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THE SIGHTS & SOUNDS
The Last of Us focuses on wrapping you up in the experience like never before.
S P E C I A L
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FRANCHISE’S REBOOT Interview with BRIAN HORTON, Senior Art Director at Crystal Dynamics.
We boldy go where no one has gone before in Kerbal Space Program.
BIOSHOCK INFINITE X-COM: ENEMY UNKNOWN STAR TREK: THE GAME DEFIANCE LUIGI’S MANSION: DARK MOON BATTLEBLOCK THEATRE STARCRAFT II: HEART OF THE SWARM INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US SIMCITY
feature FORMAT PC, XBOX 360, PS3 DEVELOPER Cystal Dynamic RELEASE Out Now PRICE $79.99 AU
Tomb Raider is an exhilarating action adventure that serves as a terrific origin story for the iconic Lara Croft.
A NEW DAWN FOR LARA CROFT W
eâ€™ve seen Lara Croft in many forms over the years, from busty action-
heroine to Atlantean explorer to wisecracking aristocrat. But weâ€™ve never seen her like this before. Crystal Dynamics' new Tomb Raider sees a young Lara on her first expedition, shipwrecked and stranded on an island bristling with danger, pushed to the limits of her ingenuity and will to survive. Over the course of the game we see this intelligent, resourceful young woman become something closer to the Lara Croft we know, fearless in the face of danger. It is a greatly successful origin story, a series reboot that feels both authentic and hugely exciting.
Tomb Raider is a little self-indulgent at the beginning – the first hour is a sequence of carefully scripted set-pieces and, yes, a cavalcade of button-mashing QTEs. But it's all for the sake of character development, and Tomb Raider is so good at this that you'll forgive the strict direction – especially after the game opens out past the 60-minute mark and lets you loose on the island. Camilla Luddington's performance as Croft is impressively convincing, and throughout this adventure you'll really feel for Lara – she is just
Tomb Raider has some breath taking cinematics as some tricky quick time moments.
not having a good time out there. It is a compelling reading of the character; we
It's a good while before you first pull
see Lara's vulnerability, but she is never
out a gun in Tomb Raider. Lara's first kill
disempowered, and never less than totally
is the game's first dramatic crescendo, a
capable in extreme danger.
moment of genuine emotional impact. After
The supporting cast is less developed,
that moment, though, the game quickly
though. Lara herself is so well-realised
moves on thematically; the transition from
that her friends and enemies feel two-
terrified survivor forced to take a life to
dimensional by comparison. Lara is
headshot-happy killer is jarringly instant,
shipwrecked alongside a crew of friends,
and this is the narrative’s only significant
and her guilt over bringing them along on
weakness. One minute she's retching over
this expedition provides much of the plot’s
a corpse, the next she's skewering five
emotional thrust, but it’s difficult to feel as
guys through the neck with arrows, which
much for them as you do for Lara. Thankfully,
leads to a period of narrative dissonance
this doesn't rob the plot of impact. There
as you adjust. Lara has to get used to
are a few jaw-dropping moments in this
killing quickly, and so does the player.
story, which develops quickly from survivalstruggle into action epic.
Lara will encounter many obstactles as she journeys through the island.
Combat has never been the strength of Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider games, but the
This news may seem a little weird considering that Square Enix called out Tomb Raider for its “weak sales” of 3.4 million at retail during Fiscal Year 2013, but Darrell Gallagher, Studio Head at Crystal Dynamics, called Tomb Raider not only the best launch in the franchise, but also of 2013: It’s been the biggest week one sales in franchise history, and we’re only a few weeks into that launch right now, and it’s been the biggest opening so far in 2013. So, we’re happy with the outcome. It’s certainly in a place where we feel like we’re on the road to achieving everything we wanted to.
This is totally normal, right?
developer has finally nailed it here. Whether
with a bow, a shotgun or a pistol, fighting
deadly in hand-to-
is fun, and crucially there's not too much of
hand combat. But
it (though the body-count is certainly high).
for most of the
Lara periodically discovers new weapons,
game, Lara has
injecting the combat with fresh novelty every
to work with what she’s got. Though
and happily this island is among them. It
few hours. I gravitated towards the bow
survivalism is one of the plot’s dominant
is stunningly beautiful, and the game gives
– there’s something vastly more satisfying
themes, if anything it’s under-used in
you plenty of opportunities to admire it
about being a hidden assassin than leaping
the gameplay; hunting and foraging are
from cliff-sides, misty mountain outlooks
into the fray with a shotgun or hiding behind
introduced in the first twenty minutes, but
and precarious climbing ropes. It’s also
a wall with an assault rifle, though the game
then quickly abandoned.
rich with detail and tightly designed, and
necessitates all these approaches and more
Once it gets going, Tomb Raider is high-octane and squeezes your adrenaline gland dry,
Climbing, meanwhile, is masterful.
as Lara masters the skills of survival and
Lara moves naturally and confidently in her
picks up new tools along the way, you can
environment, but it still feels excitingly
venture further into its hidden crevices. It
her weapons with salvage proves
dangerous. Leaping across cliffsides with
makes you feel like an explorer.
unexpectedly gratifying. By the later
a climbing axe never quite loses that
stages of Tomb Raider’s story her arsenal
heart-in-throat feeling. Croft has been to
which, at the touch of a button, helpfully
rivals that of a small guerrilla army, and
some really impressive places in her day,
highlights things like climbing walls,
in different situations. Building Lara’s skills and upgrading
Croft’s Survival Instincts vision –
Croft has been to some really impressive places in her day, and happily this island is among them. One of the more enjoyable ways to get around - zipline!
flammable objects and rope surfaces you
– in fact, that burning-building sequence is
so it's great to see it shine in the secret
can attach to – makes navigating the
one of the game's most breathlessly exciting
tombs. Lara's love for archaeology and
island and its puzzles easier, and thankfully
moments. Once it gets going, Tomb Raider
geeky fascination with ancient civilisations
is completely optional after it’s first
is high-octane and squeezes your adrenaline
shows through when she's poring over
introduced. It’s most useful when you’re
gland dry, but it's also got great variety
relics and ancient structures, despite the
hunting for collectibles, but otherwise I
and pacing. There are quiet, tense moments
hardship she has to endure.
played the rest of the game without using
inbetween the combat-heavy setpieces, and
it. The game is well-designed enough that
you're never in the same place doing the
opens up for you to comb the island for
you can read the environments perfectly
same thing twice.
documents, relics and other trinkets that
well without it. Tomb Raider has definitely taken
The Tomb Raider heritage shows
When the story is complete, the map
you left behind. Miraculously, you will
itself in the game's secret tombs, which
actually want to do this. Without the plot
inspiration from the other great action
are secreted around the island for you to
pushing you through them with a shotgun
games of this generation. There's an
discover. These are self-contained one-off
to your back, Tomb Raider's locales become
puzzles that lead the way to treasure, and
playgrounds, and you're free to admire their
and more than one sequence where you're
they are frequently ingenious, challenging
intelligent design as you ponder a relic
skidding at speed down a waterfall. But
enough to make you feel properly clever
stashed on a seemingly inaccessible treetop
even when Tomb Raider falls back on
when you find the solution. This traditional
platform. These are far from the corridor-like
action-game cliché, it does so with such
Tomb Raider exploration takes a back seat
environments that other action games offer;
confidence and aplomb that you don't mind
to the storyline in the main campaign,
oddly enough, the game turns into something
Lara’s bow and arrow quickly becomes the go to weapon for stealthy attacks.
more closely resembling a traditional Tomb Raider after you've finished it. There is one truly disappointing aspect of Tomb Raider, and that's the multiplayer, which is best forgotten about. It just isn't a lot of fun and it's totally superfluous. Two of the four game modes feel significantly stacked in favour of one team over the other, and though Tomb Raider's combat is good in the context of the single-player, it's just not flexible or varied enough to support a multiplayer mode for long. Itâ€™s also overcomplicated with loadouts, levelling and skill unlocks, which robs it of immediacy. At best it's passably entertaining, but I'll be surprised if anyone is still playing it in a couple of months. Tomb Raider is well-written, sympathetic, exciting, beautiful and just incredibly wellmade. The single-player rarely makes a misstep, and though Lara's quick transformation into a hardened killer seems at odds with the narrative at first, the game quickly moves past it. It is a superb action game that brings a new emotional dimension to one of gaming's most enduring icons, and repositions her alongside Nathan Drake at the top of gaming's action-hero heirarchy.
A new beginning
for Lara Croft that does justice to one of gaming's most iconic characters.
concept art Tomb Raider explores the intense and gritty origin story of Lara Croft and her ascent from a frightened young woman to a hardened survivor. Armed only with raw instincts and the ability to push beyond the limits of human endurance, Lara must fight to unravel the dark history of a forgotten island to escape its relentless hold.
interview THE TOMB RAIDER games are iconic —how do you even get started reworking a game with such a strong visual legacy? As a fan of the classic games, I played Tomb Raider 1 and 2 again to remember why I loved them so much. Lara Croft was a confident and totally capable anti-hero, but she didn’t have much room to grow in ability or characterization. Our concept was a simple one that allowed us to rework Lara’s look and abilities; an inexperienced Lara Croft on her first expedition, her ship crashes on an island and she must do whatever it takes to survive. To believe in this survival story, we grounded Lara, and her world, making both as realistic as we could. We removed Lara’s experience and confidence but we retained her intelligence, curiosity, and determination. These changes gave us room to allow her to grow as a character. It was exciting and scary at the same time, we knew it would be a bold change for Tomb Raider and we were happy with the positive reception when we announced the reboot in 2009.
OK, SO IN terms of Lara herself, how did her look progress and how did you know
when you’d got it right? hen Tomb Raider—the reboot of the game franchise with which
and iteration. Lara went through many
March, many a column inch was devoted to
incarnations, at one point she had a
Lara Croft’s evolution from archaeological
more classic look with a young girl as a
adventurer to concerningly capable killer.
companion—she even had a monkey as a
Rather fewer were given over to the use of
helper in one version!
apocalyptic artwork, invisible cameramen,
Lara’s look took a lot of exploration
it shares a name—came out earlier in
Brenoch Adams (Art Director) and I
birth metaphors, and emotional color
went through the design process together.
palettes. To redress the balance, GG quizzed
We were inspired by characters in films
Brian Horton, Senior Art Director at Crystal
and TV, like Ellen Ripley from Aliens, Kate
Dynamics, on all of the above and then a
from Lost, John Rambo from First Blood,
little bit more.
and even John McClane from Die Hard. All
of these heroes relate to a common theme; they are real people in a horrible survival situation. They get hurt and express emotion, but find the inner strength to keep moving and prevail. We wanted this young Lara to look like a girl you knew while retaining some of the iconic qualities of Lara Croft. We made her body frame more petite, her face less chiseled, and her clothes are practical, with dual tank tops, cargo pants, and boots. We retained some iconic elements, like her brown eyes, her “M” shaped upper lip and the ponytail. We did a focus test on the final concept and it tested very well, most people were more drawn to her face than they were to her body. To bring the concept to life, we purchased real clothes and hired two models to scan, one for the body and one for the face. This was just a foundation for us to achieve the believability, our Principal Character Artist, Kam Yu, refined this data over the course of a month to finalize the model you see in the game today.
THERE WERE HINTS of The Hunger Games and Katniss Everdeen in Lara’s look too although I gather that was coincidental. Do you think they both tap into a how we are trying to portray women at the moment or is it something else entirely? We weren’t even aware of The Hunger Games when we finalized Lara’s look and the bow as her new signature weapon. I do think this happens in our culture, where themes emerge from different places and seem to connect. We feel Lara is one of the most influential female heroes in all media, but we knew the 90s represented different values for a hero. Our interpretation is in line with what we like to see in our heroes today, flaws are as important as strengths.
IN TERMS of visual reference points what were your inspirations, either in terms of other games or in terms of artworks? I thought I detected a touch of John Martin apocalyptica in the opening sections... For inspiration we looked at movies like Apocalypse Now and The Descent. They have a dark beauty to them that we wanted to capture in Tomb Raider. The John Martin painting is amazing and while not an immediate reference, it was in line with the paintings we were inspired by from Turner, Bierstadt, and Church. They created some of the most amazing natural wonders that look beautiful but ominous; showing how nature can be scary. These influences were the foundation of bringing personality to the island of Yamatai. as a tool for survival. Then at the end of the level we take away the fire as she HOW DID YOU reflect the “Survivor is
scrambles up the muddy incline, a pinhole of
Born” theme visually?
light closes in as the cave starts to crumble until we go to black. When Lara emerges
The beginning of the game is kind of a metaphor for her birth; she struggles out of
It’s a deliberate color choice to provide
the darkness of the caverns and emerges to
relief and accomplishment. The audio
the light of the cliff side. This is her birth,
t e a m takes these cues to create music and
she’s thrust into this situation and she can’t
sound that complement these emotions
go back. Her evolution through the game is
perfectly, with dissonant percussion in the
a continuation of this journey, she has to
caverns, and a piano as she emerges onto
confront her fears and keep moving forward.
the cliff path.
As well as the sympathetic geography, changes in color palette are linked to Lara’s character evolution. Could you explain a bit more about how that works? We use color as a way to express emotion. These colors will change and evolve throughout the story to reflect Lara’s state of mind. For instance, we start the game in cool tones—the fire is the one source of light and warmth, and this represents the player’s hope, as well
she’s bathed in warm light.
I NOTICED YOU used a fair amount of lens flare and water effects—why do you think we like to be reminded of a camera that technically doesn’t exist? We wanted this game to be presented as if it were a documentary of her first adventure. Effects like lens flares, dirt, water, and blood splashes on the lens add aesthetics to this documentary, further immersing players into our fictional world. Remi Lacoste is the genius behind the cinematography in this game and his camera performance complemented this vision and
moment changes her, and from that point on
brought the virtual cameraman to life.
she and the player understand that killing is the only way she can survive the insanity of this island.
HOW DID YOU translate the violence and emotion of the first kill into a visual experience?
WERE THERE ANY ideas you loved but couldn’t make work?
We wanted to express the gravity
There are a lot of ideas that we really
of death through gameplay. We started
like that didn’t make the game. Some
this with a deer, which Lara has to kill
of them would fit into the new format,
to survive. She has empathy for the deer
some, while cool, will never quite work.
before she harvests it for food; it’s a
For instance we had an epic battle on the
sacrifice she has to make to survive. When
beach level that had Lara fending off a
she’s confronted with wolves, they will not
siege of Solarii with a mounted machinegun.
hesitate to kill Lara so she must take an
While fun, it didn’t really fit her character
aggressive stance to survive them. Finally,
and upped the kill count to unrealistic
we present the player with a human, but
proportions. We spent a lot of time on it,
a sadistic, amoral enemy: we deliberately
but cut it because it didn’t fit the game.
want the player to feel disgust, and a palpable sense of menace. The moment where Lara has to kill a human for the first time must feel justified,
WHAT ARE YOU proudest of in relation to the game?
but also powerful and revelatory: this The team is proud of the game we made. Even before it hit retail we knew it was the best game we could make. We sacrificed time away from family to ensure it was true to our vision, looked great, and was fun to play. This kind of game doesn’t come around often, and I’m honored to have been a part of it.
Movie Gains Notable Film Partner
More progress has been made on the forthcoming theatrical reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise. Under the creative eye of GK Films, the latest attempt to bring Ms. Lara Croft to life now has a major distributor/backer to help bring the tomb raiding exploits to the big screen. GK Films has announced that MGM Pictures will join as a production partner for the Tomb Raider film reboot. With the film being in “production” for the past two
While there’s bound to be some creative appeasing done to satisfy the MGM execs, the next celluloid adventures of Lara Croft will hopefully be in safer hands compared to that of Fox and Universal – both of whom are notorious for meddling on highprofile projects. Beyond having the development team at Crystal Dynamics work with the team at GK Films to ensure a cohesive product, no additional details on the plot of the Tomb
the Tomb Raider movie considering how successful the latest video game has been amongst gamers and those in the games press. Even though the new Tomb Raider game may be “underperforming” due to not living up to the simply silly 5-10 million estimates set forth by Square Enix, the film project could still prove to be a hot commodity – not just to kickstart a new film franchise but further gain interest and awareness for the video game.
THE FILM PROJECT COULD STILL PROVE TO BE A HOT COMMODITY – NOT JUST TO KICKSTART A NEW FILM FRANCHISE BUT FURTHER GAIN INTEREST AND AWARENESS FOR THE VIDEO GAME.
years, the arrival of MGM into the mix should accelerate things so production could kickstart in the next year or so – pending of course
Raider movie have been released. Last we heard film scribes Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby (Iron Man 1, Children of Men) were
Given how slow Hollywood can be at times to develop a movie, it could still be a considerable time before we receive major
there are no massive production meltdowns and MGM doesn’t go belly up again. The arrival of MGM into the mix may not seem like it’s that big of a deal, but it does at least ensure that the latest Tomb Raider movie won’t be a complete mess.
still attached to the project, though with MGM now on hand that could change as the typical revolving chairs game is done for those in the writing seat. It’ll be interesting to see how GK Films, MGM, and Square Enix move forward with
details on the new Tomb Raider movie. But for now it appears that things are moving ahead and the Tomb Raider movie won’t immediately be joining the Kane & Lynch, Uncharted, and Shadow of the Colossus film adaptations in development hell. GG
Mass Effect 4? or maybe not... BioWare does not want you to refer to the next Mass Effect game as Mass Effect 4. Doing so would imply it was a sequel to Commander Shepard's story. But that doesn't mean it will be a prequel, either. "To call the next game Mass Effect 4 or ME4 is doing it a disservice and seems to cause a lot of confusion here," BioWare community manager Chris Priestly wrote on the company's forums. "We have already said that the Commander Shepard trilogy is over and that
since clarified Priestly's comments and dropped several hints that, despite not being a sequel, events in the next game could take place after those in Mass Effect 3. "Thinking of the next Mass Effect game as Mass Effect 4 would imply a certain linearity, a straight evolution of the gameplay and story of the first three games," he wrote. "That doesn't mean that events of the first three games and the choices you made won't get recognised, but they likely won't be what this new story will focus on.
to say is that the ME universe is so rich that we are not limited to a single track when coming up with a new story." Questioned as to whether the next Mass Effect game could still feature the same galaxy, the same alien races, and honour the series' existing lore and history, Roy suggested it would. "What makes it Mass Effect is indeed the alien races, the technology, the lore, history, etc. You can safely expect those in the next Mass Effect."
â€œTHE MASS EFFECT UNIVERSE IS SO RICH THAT WE ARE NOT LIMITED TO A SINGLE TRACK WHEN COMING UP WITH A NEW STORY.â€? the next game will not feature him/her. That is the only detail you have on the game. I see people saying 'well, they'll have to pick a canon ending'. No, because the game does not have to come after. Or before. Or off to the side. Or with characters you know. Or yaddayaddayadda." The next Mass Effect game is in development at BioWare Montreal, which worked on Mass Effect 2 and 3 side-quests and the latter's excellent multiplayer. BioWare Montreal boss Yanick Roy has
"If you had three games centred around a group of key soldiers in the US army during World War I and then decided to make a game about another group of people during the Second World War, the games could have many points in common and feel true to one another," he continued. "You likely would have to recognise how the events of the first war influenced the ones of the second, but you would not necessarily think of it as a sequel. Again, the analogy is not great, but what I'm trying
Firm information on the project, first announced by BioWare last September, won't be disclosed "for several more months". "We don't have a firm communication timeline established at this point, but I don't expect it will be for several more months," Roy concluded. "Early in development, things fluctuate so much that any detail we communicate could have to be 'uncommunicated' a few months later. I think we'd rather have something solid to show by the time we step in the spotlight." GG
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm FIT FOR A QUEEN
DEVELOPER Blizzard RELEASE Out Now PRICE $44.00 AU
tarcraft 2 has a long shadow, made longer by it only recently emerging out of the darkness cast by its predecessor, the seminal sci-fi strategy game that was the original Starcraft. Both are exquisitely made multiplayer games, to the degree that an incredibly thriving professional scene has emerged, with players earning a more than comfortable living by winning tournaments and competitions. It’s inside this twin shadows that Heart of the Swarm has to emerge as something unique and worthy. It’s halfway between an expansion and a sequel, and that confusion of identity just about works in its favour. On the one hand you have an impressive continuation of Starcraft 2’s single player campaign, following the story of Sarah Kerrigan, picking up where Jim Raynor’s tale from the first game left off. And on the other, there’s the multiplayer component, which really is just expansive rather than revolutionary. When Blizzard, the developers of Starcraft, have spent so much time tweaking and balancing their game to make sure it’s just right for competitive and casual audiences both, you don’t want to start just throwing in ingredients wholesale. You never know what you might screw up with overpowered new units, broken new game modes and poorly crafted maps. A beta can only tell you so much. Which means that Heart of the Swarm adds just seven new ‘units’, with a few just being upgrades to existing units. The temptation is to decry this as lazy, but that would display an ignorance of both what Blizzard do, and how much effect a single unit can have on how Starcraft 2 is played. Blizzard don’t want to rock the boat, the want to make it faster and more fun to sail. The Zerg (who are the stars of the game’s single player) and Terran factions both get two new units, and the Protoss come away with a princely three, which belies how the competitive scene is sitting at the moment. Each of them are designed to plug a hole in a faction’s roster, and provide more versatility and less opportunity for their opponents to take advantage of unintended weaknesses. A unit like the Zerg’s new Swarm
Campaign mode is hilariously fun with new game mechanics almost every mission.
Host provides the ability to easily defend a constantly advancing front line, with it being essentially a walking unit production facility, spewing short-lived locusts at the enemy whenever its burrowed in the ground. There are no side missions here beyond the occasional evolution mission that allows you to test a permanent permutation to a single unit before deciding between the two options. Everything else is one story mission after the other, as Kerrigan has the Zerg swarm tear a swathe through Terran and Protoss forces alike in an effort to get her revenge for some affront or another. It’s melodramatic space opera, but with Blizzard’s production values it’s entertaining fare. More importantly, the missions themselves are interesting variances on the classic ‘build a base and then build an army and then win’ formula that quickly becomes so rote. One particular highlight is a base defence mission where two other armies are constantly clashing in another part of the map, with multiple optional objectives on the other side of them. You can ignore the entire conflict, or try to spear through it for a juicy handful of rewards.
The hero in this game (thought that depends on your definition of the term ‘hero’) is Sarah Kerrigan, aka the Queen of Blades.
The only problems come out of the odd little tweaks Blizzard have made to the way that the Zerg forces operate. It’s all in the name of accessibility, removing some of the micro that makes Starcraft so simultaneously daunting and deeply complex, but it teaches bad habits to anyone who wants to transfer their skills learnt in the singleplayer into the online space against other players. The worst offender is the way larvae spawn out of Hatchery; in multiplayer, they cap out at three active at any one time, whereas in single player the number is way higher, only stopping once there are nine. It means you can all but forget about it until you need a quick booster of reinforcements, instead of the constant management required in the multiplayer. Small changes like this proliferate through the singleplayer campaign, and they certainly make the experience smoother for the uninitiated. And perhaps they’re lessons that can be quickly unlearnt once you’re thrown into the gauntlet of competing against another human, but it seems like a relatively needless
complication when the actual mechanics aren’t all that unwieldy in the first place. Regardless, by the time the campaign ramps up for its climax you’ll hardly be worrying about the minutia. The Zerg are characterised by their huge hordes, and as you storm enormous complexes and assault expansive bases, you’ll get close to the ridiculous swarm illustrated in the highly expensive CGI intro movie shown at the beginning of the game. It’s chaos, and the thrill of not necessarily controlling it, but merely channelling the torrent in the direction of your enemies, is a powerful one, and well deserved by the time you get to it. Heart of the Swarm sits halfway between an expansion and a sequel, yes, but also halfway between casual and competitive, singleplayer and multi, offering a huge amount and not really all that much at all. It’s bombastic and reserved, overwrought and beautifully finessed. The real question is whether it’s a worthy successor to the behemoth that is Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty, and if that’s the kind of question you’re asking, then the answer is yes.
VERDICT 8.6 StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm is an old-school expansion that gives Kerrigan and her zerg brood a satisfying return.