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Tomb Raider’s opening hours: preview, new video

Tuesday, 4 December 2012 14:01 GMT By Stace Harman

Stace Harman takes a spoiler-free look at the first three hours of Tomb Raider and speaks to Crystal Dynamics about the reinvention of one of gaming’s best-loved action heroes. New gameplay footage included.

Crystal Dynamics’ efforts to reinvigorate the franchise are on course to be triumphantly successful. If the remainder of the game lives up to its opening 20% then the finished article will be an absolute joy.

When attempting a franchise reboot, there is a gulf to be negotiated between careful planning and successful execution. After all, it is a difficult thing to create an experience that feels at once new and familiar. In order to deliver content that not only appeases the scepticism of long-term fans but also exceeds their expectations requires a custodian with a fundamental understanding of the intellectual property at hand. A reboot must also create an experience compelling enough for those without prior knowledge of the franchise and has to win back those that long ago turned their back on it.

While modern films featuring the likes of Batman, Bond and Spider-Man have decades of source material that can be thematically referenced or playfully alluded to, Tomb Raider has just 15 years under its belt: not all of them are good. The challenge for Crystal Dynamics, then, is not only to make Lara Croft relevant once more, but to do so in a way that takes account of the current zeitgeist for narrative delivery, level design and game play tropes, while keeping everything feeling fresh and exciting.

With these concerns at the forefront of my mind it is with a certain amount of professional curiosity and personal trepidation that I accept the invitation from Square Enix to spend a morning playing through the opening hours of Tomb Raider. It is therefore with no small measure of genuine relief that I can report Crystal Dynamics’ efforts to reinvigorate the franchise are on course to be triumphantly successful. If the remainder of the game lives up to its opening 20% then the finished article will be an absolute joy.

20/20 vision

It should not be taken for granted that the delivery of Lara’s maiden voyage is all plain sailing or that missteps might not still be made. The inclusion of one feature in particular has concerned me since it was outlined and subsequently demonstrated: that feature is Survival Instinct.

Survival Instinct is a variation of the popular system seen in the likes of the Arkham and Assassin’s Creed series and in another of Square Enix’s recent titles, Hitman: Absolution. However, unlike these games, there is no conceivable narrative justification for why a 21-year-old Ms Croft, who up to now has spent more time studying than surviving, would have such senses.

Fortunately, the first three hours of Tomb Raider suggest Survival Instinct is an entirely optional mechanic. From time spent in Lara’s adventure and then speaking with creative director Noah Hughes, it’s evident that a lot of work has gone to ensure that Tomb Raider’s world is one of clearly defined goals and logically constructed elements. Thus, navigation can be achieved by way of natural landmarks and collectibles can be discovered through good, old fashioned exploration.

Thanks to an approximation of real world physics, piecing together how puzzle components interact with one another is often a matter of predicting tangible cause and effect. This more natural approach replaces Lara’s prescient knowledge that pulling a lever in a far off location will have a knock-on effect elsewhere. Survival Instinct, then, will simply facilitate a more direct approach for those who might wish to quicken the pace of the action, rather than being used as a crutch to help overcome obtuse game design.

Tomb Raider

2013’s entry is the tenth Tomb Raider game and Crystal Dynamics’ fourth since assuming the mantle in 2006. Tomb Raider launches March 5 2013.

Tomb Raider is penned by Rhianna Pratchett. Rhianna’s other video game writing credits include scripts for Heavenly Sword, Mirror’s Edge and Overlord.

The contents of the Tomb Raider US collector’s edition were revealed last month.

Crystal Dynamics predicts Tomb Raider to be around 12-15 hours long, and says a sequel is possible should the 2013 reboot be successful. Based on the three hours I spent with the game, I’d say a sequel is a shoe-in.

“[Survival Instinct] really touches on the core vision of allowing different play styles,” explains Hughes. “The goal is that if people want for something to happening every twenty minutes or want to quickly get from one new thing to another, I want this game to be able to provide that for them. At the same time I really want people to be able to explore; we could have told our story in a much more linear way, but for me then it wouldn’t be a Tomb Raider game.”

While there are still plenty of instances of delivering this story by way of tried and tested cut-scenes, they are deftly penned and convincingly delivered. However, it’s the incidental narrative touches that really add depth to Lara’s adventure. Seeking respite at one of the base camps, either to upgrade Lara’s authentically crude toolset and arsenal or to unlock new skills, will often trigger a voiceover. Here, Lara contemplates her predicament, ponders recent events and muses on what might have become of her fellow survivors.

Similarly, discovering one of the puzzle-laden secondary tombs reveals a wealth of incidental details that lend more ominous overtones to the story and fleshes out the origins of the island’s aggressive and offbeat inhabitants. Even recovered treasures hold the potential for bonus story tidbits or more tangible game play rewards, which finally offers a reason to depict 3D models of artefacts that can be rotated and zoomed in on.

Fight club

Crystal Dynamics is delivering on exploration, narrative and an adaptable game play experience that can be tailored to suit a variety of play styles. What, then, can it do to address one of Lara’s greatest weaknesses? Combat has often felt out of place in Tomb Raider titles of old; a tiresome, uninspiring mix of running back and forth, combined with somersaulting this way and that as round after infinite round is pumped into human adversaries and animal assailants. Thankfully, Lara benefits from the advancement of combat in a 3D space, which the adventure genre has undergone in her absence.

“The combat system itself is overhauled because we wanted something more modern but we also wanted something that was Lara-like,” Hughes reveals. “So, we have things like fluid cover that you’re not stuck to and we try to give advantages to higher ground so that you’re motivated to move during combat.”

Lara instinctively crouches as she approaches cover, which allows her to stalk lone adversaries and manually line up silent shots with her bow and arrow. The fluid cover also means that, when all hell breaks lose, she can move from one piece of destructible cover to the next or break cover altogether and close in for some crunchy and upgradeable melee attacks. Happily, it appears that combat in the Tomb Raider of 2013 will feature more strategy and much less champion-Zebedee-jumping, as Hughes summarises, “[Lara’s] acrobatic, yes, but she’s not a world class gymnast.” Moreover, she no longer resembles a character from The Magic Roundabout.

While three hours spent with Tomb Raider feels long enough to be assured of Crystal Dynamics’ ability to deliver on its promises, it’s not nearly long enough to sate my appetite for Lara’s latest adventure. The mechanical elements of Tomb Raider appear to be sound, and a special mention must go to both the visual arts team and the audio composers and engineers. Tomb Raider’s rugged beauty is complemented by a potent aural atmosphere, keenly highlighted as the roar of a wind-lashed jungle gives way to the eerie quiet of a subterranean cave system.

In truth, I could go on, but 1,200 spoiler-free words should surely be enough to relay a simple, underlying truth: Lara is back, her presence is relevant and she’s set to reclaim her place as video gaming’s leading lady.

Tomb Raider launches on PC, PS3, and 360 on March 5 2013.

Disclosure: Stace spent three hours at Square Enix’s office in London to create this preview. He drank one cup of tea in the process.

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15 Comments

  1. Moonwalker1982

    Oh my…even more footage? No way am i going to watch this. It may not contain spoilers, but i have a whole different definition of spoilers anyway.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Stace Harman

    FYI all: it’s the words that are spoiler-free, the video does of course contain game footage.

    Delicious, awesome, game footage!

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Moonwalker1982

    Yeah but i’ve seen enough, you know? The official trailers and gameplay demonstrations during E3 this and last year. I played it myself at Gamescom and loved it, it’s enough. I don’t want to see any more things :D

    Some people say it’s copying Uncharted and it’s too cinematic, taking the controller away from players too much…but they said that about Max Payne 3 too and i loved it, so whatever.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Stace Harman

    @4 That’s fair enough, I can entirely understand you not wanting to spoil it too much for yourself.

    Interesting reading some other previews; it seems others had a more action-orientated experience than I did, which reinforces the point that it can support varying play styles.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Len

    The real question remains unanswered though:

    Did you have biscuits with your tea and if so what kind? ;)

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Moonwalker1982

    I do have a few questions though for you stace :)

    1- How did the gun combat feel? Similar to Uncharted or better?
    2- And as for physics when you gun/bow baddies down?
    3- And when you climb…is it like Uncharted or a bit more realistic?

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Stace Harman

    @5 Haha! No, I did not. Though while we’re on the subject, if I *had* eaten a biscuit it would have been a Fox’s Chunkie Milk Chocolate Cookie*, great for dunking and very tasty (*other biscuits are available).

    @6 Combat was more fluid than Uncharted’s. There was more opportunity for silent stealth kills (with the bow or melee). Plus, the non-sticky cover invites more movement than Uncharted, whose arena-type environments tend to feel more set-piece-like to me. Physics are weighty, both gunplay and melee has some ‘oomph’. I’ve never really liked the climbing of Uncharted (or Enslaved), it always feels like you can close your eyes and still find safe passage. TR’s is generally more free-form, though there are some climbing sections with just one route, akin to both those titles mentioned.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Moonwalker1982

    @7

    Sounds really good!!

    One thing i find alittle disappointing however is that you won’t be hunting for survival.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. PEYJ

    Always loved Tomb Raider. It is the reason why I became a gamer. However, despite all the “it’s NOT like Uncharted” I hear from so many sides, it certainly looks A LOT like UC. I love both though, so keep them coming.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Da Man

    Ledges again, and lots of them. Ledges and semi automatic jumps.

    Unfortunately, Uncharted wasn’t the game which started this. It all began with Sands of Time. Thanks Ubisoft for defining modern platforming.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. SameeR_Fisher

    @Stace Harman: thanks alot for your spoiler free work, I respect that.

    A couple of questions if you don’t mind:

    - How was the cover ?!, you said in one of your comments it gave you more freedom, so I assume that cover being automatic is not a problem right ?!

    - Without spoilers, how was the Story, lines, and Voice Acting ?!, tbh I am skeptical cause I didn’t like Heavenly Sword Story, it was good not great, and some of the voice acting or probably the lines made it even worse, I hope TR story is top notch, but I heard Lara sounds like American-British-Australian all in one or something :D, so ?!

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Stace Harman

    @11 There were no problems that I encountered, whether that’ll change as the difficulty ramps up later in the game and things get more hectic will have to be left for another day. However, the lack of snap-to cover feels more natural and allows for more fluid movement during combat.

    Story elements are shaping up very well. One or two lines were a little cheesy, but there’s moments of surprising humour and Luddington (Lara) delivers her lines convincingly. I thought I’d really miss Keeley Hawes, but Luddington suits the younger Lara depicted here. There’s an interesting cast of characters, too.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. SameeR_Fisher

    @Stace Harman: thanks alot for answering, can’t wait till next year. :)

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Moonwalker1982

    What about the one aspect i am a bit skeptical about…which is this Instinct feature. It shows interesting elements and where you need to go. Is it too casual or does it actually work? AND…can it be disabled?

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Mike W

    hmmm….I’m not to impress with this video. I will have to play the game myself.

    #15 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    Mortal Kombat X’s next celebrity guest was teased during the latest Kast. Today’s Mortal Kombat X Kast was mostly about all about Jason, but also included a very brief nod to Predator. You can watch the full livestream to see the tease in situ if you’re really keen, but IGN shared this convenient edit: There’s […]

  • Rock Band 4 has count-ins, drum fills and vocal harmonies

    Rock Band 4 will more closely emulate the feeling of being a real musician with some neat personalisation touches. For Rock Band 4, Harmonix elected to double down on player ownership of their experience rather than technical precision. To this end, it has implemented a number of cool new features. I am wildly envious of […]

  • Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, Lost Planet 3 developer shuttered

    Spark Unlimited has gone down with all hands. The Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z and Lost Planet 3 developer has been shuttered and all staff laid off. Chief technical officer John Butrovich confirmed the news in a statement issued to IGN. “Spark Unlimited is closing as a video game developer. The ongoing opportunities for smaller mobile […]

  • PS Now subscription available on PlayStation 3 this month, Vita coming soon

    PlayStation Now’s all you can eat service has finally been dated for PS3. Subscriptions to PS Now, Sony’s cloud-based gaming service, will be available on PS3 from May 12 in the US. The all you can eat package will also be made available on select Bravia TVs and Sony Blu-ray players on the same date. […]

  • GTA 5 is even better with a gravity gun

    GTA 5 modders have made a dream come true, adding a gravity gun to your arsenal of mayhem-causing weaponry. GTA 5 isn’t ready for this. It looks like a heck of a lot of fun, but the poor old Los Santos po po can’t deal with the resulting carnage at all. If Rockstar were ever […]

  • “Mod makers should be able to make money from their creations,” says DOOM creator

    DOOM co-creator John Romero has weighed in on the paid mods debate. Paid mods are a hot issue right now. For years, Valve has been enabling content creators to make money from their work on Counter-strike: Global offensive, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2, but when it partnered with Bethesda to offer the same for […]

  • Watch WRC driver Kevin Abbring smash through a DIRT Rally challenge

    WRC driver Kevin Abbring has been participating in Dirt Rally’s daily events – and kicking ass. Dirt Rally seems to have ticked one of the most difficult to attain boxes of racing development – creating something professional drivers like to play, and which rewards their years of experience. Codemasters published the video below showing Hyundai […]

  • Mortal Kombat X patch to bring PC version up to console standard

    Mortal Kombat X PC will be fixed tomorrow, NetherRealm has promised. The PC version of Mortal Kombat X has come under fire for poor performance, including stuttering frame rate and bugs as plenty. About 45 minutes into a recent Twitch stream, NetherRealm boss Ed Boon said an update will drop tomorrow to address many of […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: all new Crucible maps detailed

    Destiny’s House of Wolves DLC will add four new maps to the Crucible, the game’s competitive multiplayer mode. Let’s take a look at all of them. Alex brings you new footage showing all of the four maps that will drop with House of Wolves. He goes over the layout, landmarks, gameplay styles, and other important […]

  • Custom Xbox One Star Wars controllers look very tempting

    Microsoft is celebrating May 4 by showing off concept designs for Star Wars-themed Xbox One controllers. May 4 is of course Star Wars Day and the controller concepts you’re about to see are just that, concepts. Or at least that’s what they said they are. There are four designs and they don’t look very practical. […]

  • Project Cars launch trailer is an anthology of race cars, set to the beats of Deadmau5

    Project Cars comes out this week and there’s just enough time for one last trailer. Project Cars, Slightly Mad Studios’ ambitious racer that has been in development for ages, is finally coming out this week. The racer received plenty of changes throughout its development based on community feedback and the final product will be in […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront dev reveals planet Sullust

    Sullust, a planet that has not been previously shown, will be featured in one of Star Wars Battlefront’s maps. Star Wars Battlefront developer DICE revealed today that planet Sullust will be one of the game’s locations. The planet was mentioned in the films and other Star Wars works, but was only shown today. DICE posted […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: Tower vendor changes

    House of Wolves will change the inventory of some of Destiny’s vendors and add new roles to others. Here’s everything that has been announced so far. You know that House of Wolves will bring a new social space to the game in the form of The Reef. But did you also know that the good […]

  • Nintendo apologises for Amiibo shortages, will reissue some out-of-stock figures

    Nintendo released a statement today to apologise for fan’s frustrations in finding some Amiibo figures and promised to handle distribution better going forward. Nintendo has been criticised recently for its lack of communication when it comes to new Amiibo figures. Something which has lead fans to not know if certain figures are limited to some […]

  • Halo: MCC “a black eye for us,” Halo 5 won’t suffer the same fate, says franchise director

    The development of Halo: The Master Chief Collection was of an “outrageous complexity,” which was one of the reasons it suffered a horrible launch. None of that will happen with Halo 5: Guardians, according to Frank O’Connor. Frank O’Connor, Halo franchise development director opened up to Xbox Achievements about the difficult task of developing The […]

  • Destiny House of Wolves: weapon Reforging explained

    When House of Wolves drops in a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to change the stats of some in-game weapons. This process is called ‘Reforging’. Alex goes over all the details Bungie revealed about the new Reforging system. This covers the materials you need, the weapons that can be reforged and much more. Make […]

  • GTA 5 PC: control the in-game phone with your iPhone using this mod

    GTA 5′s latest mod lets you control the in-game phone with your real-life iPhone. Reddit user Planetleak wanted to see if he would succeed in getting his iPhone to control the phone in GTA 5. He did it and has a video to prove it. It’s not a mod per-se, but it emulates mouse and […]

  • SoulCalibur dev wants to know fans’ favourite characters for “something huge”

    SoulCalibur developers are probably working on a new game, because they’re asking fans to vote on their favourite characters. Project Soul, the longtime developer of the SoulCalibur series is soliciting feedback on fans’ favourite characters. The developer said as much in a post on its Facebook page. “Calling all SoulCalibur Fans! Project Soul would like […]

  • Jason Voorhees doesn’t look out of place in new Mortal Kombat X trailer

    Jason Voorhees comes to Mortal Kombat X starting tomorrow and it’s time to celebrate his arrival. Jason Voorhees, the first DLC character for Mortal Kombat X has been given the trailer treatment. Jason is part of the game’s Kombat Pack, owners of which can start using him tomorrow, May 5. Being an iconic horror character, […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition – Dragonslayer DLC announced, free to all this week

    Dragon Age: Inquisition is getting a multiplayer expansion this week. BioWare has announced that all owners of Dragon Age: Inquisition will receive a new multiplayer expansion, for free. The expansion is called Dragonslayer and it’s centred around fighting dragons, hence the name. Three new playable characters will join the roster as you explore an all-new […]

  • Sonder is still happening, and this is the best news of the week

    Sonder is a really interesting-looking new indie adventure, which I am quite excited to remember exists. We first heard about Sonder in late 2013, when its debut trailer introduced us to a Kamai Media’s ambitious vision. In the intervening months Kamai has been hard at work on its space station management sim slash non-linear narrative […]

  • Twitter axes playable Internet Archive embeds

    The dream has died: Twitter has disabled Internet Archive game embeds. Remember how for a few days you could tweet a link to an a game on the Internet Archive and it was playable direct from that tweet? Well, Twitter has cancelled that. All those tweets now just show links. GamesIndustry suspects it has something […]

  • Lords of the Fallen, Divinity: Original Sin developers will reveal new games at E3 2015

    Lords of the Fallen developer Deck13 and Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian Studios have new projects in the works which will be revealed at E3 2015. Publisher Focus Home Interactive is behind both new games. In a French press release [PDF] spotted by RPG Codex, Focus said it will show off the two unrevealed titles […]

  • Rare game announce expected at E3 2015

    Rare’s new game will be shown off at E3 2015, apparently. Rare hasn’t announced a reveal, and neither has Microsoft, but it looks like the news has slipped out anyway. IGN cites a tweet from Rare creative director Simon Woodroffe in which he says that a new project from Rare designer Gregg Mayles will be […]

  • Batgirl expansion included in $40 Batman: Arkham Knight season pass

    Here’s what you get in the $40 Batman: Arkham Knight season pass. Batman: Arkham Knight’s season pass was announced last week, but apart from the news that it would cost a whopping $40/£33, we didn’t get many details of what it would include. Thankfully, Warner Bros. has since acknowledged the clamour this caused, as players […]

  • Star Wars Day Xbox sale discounts Force Unleashed, Lego games

    Star Wars Day is upon us, and here’s an Xbox sale to mark it. Microsoft is offering discounts on Xbox 360 games to celebrate May 4. From my desk here in Australia the sale is a bit light on content – two Lego games, plus The Force Unleashed and its DLC packs. Your mileage may […]

  • Here’s hoping this tease means we see Mass Effect at E3 2015

    Mass Effect boss Mike Gamble has shared a teaser image, which we’re more than happy to draw speculative conclusions from. The new Mass Effect game in the works at BioWare Edmonton is a mysterious beast. Judging by how long it’s been in development, it feels like we’re about due for a proper reveal, to clear […]

  • Watch almost a whole hour of Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

    Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is almost here. Are you ready for old-school shooter action? Wolfenstein: The Old Blood publisher Bethesda livestreamed almost an hour of the Machine Games shooter recently, and has now uploaded the archive to YouTube. Check it out below: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood launches digitally on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on […]

  • Splatoon lacks voice chat to promote a positive online experience

    Nintendo’s multiplayer game Splatoon will not contain a voice chat option in order to “focus on the positive aspects” of online gaming. Speaking in the latest issue of Edge magazine (thanks, GamesRadar), Splatoon co-director Yusuke Amano said personal experience with negativity in online voice chat was one of the main reasons for excluding the feature. […]

  • D4 on PC: differences from Xbox One version, system specs announced

    D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die – Season 1 is coming to PC, and Access Games has provided a list of features different from the Xbox One version. We’ve pulled most of the changes off the game’s website and posted them below, along with the PC specs. D4 on PC Kinect gesture input controls replaced with […]

  • The Megalodon returns to Battlefield 4 with the latest CTE patch

    The Megalodon Easter Egg in Battlefield 4 may have been removed earlier this year from Naval Strike, but it has since resurfaced on the CTE with the latest patch. I’d make a Jaws reference, but it’s been done to death. The shark is shown in the video on the Paracel Storm map which was where […]

  • Survival horror game Kodoku has a new work-in-progress trailer

    Kodoku, the survival horror title from Carnivore Studio, has a new work-in-progress video available, showing you how the game is coming along. Announced for PlayStation 4 and Vita back in 2013, the game is slated for release sometime this year, and tasks the player with avoiding mythical Japanese ghosts using only magic and stealth. Thanks, […]

  • Current HoloLens prototype has noticeably “tighter” FoV compared to January build

    Microsoft’s augmented reality headset HoloLens is still very much in the prototype stage, according to various reports out of the Build Conference. Microsoft hasn’t discussed technical specs with the press yet as nothing is set in stone, but during a hands-on at Build, Ars Technica noticed the prototypes had a “x86 processor, 2GB RAM, 802.11ac […]

  • Silent Hills petition asking Konami to continue development has over 50,000 signatures

    A petition to save the Silent Hills game has been formed by fans in the hopes Konami will change its mind and bring the collaboration with Guillermo del Toro back from the dead. Konami confirmed on Monday the Silent Hill remake from film director Del Toro and Metal Gear’s Hideo Kojima had been cancelled, but […]

  • Attack on Titan has a US release date, title changed in EU over copyright claim

    Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains will be released under a different title in Europe, according to the publisher, and while a release date has been set for North America, the same cannot be said for fans across the pond. According to Atlus, a copyright claim in Europe has forced the company to publish the […]

  • Yooka-Laylee meets final Kickstarter Stretch Goal in less than 24 hours

    The Kickstarter for Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee sailed beyond its final £1 million ($1.5 million) Stretch Goal overnight, which will allow for a simultaneous release on all announced platforms. Once funded, Yooka-Laylee was slated for release on Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and Xbox One; however, a simultaneous release on all platforms wasn’t guaranteed unless […]

  • Not a Hero will miss its May 7 release date, but not by much

    Not a Hero will miss its May 7 release date, according to an announcement from Roll7. Not to worry though, it’s only by a week. According to the developer, the delay is due to “having undergone super-secret upgrades to crank shit up to 60fps.” The extra week will provide the additional time needed for tweaking […]

  • Assassin’s Creed, The Crew, Far Cry 4, other Ubisoft titles on sale through the Humble Store

    Ubisoft has put a number of its games on sale through the Humble Store. Franchises Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry are on discount as are single release titles. The list of games on sale are below. For pricing in your region, head over to the Humble Store. Anno 2070 Complete Edition Assassin’s Creed 3 Assassin’s […]

  • Payday 2: Repeater rifle, Peacemaker pistol introduced with The Butcher’s Western Pack

    Overkill Software released the 21st DLC pack for Payday 2 yesterday, titled The Butcher’s Western Pack. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and other digital distribution channels. “For our 21st DLC we go back in time to visit the Wild West and the arsenal it was known for,” said the developers. “With it we’re introducing […]