If you've been playing big-budget action video games over the last couple of years, you've probably noticed a few trends. The graphics have gotten better. The animations have become more lifelike. The explosions have gotten more explosive.
And more recently, amid all those improvements, has come a trend that's even more earth-shattering and important: Video games have discovered the bow and arrow.
Call it the "bowification" of video games. Far Cry 3. Crysis 3. Assassin's Creed III. Tomb Raider. In just the past six months, we've had four high profile games include a bow and arrow as a primary weapon. In an impressive bit of reverse evolution, it seems video games have finally discovered the bow and arrow, decades after they discovered the assault rifle.
All this goes along with pop culture's more general bow-obsession, with Katniss Everdeen using her archery chops to survive The Hunger Games and Brave's Merida besting each of her suitors in an archery contest, Robin Hood-style. Way to be current, video games!
A few notes: First of all, cossbows don't count. Sorry, Dishonored! I'm going to focus on four games that are pretty recent, as they represent the current height of video game bow-and-arrow design. So, I've left off games like Turok, Wii Sports Resort, and any of the Zelda games. I've also left off a few games where the bows don't really have a mechanical component to them—my bow and arrow in Guild Wars 2 operates pretty much like a gun; same thing with Diablo III or Torchlight II. I am including Skyrim, because that game is interesting and its iteration on the Elder Scrolls' bow and arrow design is cool. If there are other video game bows you think are worthy of recognition, I hope you'll mention them in the comments.
Here we go, ranked from last to first:
How it works: Aim and fire with the Y/Triangle button.
How you cancel a shot: Press B/O.
How you aim: You select a target using the aiming feature, then Connor does the rest for you.
One hit? One kill with most humans, but not with animals.
Better than a gun? No, not in this case. The Assassin's Creed III bow is silent, which is good for taking out guards quietly, but in general it's inferior to the game's pistols, particularly the moment you've been spotted. Aiming and firing simply takes too long to be effective.
Upgrades: None to speak of.
Fakest thing you can do: The more I think about it, the more I think that Assassin's Creed III's bow might be the most realistic of all the video game bows on this list. Which unfortunately seems to have contributed to it being in last place.
Greatest moment: There's something to be said for hunting from the treetops in Assassin's Creed III, and the bow always felt at home in the woods.
John Rambo says: "Your worst nightmare."
Overall Opinion: The bow in Assassin's Creed III just doesn't feel very good to fire. The auto-aiming is strange and doesn't allow you to track a moving target, and as I've noted before, pressing "Y" (or triangle) to aim a weapon feels a bit like standing on your tiptoes to reach something in a high cupboard. There's a lack of satisfying impact, as well.
How it works: Zoom with the left trigger, pull the string back with the right. Release to fire.
How you cancel a shot: Click the right thumbstick.
How you aim: You don't actually aim along the arrow, but rather using crosshairs on your HUD combined with a green line indicating the arrow's trajectory.
One hit? One kill, provided you've got your draw-strength up for the bigger baddies.
Better than a gun? Without question. It's so much better than a gun, in fact, that it makes the guns totally pointless and throws off the balance of the game.
Upgrades: Your bow comes outfitted with all manner of special arrows, so they don't really qualify as "upgrades." But Prophet's bow can fire regular arrows, explosive arrows, thermite-tipped arrows that explode on a delay, and arrows that deliver a deadly electric shock.
Greatest moment: The sound design on the Crysis 3 bow makes up for its odd feel—the tension of the arrow combined with the thunk of impact makes it clear that this thing is really a deadly future-weapon in the guise of a bow and arrow.
Fakest thing you can do: At first I was going to say that having your arrows designed so that they'd show up on your heads-up display for gathering was unrealistic, but actually, that's exactly the sort of thing that some military weapons-designer would probably do.
John Rambo Says: "I could have killed 'em all, I could've killed you. In town you're the law, out here it's me. "
Overall Opinion: Prophet's bow in Crysis 3 is sort of a "bow in name only." Sure, it looks like a tricked-out compound bow. Yes, it fires arrows. But it's so powerful and futuristic that it's almost entirely removed from the more primal appeal of the weapon itself. Furthermore, because the bow can be fired while cloaked, it throws off the precarious balance struck by the first two Crysis games and makes Prophet overpowered.
How it works: Aim with the right trigger, release to fire. Hit the left trigger to toggle slow-mo, if you have the ability. As a demonstration, check out this TOTALLY SICK VIDEO I just shot today. I was going to grab a screenshot to show how the bow works, but I happened to fire this arrow and... yesssss.
My first thought was "I can't believe no one saw that." Then I checked the corner and saw that I'd accidentally hit the record button and captured the whole thing using Fraps. Victory! So, I thought I'd share it here. (And okay, maybe it's not actually that hard to do—it does kind of look like the bird relocated so that my arrow would hit it. But I felt pretty proud, so. Anyway.)
How you cancel a shot: Press X, a welcome addition to the Elder Scrolls series, as in the past you'd have to fire into the ground and then pick up your arrow.
How you aim: Right along the arrow, with a zoom-in if you've purchased the required perk.
One hit? Rarely one kill, unless you're up against a weak enemy or you're firing from stealth.
Better than a gun? There are no guns in Skyrim, though video game marketers seem fond of suggesting that there are several other games that satisfy that particular fan desire…
Upgrades: The most important upgrade is the ability to slow down time while aiming, which is a boon for those who play this game with a controller, in particular. However, thanks to the game's crafting system, you can upgrade your bow in all manner of other deadly ways. My Daedric bow shoots lightning arrows, for example.
Greatest moment: Picking off an entire roomful of bandits without alerting a single one. The "bang!" sound of a successful sneak attack is never less that satisfying, and it's only heightened by the goofy way the ragdoll physics can take over once they go flying. It's also fun to peg a dragon in midair with an arrow, partly because it's such a difficult trick to pull off. Unless you're me, as evidenced by that amazing video I've already talked about too much.
Fakest thing you can do: You can upgrade your bow so that it fires lightning and traps souls! God, how unrealistic.
John Rambo says: "It's in the blood! It's natural! Peace? That's an accident!"
Overall Opinion: While Skyrim's combat is generally not on par with the other games on this list, I actually like the bow and arrow a lot. It never quite has the stopping power I'd like it to when I've got a troll charging at me head-on, but when sneaking, there are few weapons in the Skyrim universe as deadly and satisfying.
How it works: You aim with the left trigger and pull the string back with the right trigger.
How you cancel a shot: There isn't a consistent way, unfortunately. You can switch arrow-types if you've got an additional arrow assigned to the D-pad, but that's an unsteady workaround at best. I have memories of being able to inconsistently cancel pulled arrows, but haven't been able to recreate that in my game. If there's a way, I'm not sure what it is. Meaning that I wind up shooting my arrows into the ground and grabbing them. You got so much right, Far Cry 3!
Update: Since enough of you guys pointed out that in theory it's totally easy to cancel a shot, I thought I'd give it an even more thorough test. Looks like this issue is only on PC, or even just my PC, and it's inconsistent. I'm able to get "R" on the keyboard to cancel the shot every time, but "X" on the controller is inconsistent at best. Often it won't work at all. So, good on you for the most part, Far Cry 3—the issue isn't with your design but appears to be with your PC controller setup. Your bow is still pretty cool, though.
How you aim: You can get either a red-dot sight or a more advanced hunter's sight, which accounts for drop-off. I never quite mastered the way aiming works, but I did always use the hunter's sight, even though it was more difficult to see what was going on.
One hit? One kill.
Better than a gun? Not really. The bow is arguably better for silent takedowns, but it's hard to top a powerful silenced assault rifle or sniper rifle, particularly if you've unlocked the later weapons in the game. That said, it's certainly cooler than a gun, and holds its own.
Upgrades: You could eventually either make fire-arrows or explosive arrows. The explosive arrows were oddly underpowered, and often it took more than one to blow up a vehicle or kill a guy.
Greatest moment: Hunting actual animals, actually. Some of the most enjoyable side-missions in Far Cry 3 were the advanced bow hunts, where you'd be tasked with taking down a deadly jungle beast using only the bow and regular arrows. Usually it involved finding a good vantage point and hitting shots from far enough away that the tiger/leopard in question wouldn't be able to find you. But these sequences effectively captured the thrill of creeping through the underbrush, bow in hand.
Fakest thing you can do: Make an explosive-tipped arrow out of a hand grenade while under duress in the wild. Look, I get that Jason Brody has become something of a badass while on this adventure, but.
John Rambo says: "You know what you are... what you're made of. War is in your blood. Don't fight it. You didn't kill for your country. You killed for yourself."
Overall opinion: The bow in Far Cry 3 is a cool, empowering weapon, and easily the game's defining mode of dealing destruction. While silenced sniper rifles can generally get the same job done from a longer range, the bow itself was my weapon of choice for the majority of the game, particularly when hunting.
How it works: Aim with the left trigger, pull back the string with the right trigger.
How you cancel a shot: Let go of the left trigger. Okay, hold on. This is the only game on this list to adopt this method of canceling a shot, and it deserves mention, because it's great. Initially, I was uncomfortable canceling shots this way, but only because it felt so unfamiliar. As it turns out, this is a very natural, subtly brilliant way of doing things. It's a much more accurate amalgamation of what you'd actually do if you decided you didn't want to shoot an arrow. You'd release the string.
How you aim: Down the arrow using a crosshair.
One hit? One kill, as long as you're sneaking or can score a headshot. In combat, it depends.
Better than a gun? Absolutely. The bow is a silent killer, has a ton of non-combat uses, and is wicked powerful and accurate over long distances.
Upgrades: By the end of Tomb Raider, Lara's bow has become something of a swiss army knife. It can fire regular, flaming, and explosive arrows, sure. It can also fire a rope that can manipulate objects in the environment and even attach to cliff-sides and set up ziplines. Coupled with her automated rope-retractor, she can demolish large chunks of wood and access new areas. She also uses her arrows as a makeshift melee weapon, and to skin animals after hunting. After a couple of days on the island, Lara's bow is no longer the sad little wooden thing she pulled off the corpse at the start; it's a wicked-looking high-tech compound bow with a counterweight and nasty arrows.
Greatest moment: There's a sequence near the middle of the game where Lara enters a large wooded area at night. It's full of guards. The first time I played this bit, I was able to creep through the woods, silently picking off guard after guard until none were left standing. It was probably my favorite sequence in the entire game—Lara Croft as deadly predator, dealing death with a bow and arrow.
Fakest thing you can do: While I value the utility, I'm not at all convinced that a bow could fire a rope-arrow into a cliff face firmly enough to let me peg that rope and climb across a chasm.
John Rambo says: "When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing."
Overall Opinion: Turns out there's a reason that Lara's bow has been featured so prominently in Tomb Raider's promotional materials—the weapon feels inextricably tied to Lara in the new game, and between the two of them, they can overcome almost any obstacle. The bow has a marvelous feeling of physicality to it, including how Lara can only pull the string back for so long before her aim starts to shake. The decision to give players the ability to hit "up" and flick Lara's lighter, igniting the arrow, was inspired. I found it telling that in the game, I used Lara's bow whenever possible, even when it wasn't the most powerful option, unless I was getting rushed by enemies on either side. Even then, whipping out a machine gun or shotgun just felt wrong somehow.
So, Tomb Raider wins it by a neck. Far Cry 3 put up a good fight, but while that game does have some very fun bow-hunting, the bow itself doesn't match Lara Croft's weapon in all its upgraded glory. My Skyrim bow is all well and good, but falls short in heated combat. Crysis 3's bow is barely a bow at all, really—more of an overpowered killing device—that may be to some players' taste, but it isn't to mine. And Assassin's Creed III's bow, like so many other things about that game, is better in concept than in execution.
Congrats, Lara. Take a bow. You are currently the video game archer to beat. At least until it turns out there's an awesome bow and arrow in BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us. Which, given the industry's current bow-happy state, wouldn't surprise me in the least.
Tomb Raider's PC version is generally strong, offering a better-looking, higher resolution, smoother tomb-raiding experience than its console counterpart. That said, if you're using an Nvidia graphics card, the game could be pretty unstable, though that instability is usually fixed by turning tessellation off.
Good news: A beta driver released by Nvidia on Friday clears the issue right up, and ostensibly offers some performance improvements across the board, too. I installed the driver for my 660Ti and have been running with tessellation with nary a problem.
It's been cool to explore the island a bit in the aftermath of the story, just like Evan said it would be. That said, I think I might actually start a replay of the game on a higher difficulty. My bow and arrow misses having moving targets.
Monday mornings are for morbid death compilation videos, right?
Director of the video above, BenBuja, says that it's every possible death scenario in the game. But if you catch a missing one, feel free to share it below. Otherwise, enjoy your morbid morning. And you're welcome.
Although this year's Tomb Raider reboot made our latest list of most anticipated PC games, I must admit that it was one of the games I was least looking forward to from a performance perspective. Previous titles in the franchise have received mixed to positive reviews, but gameplay aside, their visuals weren't exactly mind-blowing so we've never bothered doing a performance review on one — until now, anyway.
As with the last few entries, Crystal Dynamics developed the new Tomb Raider using the Crystal Engine — albeit a heavily modified version. Being a multiplatform release, we were naturally worried about the game being geared toward consoles with PC being an afterthought, which has become increasingly common (Dead Space 3 comes to mind as a recent example) and generally results in lackluster graphics.
Those concerns were at least partially alleviated when we learned that the PC port was being worked on by Nixxes Software BV, the same folks who handled the PC versions of Hitman: Absolution and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, both of which were great examples of what we expect from decent ports in terms of graphical quality and customization. Hitman in particular really stressed our higher-end hardware.
We were also relieved to learn that Tomb Raider supports DirectX 11, which brings access to rendering technologies such as depth of field, high definition ambient occlusion, hardware tessellation, super-sample anti-aliasing and contact-hardening shadows. Additionally, compared to the diluted console versions, the PC build offers better textures as well as AMD's TressFX real-time hair physics system.
The result should be a spectacular looking game that pushes the limits of today's enthusiast hardware — key word being "should," of course — so let's move on and see what the Tomb Raider reboot is made of.
We'll be testing 27 DirectX 11 graphics card configurations from AMD and Nvidia covering a wide range of prices from the affordable to the ultra-expensive. The latest drivers will be used, and every card will be paired with an Intel Core i7-3960X to remove CPU bottlenecks that could influence high-end GPU scores.
We're using Fraps to measure frame rates during 90 seconds of gameplay footage from Tomb Raider's first level, the checkpoint is called "Stun." The test begins with Lara running to escape from a cave system.
Our Fraps test ends just before Lara exits the cave, which is ironically where the built-in benchmark begins. We decided to test a custom section of the game rather than the stock benchmark because this is how we will test Tomb Raider in the future when reviewing new graphics cards. Using Fraps also allows us to record frame latency performance, though for this particular article we didn't include those.
Frame timings weren't included for two reasons: it's not easy to display all that data when testing 27 different GPUs, and we feel Nvidia needs more time to improve their drivers. We'll include frame time performance for Tomb Raider in our next GPU review.
We'll test Tomb Raider at three common desktop display resolutions: 1680x1050, 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 using DX11. We are also testing using the three top quality presets that includes Ultimate, Ultra and High. No changes will be made to the presets.
Moving from high to ultra has a huge impact on performance so we dropped several cards from testing as they couldn't handle this quality.
For an average of 60fps, you'll want the HD 7870 or GTX 680. We're not sure if we've ever seen those two cards sitting next to each other, so it seems like there's something that is really hurting Nvidia's cards (note that TressFX is off).
In another first, the HD 7970 GHz Edition tangoed with the GTX Titan, slipping behind a few frames in the average results but doing much better on the minimum fps.
The minimum frame rates of the Nvidia cards were quite low and we see this most notably with the GeForce GTX 670 which averaged 61fps but had a minimum of just 28fps.
This time the GTX Titan is just barely able to outclass the HD 7970 GHz Edition, while the HD 7950 Boost was the first card to break 60fps, though you could probably get by just as comfortably with the standard model.
You won't be playing on ultra quality at 2560x1600 without a respectable graphics configuration, as the GTX 680 was reduced to a mere 33fps while the HD 7970 fared better with 45fps.
Ultimate quality unsurprisingly calls for an ultimate GPU — probably more than one. Even at 1680x1050, it took an HD 7970 or GTX Titan to render an average of more than 60fps, while the minimum frame rate of the 7970 was around 30fps. Nvidia's cards continue to struggle and the minimum frame rates are far too low as the GTX Titan dropped to just 19fps in spots.
For now, those wanting to play Tomb Raider are far better off with an AMD solution as the HD 7970 GHz Edition was able to deliver more consistent performance than the GTX Titan and it offered substantially better results than the GTX 680, which ranked lower than the HD 7870.
Playing at extreme resolutions such as 2560x1600 or beyond will likely require more than one GPU with the fastest GPU tested (the HD 7970 GHz Edition) averaging only 34fps with a minimum frame rate of 21fps.
Steven Walton is a writer at TechSpot. TechSpot is a computer technology publication serving PC enthusiasts, gamers and IT pros since 1998.
Even if you like the new Tomb Raider reboot like me, you still might be pining away for the more assured version of the series' iconic heroine. So, it's a great thing that this fan film give you a bit of both.
The vulnerability of the new version of Lara Croft gets folded in with the snarkiness of her predecessor in Reboot, a two-part creation directed by David Wayman. Some beautiful locations are on display here and the quiet, mysterious tone with its hints of the supernatural pulls you in deeper. And the meta twist at the end is a nice nod to how things have changed for Lara.
It can be a bit difficult to talk about the new Tomb Raider without also talking about Uncharted. Naughty Dog's PS3 series has always had a lot of Tomb Raider in its DNA, and Crystal Dynamics' new Lara Croft adventure has clearly been taking notes from Uncharted.
The two games are as interesting in their differences as they are in their similarities. So, Kirk and Patricia decided to crack them both open and see what treasures lay within.
Spoilers: This conversation has some story spoilers for the ending of Uncharted 3, but keeps Tomb Raider spoilers to a minimum.
Kirk: Hello, Patricia! Okay. We've both spent the last week or so raiding tombs. It's time to talk about this game some.
Patricia: Yes! Or, well, I've spent more time shooting people than raiding tombs, but, you know.
Kirk: Ha. Right. Certainly one thing that sets this game apart from its predecessors. I should say here that I've finished the game, but I'm not sure quite where you are in the story.
Patricia: Lara just decided that nobody can leave the island. I think she may be losing it a little!
Kirk: She may well be. Or... is she the only one who hasn't lost it?? DUN DUN DUN. Okay, on to the thing we're really gonna be talking about here-this game as compared with Tomb Raider, as well as with Uncharted. Any general thoughts?
Patricia: I think it's interesting that both games deal with legacy, though to a different extent. Tomb Raider has some nods to Lara's parents, who I assume also raided tombs and whatnot? And she grapples with actually becoming that type of Croft in the game. Drake has something similar, only—spoilers I guess? He's not actually a Drake—he's an orphan who takes up the Drake name, as we saw in Uncharted 3. But it's still important to him that he lives up to that stuff…but as a fantasy. He's escaping reality.
Kirk: Huh. I hadn't thought about that parallel, but it's true. That kind of ties in with the superhero mythos that Crystal Dynamics and Naughty Dog have used when creating Lara Croft and, to a lesser extent, Nathan Drake. That's actually something that both series have added in later games. In the first Uncharted, Nathan Drake was little more than a roguish adventurer, as I recall. Similar to how in the first Tomb Raider, Lara was just sort of this badass chick. It wasn't really until Uncharted 3 that Naughty Dog decided it was worth digging into his backstory. And, to be honest, I wasn't all that interested even when they did. I do find myself interested in Lara's journey in this new game, moreso than I ever was in Nathan Drake's, but I'm less interested in the idea of what her father did, and her legacy and all that. I'm more caught up in the moment to moment. I don't buy all that "You're a Croft, you just don't know it" business. I almost think I'd prefer if she stopped talking about her father and just focused on surviving.
Patricia: Yeah I wish she stopped talking about her dad so much, especially if her mom might be THE Lara Croft?
Anyway, I think this one of the main differences between Uncharted and Tomb Raider for me: Uncharted feels more deliberately thrilling, something that's designed to be escapism for the player and not just Nathan Drake…and naturally, Tomb Raider, by virtue of being a video game, is also escapism, but it's not the same sort of escapism. Tomb Raider feels painful to play! Lara is not having a good time.
Kirk: She sure isn't. And yeah, the games have very different tones. But hey, okay, before we focus too much more on the differences between the two games, let's talk about the similarities. Because there certainly are some, otherwise we wouldn't be comparing them at all. Look at the cycle here: Tomb Raider set the template-do some exploring, do some shooting, solve some puzzles. Then, Uncharted took that template and fine-tuned it for the modern era-do some exploring, do a lot more shooting, focus more on the shooting and make the whole thing a super-slick cinematic experience. When Underworld came out, I could sense Crystal Dynamics reacting to Uncharted but not quite being ready to create that kind of game yet. And now, with Tomb Raider, they've effectively lifted whole chunks straight from Uncharted, and even improved on the template in a number of ways. So we go from Tomb Raider to Uncharted back to Tomb Raider. The circle is complete.
Patricia: Ah, that's interesting. This is actually my first Tomb Raider, so I've never experienced the franchise as it used to be! Still, it's pretty obvious that the sensibilities of modern Tomb Raider are a reaction to Uncharted. Do you feel like that's a good thing, has it improved the Tomb Raider franchise? When people talk about "modern design" it's not always a positive thing.
Kirk: You know, I think it's good and bad. I like the Uncharted games, particularly Uncharted 2. I like them for what they are—charismatic, stylish and generous cinematic adventures. But while they lifted the general layout and approach of Tomb Raider, they don't feature nearly as many puzzles as the old Tomb Raider games did. Uncharted games are a lot closer to Gears of War, honestly, than to Tomb Raider. Take the two most recent Tomb Raider games: Underworld and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Underworld was a surprisingly cool game-it had what might truly be the most nonsensical, convoluted story I've ever seen in a video game, but beneath that junk lay some interesting, ambitious puzzles. The puzzles would span entire levels-you'd be riding your motorcycle from one area to another, moving a massive statue here in order to get a second statue in a whole other area to rearrange itself.
Meanwhile Guardian of Light is one of the most purely enjoyable co-op games I've ever played, and it's just loaded with great two-player puzzles and bonus challenges. So, playing the new Tomb Raider, I'm highly aware of just what an influence Uncharted has had. The new game features a mere smattering of puzzles, and they're all comparatively simple, even the optional side tombs. That's a disappointment. I understand the complaints of those who say that this "isn't a Tomb Raider game," even while I think that statements like that miss the point somewhat. But regardless, Uncharted's influence is a constant, pronounced presence.
Patricia: Oh, are some people saying it's not a Tomb Raider game? Wow.
Kirk: Well, you know. Like, "people." It's a thing I've heard.
Patricia: Anyway, yeah, I can't say I play Uncharted for the puzzles—they're nice to have to add flavor I guess, or as a reminder of what the game is supposed to be about (treasure hunting).
Kirk: Though if I had to choose, I'd say I prefer Tomb Raider's examinable treasures over Uncharted's less fleshed-out baubles. A small distinction, I guess.
Patricia: Yeah I liked that! It felt L.A. Noireish. The simple puzzles in both Uncharted and the new Tomb Raider didn't bother me much though, but I've also been weaned on these modern design practices. It's a shame Tomb Raider didn't feature more complex puzzles, since both games don't really convey the archeologist side of the adventures, eh? Tomb Raider's puzzles are still more complex than those in Uncharted, but Uncharted knows how to package it a little better—I love Nathan's journal thing, even if sometimes tells me to put the square peg in the square hole.
Also, raiding tombs—and therefore doing puzzles—is mostly optional in Tomb Raider. Which seems weird to me given the name of the franchise.
Kirk: I was initially kind of happy to hear that the tombs were optional, since I figured they might let the game have its cake and eat it, too. When I talked with the game's creative director Noah Hughes back during a preview, I kept trying to get a sense of whether the side-tombs would scale in difficulty and eventually include the sorts of stumpers that past games had. Unfortunately, they don't, really. (He did mention that they went back and forth on the "Tomb Raided!" thing that shows up at the end of the tombs, since they weren't sure if it was too off-tone). I'm hopeful for some sort of more intense puzzle-room DLC, but it would've been nice to see more puzzles included with the main game.
I'm surprised you like Drake's journal—I hate that thing! I like all the little notes and touches like that, but I dislike how it so obviously gives hints as to how to solve the puzzles. Those puzzles so often rely on their own set of rules, where Tomb Raider's puzzles rely on physics. I vastly prefer the Tomb Raider approach.
Patricia: Oh no, I like the journal because it's pretty—I don't like that it gives me the answer. But if I was trying to figure out some archeological puzzle in real life I'd figure I'd probably have to crack open a few books or something, you know? So it lends itself to the theme.
Kirk: That's true, and in that regard, it's nice that Drake keeps a journal. One of the weirdest shortcomings of Tomb Raider are those ridiculous journals that you'll find lying around, where Lara's friends articulate their innermost desires and then… leave them on a table somewhere.
Patricia: Yeah—some of them, I was willing to believe. Like okay, MAYBE this historical figure just happened to leave this here and I found it, okay, whatever. But my friends sure left their musings in the most random places. Why is Reyes' letter to her daughter found by a mountain of body parts deep inside a cave?
Really though, both games aren't actually about treasure hunting, eh? It sets the stage and some of the conflicts, but most of what we spend time doing is either shooting people or climbing stuff.
Kirk: That's true. Both games go to great lengths to show their characters doing research or relying on book-learning, but the actual game parts are less "Dr. Jones" and more "Indiana Jones."
Patricia: The feel with the action is different, too. Most of the time gunfights/action in Uncharted felt like they were happening on a playground—I was excited to have them happen, they were usually crazy and cinematic.
Tomb Raider isn't like that—or at least I didn't get pumped when enemies appeared. I dread other people. Which probably has to do with why the game feels better when there aren't other people around, as Evan mentioned. Also, I don't feel like Tomb Raider quite has the hang of the cinematic approach like Uncharted does, even though it has plenty of "run/barely escape explosions" sequences.
Kirk: That's true. Crystal Dynamics does a good imitation at points, but they can't match Naughty Dog's ambition or chops, not quite. One of the most remarkable things about the Uncharted games, particularly Uncharted 2, is how often they'll have you engaging in shootouts in the most unlikely situations. For example, the sequence a third or so into the game, where Drake is hanging on a sign and has to quickly hop around it while pulling out his pistol and keeping out of reach of enemies—great, enjoyable stuff. Tomb Raider may lift the camera-techniques, action-packed platforming, and cinematic style from Uncharted, but they never manage to replicate Uncharted's creative mixture of platforming and shooting. Though I'll say they more than make up for that by having stealth that actually works.
On to the platforming and traversal. How do you think it stacks up?
Patricia:Tomb Raider and Uncharted also feel different there. Uncharted makes a point to make you feel like you're on an epic adventure; you climb crazy, larger than life stuff. With Tomb Raider, it's more of, I need to get here, so I need to traverse this area. Necessity. That's a whole lot of Tomb Raider, really. You kill people out of necessity, too.
I think it's interesting that when climbing, Lara relies on her axe. Drake climbs with his bare hands most of the time. Then again, Lara relies heavily on tools in general: you can see the radio, the axe, the torch and whatever else she's carrying on her body. It sets Lara up as a survivor that makes the most out of her situation even if she's not originally cut out for it. By comparison, Drake is already the hero who does rad stuff on his own.
Kirk: That's a good observation. I prefer Tomb Raider's platforming to Uncharted's, when it comes down to it. I love what I'm getting to do in Uncharted games—you know, "Oh my god, I'm climbing along a series of crates as they tumble out of a crashing airplane!" But really, Uncharted's platforming is way too linear. Drake can't just climb up onto anything, he can only climb up onto certain, approved ledges. Lara, meanwhile, can go pretty much anywhere in the environment. Combine that with her tool-set, and you've got something that's much more like Arkham Asylum's environmental navigation, rather than Uncharted's thin, almost faux-traversal.
Patricia: Ha, I wonder if it's the gamer mentality of looking for the most efficient routes that made it difficult for me to realize just how open Tomb Raider's environment is. It's like I can only see one path.
Kirk: And then there's the way it feels, which is a word I've noticed you keep using. We're talking about a lot of granular differences between the two games, but I think the biggest one comes down to that word. Tomb Raider feels different to me, and that's largely because I can really feel for Lara, I get a sense that this world has a real impact on her.
When she jumps, she lands hard. When she falls, she lands harder. When she's injured, she limps. When she tumbles, she's out of control. I think that one of the great successes of Tomb Raider is how thoroughly they've allowed their protagonist to inhabit the world they've created. And again, this is something they've taken from Uncharted and improved upon: I still remember when Nathan Drake first walked past that burning train car at the start of Uncharted 2 and held his hands up to shield his face from the heat. Tomb Raider takes that moment and multiplies it.
You've mentioned to me how you think Lara's vulnerability makes this game feel different from Uncharted, and I'm curious to hear a little more about that. How do you think Lara herself feels different from Nathan Drake?
Patricia: You've definitely hit on something in regards to Lara: I actually care about her, and that's helped by the design of the game. Man, she looks terrified sometimes, you can tell stuff hurts—and that's great. Not that she feels that way, of course, but that the game manages to make you empathize so much.
I don't really care about Nathan by comparison. I mean, it's interesting, and Uncharted has the better cast/is more charming, but I'm not like, agonizing over the trials that Nathan faces.
I'm glad you brought up that scene in Uncharted 2, because that's probably the best part to compare to Tomb Raider—we see Nathan at his worst. He's hurt. He's vulnerable. That's all of what Tomb Raider is about. But it doesn't feel believable in Uncharted, I'm not wincing when Nathan is like that.
And that vulnerability is at the heart of Tomb Raider, it's coded into even the smallest things. One of the strongest enemies holds a shield up in Tomb Raider, for example, and you have to let him get close and take a swing before you can shoot him—you have to let yourself be vulnerable, in other words.
But you know what they say, vulnerability is actually strength. I mention that since I don't want to make it sound like Lara is helpless or whatever. She's a badass through and through, but you watch her grow into it. So then after you—or should I say I—spend the entire game dreading encounters, and you get to the part with the grenade launcher and she's screaming back at her enemies, telling them she's going to get them...man, what a major, major moment of triumph. I've never felt that way while playing Uncharted. Lara feels like a person I've watched grow. Nathan....might be heading in the same way eventually, judging by the end of Uncharted 3, but it's nowhere near Lara's growth.
Kirk: It's remarkable, isn't it? How good it feels to play a game where the main character has a real, definable arc? Sure, other games make you start with nothing and eventually get more powerful. But it's executed so confidently here, and taken to such extremes. It's effective. And without spoiling anything, I'll say that they don't mess up the pacing from start to finish—there are peaks and valleys, but as I made my way to the final encounter, I couldn't help but think back to the girl at the beginning, whimpering as she pulled a piece of rebar out of her side. I really did feel as though I'd watched her come a long way, and few games do such a good job of blending mechanical game progression with story progression. I think that might be the thing Tomb Raider does best, actually. And, interestingly enough, I thought that Uncharted 3's attempts to do something similar with Drake were a big part of why the game fell flat.
Patricia: Maybe it's just that I felt that Uncharted 3 was an absolute mess, but it feels like Tomb Raider has taken the torch back. I think it's the superior game. But! So, I'm not finished yet, and that moment I spoke of earlier—when Lara gets the grenade launcher? It made me feel like it was Tomb Raider's transition into the type of game Uncharted is.
Kirk: "I'm coming for you all!" Kind of self-indulgent, but enjoyably so.
Patricia: Like it was becoming more about confidence, about mowing enemies down, about being the undeniable hero of the adventure. I know they can't keep harping on vulnerability forever—like, eventually she has to grow, right? But I can't help but wonder where Tomb Raider goes from here. I'd kind of rather she wasn't the same type of hero Drake is, if only because there's less complexity in that setup. Also, eff guns. The bow is where it's at. I'd say I look forward to Tomb Raider getting a hold of Uncharted's cinematic angle, but I kind of feel tired of that sort of game.
But you're the one that's actually finished the game: what do you think, are you hopeful of where Tomb Raider can go? Heck, which game do you like better? We've spent this entire time comparing the games, after all. I'm sure people are curious.
Kirk: I guess that, given our headline, we do have to declare a preference here. Though I really do like both games, I think that Tomb Raider beats out Uncharted (even my beloved Uncharted 2) in enough areas that I do prefer it. Which isn't entirely fair, given that Tomb Raider lifted so many tricks from the Uncharted playbook in the first place. Really, both series are awfully good, and seem to exist in symbiosis with one another. With Naughty Dog wrapping up the (decidedly not Tomb Raider-y) Last of Us, I'll be interested to see what they do with Nathan Drake on the PS4.
As for Tomb Raider, I do feel a bit curious about where the series can go from here. We've had our origin story, and it's over—and as the ending punctuates, this story really was about the "birth of a legend." But now that the legend has been born, are we really going to immediately make Lara more of a confident—and less interesting—Nathan Drake-type? I actually doubt that'll happen. Lara may be more confident than she was at the beginning of the game, and may have taken some significant steps towards weapon-wielding badassery, but she's not quite Rambo yet. She can handle some armed goons coming at her, but all the way to the end, she fights in a hardscrabble, improvisational way that should scale up really well for sequels. I doubt we'll start the next game with her hanging tied up, upside-down in a cave, but I also doubt that the inevitable sequel will have her immediately swinging in, dual-pistols blazing. The folks at Crystal Dynamics are smart—they know they've hit on a formula that works, and that that formula relies on a more human, more relatable Lara Croft.
That said, believe it or not, Tomb Raider has got me wanting to replay Uncharted 2 again. So maybe I'll do that and get back to you.
Any final thoughts on the comparison? Why do you think bows and arrows are so awesome? Do you think we're beginning to see the "Bowification" of the modern action game?
Patricia Ha, the "bowification" of games...well, bows are awesome because we like to glorify anything that doesn't scream technology, since we have such a thing about how tech is making us lose our way (or something). I can go on for ages about this but I'll finish with saying that anything that is one shot, one kill tends to be awesome by default.
I hope you're right about Lara. I don't want to see Lara as Rambo (...Lambo?) I am fascinated by the idea of there being an active back and forth between Tomb Raider and Uncharted, and I'm definitely kind of sitting here going FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT. But only because they're both excellent games that will only get better because both Crystal Dynamics and Naughty Dog can't rest on their laurels; they can't risk the games becoming stagnant. And to be honest, that's sort of how I felt about Uncharted by the end of 3—it felt like more of 2, only not as well-made. Competition can only be a good thing.
Kirk: I hear you there—it's worthwhile to compare the games, but in the end, it's just nice to see Crystal Dynamics come back into this thing swinging. And if Naughty Dog can return the favor, then hey—more good games for us. For Tomb Raider, I do hope we get to see some better puzzles, both in the sequel and in the inevitable DLC. And I hope that the next Uncharted game takes some notes from Tomb Raider on characterization and focus, and can manage to open the game up somewhat, too. And maybe add a bow and arrow. I could see Nathan Drake doing some serious damage with a bow and arrow.
The first time Draven Miltenberger played Tomb Raider was in 1999. He was three years old. His home life might have been tumultuous thanks to how often he moved, but that was his constant: Tomb Raider.
"My family couldn't pry it out of my hands," he wrote in a blog post that described his love for the game. After reading it, I decided to reach out to him. "It hooked me instantly," Miltenberger, now seventeen, told me in an email.
The abuse started a few years after he first found Lara Croft. First, it was with his dad. Then his dad left for the National Guard, but that didn't matter. His stepmother continued the abuse. "She was more vicious I think," Miltenberger told me in an email. Eventually she'd take him to a runaway shelter. He was still a kid.
He managed to find his way back to his family, but from there, things started getting worse. He developed anger issues, developed depression. He couldn't get his dad out of his head.
"Tenth grade was probably the worst year. I started drinking secretly, and even had a cutting [phase]. Also while I was in school there were so many rumors going around that I was gay...but they didn't use the kindest words to say so," he said.
He dropped out, he started considering suicide. But then he started hearing news of the new Tomb Raider. He was always compelled by Lara as a "strong, independent woman." This time, what compelled him was the idea of being rebooted—of being reborn, if you will. The new Tomb Raider, after all, is a departure from earlier games; we see Lara like we never have before. She's hurt, she's bruised, she's vulnerable—and none of that stops her. It's easy to see how the game could inspire someone to be stronger.
"I had tears welling up in my eyes the moment I opened that survival tin...to me Lara was this young, inexperienced woman who didn't know what she was doing, and that was like me," he explained to me.
"When I [saw] her commit her first kill, I watched as she started crying. I had never seen that in a Tomb Raider before. I was shocked. But she picked herself up quickly, I loved that she had so much bravery especially when she was scared the most. Like Rhianna Pratchett [lead writer on Tomb Raider] said, "You can't have bravery without fear," he said. "Just because life had started off with a wreck doesn't mean I wouldn't survive it."
On his blog, Miltenberger explained how Lara's journey affected him. "That kind of sat in my head, of how someone can start over...completely become a new human being who actually cared about things...cared about surviving."
Something clicked—Tomb Raider, in its new form, came at exactly the right time. He resolved to stop drinking, to stop cutting, and he's process of getting his GED. He's also coming to terms with his sexuality. It's like a complete turn around. "Lara was my strength at times when I didn't feel like being strong," he explained.
What next? His plan is to one day work for Crystal Dynamics—that's just how much the game means to him.
"Lara had told me to 'Just keep moving.' Those words saved my life."