Friday, 28 October 2016

Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider (20th Anniversary Edition) - PS4

Rise of the Tomb Raider was a timed exclusive for the Xbox One, which has recently made its way to the PS4. However, PS4 players can benefit from getting all the DLC included, a VR mode (for those of you who are moneybags) and all outfits, including an extra exclusive one.

But is it worth getting?

In a word, yes.


The gameplay is very similar to the predecessor game that rebooted the franchise. Climbing mountains and icy walls with your axe, swooping down ziplines and murdering endangered species all make a return. The crafting system of the previous game has been deepened, with more options for making your own ammunition, enhancing weaponry (some mods carry across all weapons of a certain type, so you won’t spend all your time upgrading pistol A only to then get pistol B and have to start over) and giving yourself more storage space for crafting materials or ammo.

In gunfights I have the combat prowess of a drunk in a cat flap, which makes me a bit wary of assessing such things. My approach, where possible (and it’s often possible) is to snipe enemies with a bow and arrow (which couples nicely with the colour-system where enemies are yellow if other enemies can’t see them and red if they’re in line of sight of their allies). On the default setting I found the combat relatively easy, so those of you who are skilled at shooting may want to bump it up.

You’ll be able to get the vast majority of extra skills (upon levelling up) by the time you finish the main game and these can fit nicely with your playstyle. One I especially liked was a slight change to the targeting system whereby a different symbol was used for a headshot. Others increase damage resistance, improve special ammunition types etc etc.

There’s also a large variety of outfits. As well as the cosmetic changes some offer bonuses to gameplay. A significant number (16 or so) are immediately available. Others are acquired by story progression, beating certain challenges or being bought (with in-game currency). There’s a really nice mix of hot or cold weather, urban or adventurous, and modern or old-fashioned armour.

There is also a lot of side content, ranging from finding optional tombs (bit larger and seemingly more frequent than the previous game), to smashing laptops, helping out other people and so on. There’s a really nice mix of extra content and you do get some bonuses for completion (expedition cards, credits, or tools that help you in-game).


Tomb Raider, over the decades, has always had a slightly predictable approach to stories. Lara has Daddy issues, ancient treasure, massacre wildlife etc.

In her latest quest to find beautiful, long-lost archaeological sites and then utterly destroy them, Lara’s in Siberia. After a largely cinematic prologue, you get a short but sweet introduction to the mechanics of the game. Lara, being nuts, has gone to a lost city in the desert. In Syria. After destroying a priceless historical site, the action shifts back to Siberia.

She’s chasing an artefact her father (of course) was after, taken by a Prophet from Constantinople into the middle of nowhere, to a city called Kitezh. As you may have guessed, Lara’s not the only one after the treasure. [As an aside, the Byzantine flavour to the story and relics you discover is something I really liked].

Stories have never been the strong point of Tomb Raider, and whilst there aren’t many surprises along the way the story does hold up. That’s largely due to the strength of the additional characters and the backstory for Kitezh, which holds up well.


The graphics look great. Not only close up, but distant vistas of icy mountains or desert cities, in snowstorms or at night, the world looks fantastic. Sheets of ice and light flooding through windows look very atmospheric, and all the outfits (mentioned above) feature in the cut-scenes so there’s no weird disjointedness of giving Lara a Siberian ranger outfit only to discover when she has a chat with someone she’s changed her top.

If I were being utterly finickity, maybe fire could be a little better and likewise the large ammunition that gets used very late in the main campaign (you’ll know it when you see it, as you get some very fun toys to play with at that stage). Generally, though, environments and characters look great.


Camilla Luddington, Lara’s voice (and motion) actress is on top form, backed up by good performances all round. I especially liked Jacob’s voice. It would’ve been easy for him to come across as a bit of a damp rag, but instead he’s like a mix of Father of the Year and a universally popular political leader.

The music blends well into the game, and sound effects are good too. I especially enjoyed the sound of dragging a man below the ice as the final gasping bubbles of air escape his lungs, but that might just be me.

Longevity and replayability

Obviously this’ll vary depending on how much side-content you digest in the main campaign and whether (and how much) you indulge Croft Manor and the Expeditions (and, if you partake in multi-player stuff, that too). For me, the main campaign took perhaps 25-30 hours.

The individual areas are nice and large and, overall the game is substantially bigger than the reboot predecessor.

I went through Croft Manor, and must admit, even as someone who liked collecting documents and relics in the main game, I found it pretty boring. I’ve only had a quick go with Expeditions and I think they’ll add a bit more replayability. The Baba Yaga DLC (included in the main game) is the best of the DLC/extra modes. Fairly beefy in size and good fun.

This won’t apply to most people, but at some point I’ll likely replay it in German (playing videogames auf Deutsch is how I stop mine going 100% rusty). There are also many other language options available (a few more for audio, a lot more for text). This is likely limited to the European edition.

I cannot comment on the VR as I'm just a poor boy from a poor family.

Bugs and Other Issues

Very few. The only real problem I had was the 1.04 patch which meant your game crashed after 15 seconds. However, the crashing no longer happens (bit perplexed why, as there’s been no 1.05 patch, but the game runs fine).

It can also be irksome when you’re hunting for relics to hear Lara repeat the same bloody advice over and over when you press R3 for survival instincts. Not that I’m some sort of compulsive collecting completionist lunatic.


I’ve played a number of Tomb Raider games over the years, probably between half and a third of all the games in the franchise. This is my favourite, by a long distance. Great gameplay, enough game to sink your teeth into without feeling the portions are too small, and a plethora of additional modes and features. My only gripe would be a lack of a camera mode, which would fit very nicely here.

Score? 9/10.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Explorations Special Offer

For one week only Explorations: Through the Wormhole has been cut in price from £3.99 to £0.99.

The sci-fi anthology, with stories set in a common universe, features my short story Dead Weight. It’s really rather good, easily the best Chinese smuggler sci-fi I’ve ever written. There are also stories by sci-fi bestsellers such as Richard Fox, Ralph Kern and Jo Zebedee, as well as 10 other authors.

Kingdom Asunder will be out very soon, all being well, but in the meantime you can enjoy my short story (and others, of course) in Explorations for less than half the price of a cup of coffee.


Friday, 14 October 2016

Sex and Sexiness in History

Society can move backwards as well as forwards. In the 14th century, a man would probably get a far harsher sentence for cutting down a large oak tree than he would for raping a woman.

This wasn’t because Edward III was a fundamentalist tree-hugger. It was because large oaks were cultivated and deliberately kept straight so the trunks could be used as rafters in large structures and as the masts of ships. Growing one took a damned long time, so if some pesky peasant cut down a tree your grandfather planted, the blighter would probably end up swinging from the nearest (intact) tree.

That explains the harsh penalty for arboricide. But if a man raped a woman, then (unless it was a nobleman’s daughter, in which case he’d probably round up a posse and hang the culprit summarily), it’s unlikely she’d bother reporting it. If she did, it would be unlikely to go any further. If it did, the man would probably not be found guilty. If he were, he’d probably be given a small fine. In short, being a nobleman’s daughter was a good thing to be.

Language is another area of drastic change over the centuries. A four letter C-word is one of very few to actually become considered more vulgar over time. Words like ‘mischief’ and ‘naughty’ are now so soft that any parent would use them in front of any child. However, way back when, they referred to things like going out on the rob, or an evening of rape. [Sadly, this sort of attitude still exists today. Recently, soldiers in South Sudan, in lieu of wages, were given permission to commit rape].

In fact, women had fewer rights under the Normans than they had centuries earlier under the Anglo-Saxons. Now, I’m not claiming there was equality in the 9th century under Alfred the Great, but there was a greater measure of it, for women, than they had under the Norman kings. Aethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, actually ruled Mercia in the early part of the 10th century. It sounds bizarre that society could move backwards, but this does happen. Progress is not a straight line, and nor is it an inevitability.

After the Normans came the Tudors, and their final monarch was Elizabeth I (some argue that this was actually the perfect system of governance, where Parliament had power but the monarch did too, ensuring a steady hand on the tiller whilst also enabling a democratic element. So, neither mob rule nor tyranny, but a combination of monarchy and democracy). During this era, women began to gain still more equality with exceptional individuals becoming doctors or writers. The proliferation of literacy meant many women started putting together practical books about cookery or medicine.

It should be stressed this was still unusual, but a combination of Protestantism winning the religious war over Catholicism (and Bibles being written in English) coupled with a strong female monarch helped to encourage female literacy.

A small aside: during this era showing one’s cleavage was considered absolutely fine (even Elizabeth I did it). However, a lady baring her arms or legs was considered beyond the pale. Only the lowest of the low (washerwomen) would do such a thing. So, a long-sleeved V-neck top would be fine, but a short-sleeved t-shirt would be considered a bit racy.

Showing one’s hair or covering it up is another area where modern fashion can be radically different to history. Hats were much more commonplace even 60 years ago, and centuries past they were ubiquitous. For women, this often entailed totally covering the hair. Loose hair could be seen as a sign of, ahem, paid-for friskiness.

So, where are we now? Not in the best of places. In many parts of the world (most particularly the shrinking territory of black flag lunatics) women are considered property, or slaves, and are forced to utterly cover up. Their rights in all areas are curtailed or utterly secondary to the whims of their husband/master. In the West, there are generally good standards, although there are still black spots (banning the image of a healthy woman in a bikini on the London Underground or the wearing of the burkini in France).

If you enjoyed this ramble, you might also like the following: