Tomb Raider as a franchise was one that I naturally never got into. I mean, I was born in late 1994, so that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. But as with all reboots, I think that it is important to judge them on their own merits as much as their relationship to the prior entries in the series. Yet, after having high sales numbers despite low profitability, alongside high critical praise, what does some schmuck have to say about it? Well, some more negative things, that’s for sure.
Tomb Raider (Single Player) Review
Release Date: 05/3/2013
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Developers: Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Rig: AMD FX-8320, 8GB of RAM, Radeon HD 7770, Windows 7 64-bit
Tomb Raider opens with a recompilation of the prerelease CG trailers detailing a young Lara Croft going off on her first big adventure into a long deserted Japanese island before getting caught up in a shipwreck. Leaving her and her crew of not particularly important side characters scattered and injured on an island filled with psychopaths who, along with the island itself, want Lara to be breathing from a tube before she takes the boat back home. Exactly what you would expect from a series that had you fight a Dinosaur at some point.
So what bad things do I have to say about the story, aside from being something likely described by the team as “gritty”? Well, I mentioned the characters, ones who were never mentioned in prior titles as far as I know, being shoved on in. The problem is that they are barely entities for the majority of the game, not helped by how there are six or seven of them, and empathy is to be expected from the get-go. Now, I am a pretty unempathetic prick at the end of the day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t sympathize with characters assuming something is done to make them likable. Or at least interesting in some way accomplished by the dull cast that I can’t even remember the names of for the most part.
But the character who demands empathy more than any others seems to be Lara. Who begins the game hobbling in the rain after being shipwrecked, sets herself on fire, gets a spike shoved into her gut, and run through a collapsing cavern, all in the first ten minutes. With the rest of the game showing the constraint and care for her as a rambunctious five-year-old does for a toy that is not his.
Throwing her into pits of blood, have her kill hundreds of men while being fired at, crash into a couple trees, fall down onto rocks, and experience loss as her friends die in front of her. It’s almost silly how often she gets screwed over in her origin story, which would leave anyone else with a thirst for suicide of PTSD. But a quick question, if I may, why am I suppose to care about Lara? True, she is an iconic character, but aside from that, she is miserable through nearly the entire game, and why would someone try to get attached with an eternally sad figure?
The best answer I can muster would be that because a character is fun to play as, you start to like the character. Which is an understandable idea, but I can’t say that I felt a connection form from that front. Tomb Raider is very clearly trying a jack of all trades approach here with third person shooting, climbing and traversing environments, hunting, collecting XP, upgrading a core group of weapons, searching for collectables, and the not so occasional QTE. Though, I wouldn’t say that it gets much higher than a seven for any of them.
Said card of this metaphor would likely go to the shooting. Which follows the pretty simple rules of swap with the D-pad, and aim for the heads while occasionally meleeing and scrummaging around for ammo while reloading next to a walll Lara auto-ducks behind. The issues here, aside from throwing you a bow as one of the four weapons, when it is pretty useless for anything but initiating combat, same with the fire arrows due to how everybody’s clothes are apparently wet. Is that trying to comprehend what exactly is going on can be a bit tricky unless you’re doing what the game wants the player to do, and be where they are “suppose” to be.
It was pretty common for me to stand my ground at one precious wall, and then go through areas I recalled seeing played as more of a running and gunning sequence where you’re busting heads and occasionally some environments. All assuming I could actually see the enemies, which I often had trouble with due to how they’re guys in muddy clothing in equally muddy environments. Instead, I fell back on constantly jamming the left bumper to make the enemy models red as part of Lara’s supervision so I could actually see them.
Visibility in general was a bit of an issue all around for me. With environments often being so cluttered and filled with ancillary details that I couldn’t tell what I was suppose to interact with. So I used the arbitrary supervision to drain all the color from the world and make everything of importance become yellow. Showing that A, someone lacked confidence in the ability to visually comprehend the world crafted, and B, they didn’t realize that white and a glowing yellow can often look a bit too similar. Especially in a game filled with fire.
In fact, the grey vision and design of the occasionally nonlinear areas does screw with me more than it probably should, as it made the exploration a massive pain in the keester. You see, I’m the kind of guy who likes to find all the secrets in a game, and cannot knowingly leave a stone unturned. So I found all of the hundreds of nicknacks littering the world, and it was probably the least enjoyable collectathon I’ve ever gone through in a game.
Firstly there are a lot of secret shoved into a few areas, with the most common being the size of Lara’s index finger. Even with a map accessible from the press of a button with a marker to help out, there is so much to search for in a large open area that it becomes plain old frustrating. But the unmapped challenge items are what really grinds my gears, because of how easy it is to miss one of ten and need to run through the entire area in hopes of finding a stupid statue to light on fire. So there is a sense of dread to get all of them as quickly as possible, made no better by how the game tries to constantly shove the player from point A to B. Which only makes me feel like I’m missing something obvious after spending half an hour searching through 2500 square meters for a blasted mushroom.
With the worst part being how the collectables do next to nothing in terms of actual gameplay or the overarching narrative. You could argue that similar collectables, such as the ones in the Batman Arkham titles, do this as well. Yet, aside from being more considerately placed, they explain how and why there are trophies scattered about, and why Batman would want them. While wondering why Lara is burning cloths and smashing bird eggs is never even mentioned. That, and its fun to move around, and you don’t need to deal with a very constructed design made more for progression, and less for exploration.
Actually, the collectables do give something in terms of in-game worth. Experience points that can be obtained by doing nearly anything else. Fight a baddie, get XP, kill a deer as part of what was likely going to be a hunger mechanic before the idea was dropped, get XP. Progress in the story and go through one of the overly scripted, flashy, and bombastic action sections, get XP. And there is not a lot of things that cause a noticeable shift in normal gameplay, as upgrading firearms never feels like you’ve unlocked the ultimate form of the weapon, as it takes two shots to take down thugs five feet away with a shotgun.
But how does it all look? How did the absurd budget of the game come into play with the visuals? Well, it looks alright. I played the game on the high settings, seeing as how I am paranoid that my computer will blow up if I even try Ultra, and from a graphical technological standpoint, Tomb Raider is quite impressive. With a lot of details crammed into the world and physics in motion during the scripted running sections. Yet from a visual standpoint, I mentioned how cluttered the game was, and it is not helped by a boring color palette, even when the game is not set to grayscale so you can tell where anything is. The assets and tossed in set pieces to start off a daring “thrill ride” are very well done, but in terms of actually playing the game and searching for the bountiful collectables, well, it only really hurt it.
Tomb Raider is a game that I feel is not made for someone like me. Someone who plays every character as a kleptomaniac because he was forever scarred of failure in a game, and cannot stand to miss something within arms reach. It is a ride full of thrills and grit, and I feel bad for bringing up issues for it, after the developers ended the game by saying they tried their best. Yet, if this is the best the folks at Crystal Dynamics can do, Tomb Raider is going back under my radar.
There are a few high point, yet the entire experience is hampered by issues that outnumber the good. Not the worst, but not all that great.