Tomb Raider, a reboot game that also reboots Mac gaming
The iconic Lara Croft got a franchise reboot last year with the new Tomb Raider game was released for Xbox, PlayStation and PC. Now, Feral Interactive has brought Tomb Raider to the Mac and, after only a week of playing it, I'm certain it will be be the 2014 Mac Game of the Year.
Here's a little background on Tomb Raider. This edition takes everything you know about Croft and throws it out of the window. Tomb Raider is a complete reboot of the series. Similar to how Batman Begins replaced the film Batman with a gritty, stark realism, so too does Tomb Raider. Gamers play a young (late teens) Croft on her first solo outing. This isn't the same rich brat from earlier versions of the game, flirting with danger for kicks. Instead, young Croft is insecure, weak and very, very afraid of the situation she's gotten herself in to.
The game begins with Croft on the Endurance, a boat carrying a crew of archaeologists trying to discover the lost kingdom of the Sun Queen on the island of Yamatai, and island that is part of the Dragon's Triangle near Japan. The boat is shipwrecked during a storm and things go from bad to worse. Almost immediately she is abducted and wakes up hanging upside-down from a cave's ceiling among several dead bodies. During her escape, she falls, is badly wounded and scared as hell. Unlike in previous Tomb Raider titles, she's not yet a world-class acrobat, nor is she any kind of fighter. It's the writers and animators of Tomb Raider that deserve the praise for conveying just how scared Lara is when she begins her adventure.
And now let's talk about that adventure. Tomb Raider is a great mix of stealth, puzzles and first-person shooter. But unlike past editions, the puzzles are integrated into the story well, and don't come off as being set up by an ancient civilization whose favorite past time was apparently making puzzles for future adventurers. The tone of the story appears to be heavily influenced by Lost (stranded on a mysterious island with weird stuff going on) and a psychological horror movie. Without ruining anything, the game's makers do an incredible job of explaining why all these murderous cult members who are trying to kill you are insane murders -- you learn, in one of the creepiest parts of the game -- why they are so messed up. Another nice thing about this Tomb Raider is it's not entirely Croft's show. Refreshingly, the other members of the Endurance have survived the crash and they are as much as part of the story as she is, with Croft meeting up with various crew members throughout the game.
Graphics-wise, this is the most beautiful game I've ever played on my Mac. I was running it on the latest MacBook Pro with Retina display at full resolution and the game didn't have so much as a hiccup. And those graphics -- I could hardly tell where a cut scene ended and gameplay began; the graphics are that good. Everything from the environmental effects to blood dripping from her body was as lifelike as anything I've ever seen on a Mac.
Gameplay was also easy enough with the keyboard and trackpad, although I see why Feral advises users to use a gamepad. The one thing I do wish Feral would have done is give a few more cues earlier on in the game on how to perform a movement. When the cues first appear, they only show once and are so brief, I, at first, found myself getting frustrated trying to figure out how to do stuff.
The game also has a few, limited bugs. One time the game froze and navigating the main menu system appears to lag sometimes when you are selecting submenus, but overall those bugs are minor and infrequent and can easily be fixed in a minor update.
A game that is as graphically rich as Tomb Raider understandably has some hefty system requirements, so be sure you check to make sure that your Mac can handle it before you buy. The minimum system requirements are a Mac with a 2.0 GHz Intel processor, 4 GB RAM, 512 MB graphics and 14 GB of free space. However, Feral recommends a 2.4 GHz Intel processor, 6 GB RAM, 1 GB graphics and 14 GB of free space for best performance. Also note that the following graphics cards are NOT supported: ATI X1xxx series, ATI HD2xxx series, Intel GMA series, Intel HD3000, NVIDIA 3xx series, NVIDIA 7xxx series, NVIDIA 8xxx series and NVIDIA 9xxx series.
At US$49.99, Tomb Raider isn't a cheap game, but it's the best one you'll buy on the Mac this year. Tomb Raider was meant to reboot an aging franchise, which it's done successfully, but in the process, thanks to the porting by Feral Interactive, it's also rebooted gaming on the Mac and set a new standard for Mac games yet to come.
Tomb Raider is available on the Mac App Store.
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