’ll suddenly hunker down and start crab-shuffling about if she spots or hears enemies nearby (and confusingly, she’s even better at that than I ever was in almost 40 hours of play). She does do a kind of really strange shuffle-kick if you press ‘C’, although I never found a use for it to be honest. Lara simply gets herself down behind cover or into concealment as she needs to. Likewise, many simple manoeuvres are actually predicated by the environment – if there’s a tight gap to squeeze through or a low-hanging obstruction to roll under, she’ll just do it. That’s quite clever really, I suppose, but still a bit frustrating. Also, I never really learned how to reliably and consistently drop-hang, i.e. to drop backwards off an edge and grab it before I fell completely down. This manoeuvre is also used for climbing down ladders, and I ended up having to leap painfully and unceremoniously down, or trying to do the acrobatics and ending up in a heap. Probably this is me being a moron, but I will swear before witnesses that the rules for this were inconsistent, and the game was screwing with me on this point. Similarly, there are certain drops and ledges that she’ll just refuse to get off at all, possibly because she knows (!) that they’re 100% fatal. In the old games, that kind of stupid decision was left to you to make, and making it yourself was informative in some way, whereas now it’s just frustrating and unhelpful.
But, I don’t want to end on a downer. The game’s flaws are far outweighed by its good bits, and there are lots of interesting things that I haven’t mentioned here or gone into much detail on, like the translating of antique languages; the system of caves, crypts and tombs and how they feed back into Lara’s RPG-lite character progression; the delightfully tactile feeling of burning and exploding things with your arrows; how good the climbing and swinging actually feels (despite the slightly mad system of having everything that is climbable being painted or obviously scraped somehow), the numerous fascinating artefacts and relics you can study (with Lara’s often hilariously delivered commentary), and much more.
The thing is, it gets better as you play, as the game seems to relax and find itself. The control-snatching dwindles to an entirely normal in-and-out-of-cut-scenes frequency, the painted grab-surfaces and the strange, slightly forced translating process become completely normal. Even the occasional bit of awkward shuffling and spinning required to get Lara into position to interact with something becomes amusing rather than annoying (and let’s face it, this is a series staple stretching back to the very first game). Perhaps there’s no better recommendation I can give Rise of The Tomb Raider than to say that despite my initial reluctance to play it, my old stick-in-the-mud attitude about it being another reboot, my aversion to her new face and my revulsion at the early insistence on providing a slick, commercial ‘experience’, it has made me want to stay longer in its world, to the extent that I bought DLC for it, as well laying out for its partner in the series. Lara’s new one has made me think. It’s made me reflect on the incredible veracity that modern mo-cap technology can bring to games, and how that now genuinely predicates a need for good casting and quality acting (the Big Bad in this one was brilliant). It’s made me cringe and cheer alternately at its plot developments. It’s tired me with its technical brilliance, worn me down with its approachability, and pacified me with its onion layers of choices and systems. Eventually, it made me want to play it when I wasn’t playing it, and not stop when I was. And finally, it took me on a proper ride, away from work and stress and stupid obligations and into a world of adventure, and for that I shall always remember it with a smile. Thanks Crofty, good job. See you in the next one!
Lara’s back from her island adventure, and this time she’s got balls. Snowballs.
- Visuals – 100
- Sound – 100
- Playability – 80
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