Yeah yeah, I’m late on the review. But I’ve been on honeymoon so… you know… whatever.
I’m going to start off this review with a bit of a disclaimer: I never played any of the other Tomb Raider games. *gasp* *shock*
True, I was a gamer back in the day but Tomb Raider never really caught my eye. In retrospect, considering my current form of employment I think I should have paid more attention to Lara, especially now.
Tomb Raider, the 2013 version that is, started development back in 2009 when Crystal Dynamics laid off 30 of its employees to focus on Tomb Raider games which would eventually become the reboot. This all happened after the rather lackluster sales of Tomb Raider: Underworld. The last three years it’s been in development by them and eventually published in March by Square Enix. It was also penned by Rhianna Pratchett who you may recognize from other gems such as the Prince of Persia and Bioshock Infinite (along with being the daughter of Discworld author, Terry Pratchett).
The game starts off with a young Lara Croft being shipwrecked on a remote island plagued by dangerous storms. Her crew initially makes it out OK but Lara is quickly captured by a crazy cult guy and dragged off. The tutorial of the game is mostly her getting out of that situation. The rest of the story revolves around Lara shooting, fighting, blowing shit up, climbing (poorly) and generally getting herself and her friends the hell outta dodge. So I guess she’s less of a Tomb Raider and more of a Gilligan’s Island survivor when the natives are on Bath Salts? Sorry that kinda got away from me there.
While you’re in the game you’ll notice the distinct lack of a HUD on your screen other than the occasional ammo count. This was a design decision made by Crystal Dynamics, I’m sure, and it adds a more immersive experience at the expense of traditional video game staples such as a health bar; the screen simply gets darker and more grey the closer Lara is to dying. Lara also has an instinct mode but unfortunately has limited use while moving which makes it difficult to use when you’re trying to stalk your enemy or are having to move around a lot to avoid predators attacking you.
There’s a range of power ups to get by collecting salvage and parts but I was able to get them all in a single runthrough without any difficulty. Honestly, that’s one area of the game that I thought was lacking; replayability. I have no reason, outside of multiplayer, to go back and visit that island with Lara and the Crew. Seriously, none. The story, and gameplay, was simply too linear and just not open enough.
Puzzles are mostly found in tombs which are scattered throughout the mystery island Lara and the crew of the Endurance crashed on. There aren’t not so much puzzles in the traditional sense of the word, like they were in Fez, but rather just a more difficult version of the platform mechanics seen outside the Tomb. I don’t mind but I was hoping for something more challenging.
It was a quick play through for me and I enjoyed it immensely. I felt like I was on an adventure with Lara and the voice acting on her part really helped drive that home. Seeing the titular character come around and become the woman we know in later games was satisfying and I’m excited to play the inevitable follow ups.
My only real complaints were lack of replayability, a rather linear closed world (you can go back but, honestly, there’s not much need to) and lack of a real challenge. Normally, I would knock a game down a couple pegs for that but since this is kind of a reboot to the series, I’m treating it as the launch of a new franchise and am willing to allow some leeway.
In other words, it’s a strong first game.
But, after all that, that’s not why I really wanted to write this review, or even play the game. I debated even how I was going to write this review - what tone and from what point of view.
For some context, there was the infamous Tomb Raider announcement at E3 in 2012. The sorta rapey one. I’m not sure how something is “sorta” rapey, though.
Then there was the, let’s just call them “odd” comments on coming out of the games developers, Crystal Dynamics.
Then rumors swirled about some last minute redesigns on the story.
These all made me really nervous. I even made a post about it on my personal Facebook. I get that they want to reboot the series and make it newer and fresher but why, for the love of the Sith, must we always add in sexual assault as this lazy half-assed trope to give the character “complexity”? It’s absurd and insulting to gamers.
After going through a play of the game, I’m relieved that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. There were two scenes when Lara got caught where even the hint of anything sexual might happen but it’s handled well, I think, and fit within the context of the game. Beyond that, Lara’s death noises do sometimes give a new meaning to Le Petit Mort. But if that’s seriously the biggest complaint about the whole game, then you’re doing pretty well.
Lara herself isn’t nearly as “helpless” as CD initially made her out to be and kinda kicks a lot of ass from the get go. It’s less “you have to save Lara” to a more “Go on this adventure with her”. Lara herself was pretty badass to begin with, climbing, kicking, shooting and fighting with the best of them and I loved that so it’s more like the game was teaching you rather than you, the player, teaching Lara.
Was the E3 trailer and the comments out of CD a result of poor editing and a case of foot-in-mouth? Or did someone up high listen to the push back and make those last minute changes that were rumored? While I suspect the latter, I don’t have any real reason to actually know and I’m satisfied with the finished product either way. I don’t expect a game to be perfect from day one of development or even announcement and I anticipate there to be stumbles and falls along the way in any game, so I don’t hold any of that against them.
The Good: controls, platforming mechanics and story.
The Bad: Short, linear and relatively easy and, for a “first” game, that’s not so bad.
The Ugly: the press during pre-release and at E3 but that’s a non-issue now.
Total: Four out of five.