Tomb Raider (2013)

It’s been a few weeks now since I played the newest Tomb Raider game, but somehow I forgot writing a review for it. Sorry about that. Here it is!

Reboot

We live in an age of reboots. Batman, Spiderman, James Bond, Star Trek… take your pick. The makers of Tomb Raider decided to get on board that train and made this an origin story. They also decided to call the game simply “Tomb Raider”, making it very annoying to talk about it. TR Reboot, New Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider 9, Tomb Raider (2013)… take your pick.

This game tells us the story of how Lara turned from a meek little girl into the adventurer we know today. This happens by way of stranding her on a pacific island together with a varied bunch of characters (including generic tech guy, generic father figure, generic damsel in distress, Zoe Washburn and Gilderoy Lockhart). She has to figure out an ancient mystery that won’t let her leave, while under attack from the strange island inhabitants. And if that doesn’t feel enough like LOST for you yet, don’t worry, there are also remnants of an old but abandoned research project.

If you read my previous coverage of the game, then you may have realized that I didn’t expect to like the game very much. And I’d say that all the things I criticized and feared are there. But despite all that, and to my great surprise, I ended up really enjoying it. So how does that work?

The Story

The story in itself is nothing special. Lara gets tortured, has to save a damsel in distress (twice), help her friends and get over things like killing a deer or a human being, both of which stop becoming problems for her frighteningly fast.

My first main problem with this was that the game had a story at all. Previous Tomb Raider games had stories, too, but they never seemed really well thought out. In half the games, she causes the apocalypse that she has to prevent in the end. Lara Croft also wasn’t actually a likable character. It’s fun to play as her, but the arrogant rich person wantonly destroying ancient ruins doesn’t exactly feel like someone I’d like to know.

This game managed to turn it around. This Lara feels (and for the first time looks) like a real person, and while I found it hard to take any of the ills that befall her seriously, it’s very rewarding when you see her succeed at something.

The rest of the story is a bit bland, though. Lara’s friends stay boring, and the most they contribute is get into trouble that Lara has to get them out of. It’s clear that Lara cares for them, but not really why. The villain is a very generic villain, with not a lot of redeeming or even interesting characteristics. The biggest issue of the story, though, is something else:

Blood and Gore

This is a game where Lara Croft gets hurt. A lot. She gets pierced by a metal pole right in the first five minutes, and over time manages to get an astounding array of burns, cuts and bruises. The frustrating part is that all of this happens only in cutscenes. In the parts where I’m in full control of Lara, she doesn’t suffer anything. As a result, all these injuries feel fake to me. An annoying side-effect of the injuries is that Lara huffs and puffs like a broken steam engine.

There is one part where, because of severe pain, Lara can’t move fast and any attempt to jump will fail. I love that part, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel that if I had been in control in the previous cutscene, she wouldn’t be in that position to begin with.

Besides that, there is lots of other blood and gore, apparently just there to make sure that the game gets an “18+” rating. It very quickly drops from frightening to silly, especially when Lara falls into a literal underground river of blood. And I though the hall full of severed heads and limbs was over the top. My personal interpretation is that most of this is just clay models and paint, put there by the enemies to spread fear. Otherwise, the maths just doesn’t add up.

Gameplay

But if I want to just watch a good story, I go to a cinema. I play Tomb Raider because I want to play a game, and my big fear was that this game wouldn’t let me. It seems that I was partially right.

There are many, many segments where there is exactly one path to proceed, or the game yanks control from you outright. There are also parts where the game pretends you’re in control, but really, you’re not. For example, when Lara climbs up a radio tower, you press forward to climb. If you press anything else, Lara stops. There’s no way to make her jump off, climb down, or anything else. That is just cheating. The scene is one of the most memorable in the entire game, but since I don’t have control, it doesn’t even begin to approach the fun I had e.g. jumping down the highest mountain in Skyrim.

That being said: The parts where I’m in control are excellent. There are millions of different paths through the environment, different approaches to try, collectibles to gather and so on. There are also nice puzzles, in the form of optional tombs (an odd choice. Will the next Star Trek have optional stars?), although they’re all too short for my liking.

The game has a bit too much fighting, though. Especially during the raid on a temple, there are huge parts where it’s just one fight after the other, with no exploration or puzzle to break it up a bit. Fighting is now cover-based, and you have to aim yourself. I don’t really understand why they need that, but playing on easy, it didn’t bother me too much either.

What I don’t like much is that the game always tries to keep me busy. Collecting an egg somewhere is not a fun little thing, it’s part of an egg poacher challenge. If I hang around too long in one area, the game always tells me what buttons shows where I’m supposed to go next. For every action, I get experience points, which allow me to get skill and weapon upgrades that don’t really do much. It’s certainly a better skill system than Angel of Darkness, but that’s about it.

Multiplayer

The game has a multiplayer mode. I didn’t try it.

Final verdict

The game is oddly split. Parts of it try to tell a huge epic story, and those parts are well executed, but really more a movie than a game. And while they’re good, they’re not very good. On the other hand, large parts of the game are fun open world exploration, something that Tomb Raider should always have had. Those are excellent, and I hope the next game focuses on them more.

Written on March 28th, 2013 at 01:55 pm

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