I’ve recently been playing through a few different single player games on my PS4, and I realized that all of them coincidentally had a running theme: all of them are third-person adventure games that star a female protagonist as the main playable character. And since they’re all similar I decided to throw all three together into a comparison/review blender. So here we go. The three games are:
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Horizon: Zero Dawn – The Frozen Wilds
Now, The Frozen Wilds is a DLC expansion for the full Horizon: Zero Dawn game. I’ll only be talking the new content in this review. The Lost Legacy is similar in that it was originally intended to be an expansion/DLC to Uncharted 4. However more and more content got added to it to the point that Naughty Dog released it as its own stand-alone game -albeit for only $40 instead of the regular $60 since it is only an 8-10 hour experience and thus shorter than the mainline Uncharted games. Both of these were released this year, while Rise of the Tomb Raider was released for XBox One in 2015 and for PS4 and PC in 2016. Yes, I’m just getting around to playing it now.
Let’s start with Uncharted. In The Lost Legacy, for the first time you are not playing as Nathan Drake. Instead you play as Chloe Frazer, one of the show-stealing companion characters from Uncharted 2 and 3. She’s accompanied by Nadine Ross, a villain from Uncharted 4, on a quest to find a lost Indian treasure MacGuffin called the Tusk of Ganesh. Like Drake, Chloe is a smart-ass, wise-cracking adventurer while Nadine is…not. The two have a rocky relationship at the beginning as they aren’t friends, but over the course of the game they start developing a stronger bond. It makes for interesting dialogue and story beats as unlike Drake, who often adventured with his pals, Chloe and Nadine aren’t always in agreement over the course of the adventure.
Nadine doing her best meerkat impression.
Gameplay wise it plays the same as Uncharted 4. There’s two opening chapters that give you an idea of the controls, but then the world opens up into a large map that you can play around in. This part of the game is semi-open world, as you can traverse by jeep (or by foot if you’re a masochistic) across a wide area while hunting for your treasure. It’s only after you clear the large map objectives that the traditional linear, set-piece filled Uncharted takes over. Unlike Uncharted 4, the climax of this game actually feels like a climax, as the best action sequences are saved for the final chapters.
I found myself getting frustrated a lot during certain setpieces in this game, though. As per Naughty Dog’s usual style, they always have you actually playing the game during a lot of sequences that would normally be action-packed cut-scenes. However a few times in the game the need to make things look “epic” actually detract from the experience. For example, in one section you have to swim upwards towards the surface as the ruins you’re currently in are collapsing around you. It would have felt pretty awesome to experience…if the camera angle wasn’t fixed below you. All the collapsing objects were giant shadows in the water and it ended up impossible to judge where they actually were in relation to you. And if one hits you, it’s insta-death: so I ended up repeating the “epic” scene three or four times which really cuts the tension down to nothing.
That’s not the only scene in Lost Legacy that would have been awesome to experience if I’d done it in one take, but instead took two or three tries due to bad camera angles or Naughty Dog’s obsession with making all these scenes “nail-biters” so if you make one mistake you die instantly and have to start over. Comparatively, Horizon: Zero Dawn does the opposite. In The Frozen Wilds, there are “epic” scenes where things explode and the heroine Aloy barely escapes with her life, but story-based ones are delegated to cutscene material.
However, that doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have its own epic moments. If you’re not familiar with Horizon: Zero Dawn, let’s me briefly explain the base game: you play as Aloy, a young woman in a post-apocalyptic environment where machines big and small roam the wilderness. Society has formed around hunting and harvesting materials from these machines. In the Frozen Wilds, you explore a previously unreachable, snow-covered area that the Banuk society inhabits. New machines are introduced and they’re all tough, which leads to some epic battles that don’t need to have scripted moments like in Uncharted.
Now I have to highly recommend Horizon: Zero Dawn for its story. It has a very unique and compelling story and over the course of the main game you discover how the world came to be how it is and what led to the apocalypse and rise of these machines that are everywhere. The Frozen Wilds builds on that and gives you a little more insight as to what happened, but after the main story concludes I ended up feeling like it was just a teaser for the plot of the next game instead of its own story.
The game is still very, very, very pretty.
The biggest problem I have with the Frozen Wilds DLC, unfortunately, is the new machines that are introduced. In the main game, all the machines are very unique and have their own different strategies for fighting. All of the new machines introduced in this game don’t feel like they have a strategy to beat them – they all have huge health bars and end up being more of a war of attrition than outmanuevering or outplanning them. All of the Frozen Wild enemies are “Daemonic” – a new type of enemy. This gives them more health and prevents certain status effects which limits your options for fighting them. It was really disappointing after how unique all the enemy encounters were in the base game.
The final encounter of the main story is a slog. It took me about ten minutes of just emptying all my weapons into the beast while it was constantly attacking me. There was no strategy involved – just putting as much damage as I could into the machine and hoping I didn’t run out of ammo. After beating The Frozen Wilds, I went back and fought a Stormbird – one of the toughest machines of the base game – and I had a blast. It reminded me why I loved Horizon in the first place and why I had been previously excited for this DLC. Unfortunately, the lackluster story beats and lack of fun in the machine encounters made me not enjoy the DLC nearly as much as the base game.
Speaking of lackluster story beats and lack of fun in encounters, let’s talk about Rise of the Tomb Raider. With that introduction, you might think I’m going to be harsh on the game. But I’m not. Rise is a fine game. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just…there isn’t anything exciting about it. It’s a very by-the-numbers adventure game – nothing stands out. You’re playing as Lara Croft and you’re questing to find some treasure MacGuffin that your dad cared about and there’s this group of bad guys who want to get their first.
That’s…that’s it. Now granted, I’ve not finished the game yet. I’ve probably put 8 or 9 hours into it – the same amount of time I spent with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – and I’d estimate I’m around the midpoint of the game. But I’m not excited to continue playing it. Nothing about the story or the gameplay is gripping me and enticing me to continue on with the game. And again, the game isn’t bad. It’s polished, the graphics are great, the minute-to-minute gunplay and tomb exploring feels fine. But…it’s bland.
When I was telling my friend about the game, I likened Rise of the Tomb Raider to a grilled cheese sandwich. There’s nothing wrong with a grilled cheese sandwich – in fact, you can enjoy a grilled cheese and people can make good grilled cheese sandwiches. But let’s face it, nobody is ever going to get super excited about grilled cheese. It’s a filler until something you really want to eat comes along. And that’s how Rise of the Tomb Raider is. I’ll gladly keep playing it while I’m bored and might finish it before something else grabs my attention, but boy howdy if something that really excites me shows up I’ll probably drop it and never look back.
It’s almost sad because there’s the possibility of a great, Uncharted-like game in Rise of the Tomb Raider. All the mechanics are there and some of the level designs are pretty neat. But Rise suffers from a bland identity crisis. Lara doesn’t make for a compelling protagonist because she’s very cookie-cutter and lacks personality. The plot is bland and stereotypical, and the game can’t ever decide if it wants to be an adventure/exploration game or a third-person shooter on rails. Unlike The Lost Legacy, where you can approach each combat scenario in many different ways, it always feels like there’s a “right” way to play out the combat in Lara’s game. And after both Uncharted and Horizon: Zero Dawn which both have very open-ended combat scenarios, combat with Lara just feels tired and routine.
All three of these games have similar themes: the strong, female adventurer who kicks ass and takes names, searching for treasure or buried history or answers about their family or all of the above. All three games are pretty story-driven – but Rise focuses on linear, setpiece action and Horizon focuses on open-world exploration, while Lost Legacy combines both, albeit on a smaller scale. Even the weapons are similar – both Lara and Aloy use a bow as their primary weapon, while Lara has a variety of guns at her disposal as well, much like Chloe.
If I had to pick one, I’d say choose Lost Legacy. Of the three (just Horizon DLC, mind you, not the full game) it’s the best overall package and well worth the money, despite its flaws.
PLAY Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
PASS on Horizon: Zero Dawn – Frozen Wilds DLC (but PLAY the Horizon: Zero Dawn base game)
PASS on Rise of the Tomb Raider