Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tomb Raider Review

Franchise reboots are always controversial. Many gamers don't want to see their favorite games ruined by a new title. Others think the games are stale and need to come at a new angle. The unfortunate reality is that many reboots end up hurting a series rather than helping. Tomb Raider did this one right.

For the past 17 years, fans have known Lara Croft to be an adventurer who never wavers. She doesn't worry about the obstacles she will face or the enemies who will appear. For those 17 years, she's been portrayed as a mature woman with large... guns. We know about her family's past, especially the emphasis about her father, the great archaeologist. Lara follows in his footsteps, battling mortals and immortals alike. But we never knew the true beginning of Lara Croft before she was the tomb raider extraordinaire.

The reinvention of the Tomb Raider series gives us a Lara who is fresh out of college. Teaming up with her best friend Sam, the pair head out with friends of Lara's father, set for adventure and glory. Lara's gut feeling sends the ship and crew into the "Dragons Triangle" to find the long lost Japanese kingdom of Yamati. Ruled thousands of years ago by the shaman Sun Queen, this find could propel Lara into the history books alongside her father, but when a horrendous storm crashes them into the rocky outskirts of a mysterious island, the find turns into a fight for their very lives.

Where the previous Lara Crofts were confident, skilled killers and raiders, this new Lara is the complete opposite. Barely 21 years old, she is vulnerable and naive, knowing nothing of the terrors and strangeness that will shape her into the woman she will and must become to survive.

Starting off the game as a helpless and scared young girl isn't exactly the Tomb Raider style, and that's part of the reason you do start that way. This is about a woman who is a bookworm, willing to get her hands dirty in dirt not blood. A woman who is thrust into a fight for survival against psychotic killers, vicious animals, and the island itself. A woman who cries when she is forced to kill a man who attempts to rape and murder her. And borne out of all of this bloodshed, she becomes a vicious, ruthless killer. Piercing heads with arrows, lighting enemies on fire, riddling them with bullets, and even taking a climbing axe to their heads. You took her friends? She takes your life.

Where most games allow this turn of events to change the character and make them less human, Square Enix did the exact opposite. They made her even more human. She feels bad whenever she has to take a life, but that doesn't stop her or even make her hesitant. She feels even more connected to her friends as she has to rescue them at every turn. Unfortunately she has to rescue them so many times that eventually you just start asking "Y U NO AVOID CAPTURE???"

The cinematics in this game are one of it's biggest weaknesses and also one of it's greatest strengths. The graphics are absolutely incredible. When you climb to the top of a tower overlooking a vast amount of the island, you are so high up that looking down can give the real you a sense of trepidation that you might fall off. The Japanese architecture looks so beautiful and you expect a few samurai to come waltzing out the front door. Eventually they do, but they aren't very nice people. The shanty towns the stranded fanatics build are realistic and the cobbled together mess you would expect from people tossed into a wilderness environment. The weaknesses come from the feeling that the situation is taken out of your control. You can take out 30 guys who are out for your head, but suddenly you get captured after killing one? And then you kill another 30 escaping? Why couldn't you kill the 15 that captured you?

In spite of that lack of control at times, the combat is extremely well done. The controls are tight and very fluid, allowing you to switch weapons fast depending on your needs. You always are equipped with the right tool for the job, although 90% of the time you will most likely use the bow. It's a quick and silent killer allowing you to take out multiple targets without them even noticing their com-padres falling off the cliff with an arrow through the throat. An added realistic bonus on the defensive side is the use of scrambling. Where most games allow you just randomly roll or dive towards cover, this feature adds realism to the feeling you are trying to dodge bullets and arrows, as well as bombs tossed at you. Well done Enix.

Another strength/weakness combo is the use of QTE (quick time events). Grabbing ledges after you jump is a great use of it, dodging and countering attacks are good, but constantly needing to pry apart a door lock by mashing X or burning through ropes to grab some salvage can be excessively annoying.

The game literally takes the option to approach a situation away from you. For instance, there is no player controlled sneaking. If there are enemies near you, expect to automatically crouch and hide behind cover. That's great that it wants to protect you, but shouldn't you fail or succeed on your own without the game reveling in it's desire to make you dance like a puppet? This is where a lot of games have headed, so really it's not that much of a surprise, but it is rather disappointing.

Outside of combat and the storyline, the sideline puzzles and exploration are where the game shines. Discovering a tomb and making your way through the challenging traps and figuring out the sometimes painfully difficult puzzles are rewarding with a sense of accomplishment, which is great because the actual reward is a bit ridiculous. Discover a several thousand year old tomb untouched by human hands in centuries, find gun upgrades inside a sealed chest full of gold. Not kidding. Open a thousand year old chest inside a tomb, find handgun and rifle parts.

Tow features in the game really are unnecessary and ultimately useless. Hunting animals can be a fun past time, and while ammo is never really an issue with arrows and bullets laying everywhere, it gets boring after the 5th, 10th, 15th rabbit you chase down. The other is gun customization. Building and rebuilding guns to add effects like incendiary shotgun ammo or a padded stock for better accuracy and recoil is really pointless. Sure the damage boost is great with higher difficulties, but the game really should have made that a default whenever you find new parts. These two try to add an RPG element to an adventure game that never needed it in the first place. It is a linear game with a bit of free world exploration. It's not an open world sandbox where you need food to heal you.

One of the bigger detractors from the game is the added on multiplayer. It's not not fun but it's not exactly God's gift to multiplayer. The mode is quite basic. Either get enough kills on the savages side, or get enough medkits back to base on the survivor side. The game goes best of 3 rounds per match and it really boils down to who has the better team and who gets the least amount of lag. There is a lot of lag in this game unfortunately. The framerate slows considerably, removing any hope of killing the guy who's just around the corner. It feels badly tacked on, but can be a bit of fun if not played religiously. One thing that is absurd however, is that you can't play as Lara until you reach level 60. Play Tomb Raider multiplayer as.... not Lara. Bit of a disappointment there.

This game was rather enjoyable and I had a lot of fun exploring the reboot of an old classic. To me this Lara feels more like a tomb raider than any of the previously established characters. I can relate to her (not relate relate since I'm neither a woman nor a tomb raider, but more along the lines of a human being) and she feels like a real person with her own ambitions and personality. Zooming down a zipline or scaling the outside of a building while being tossed around in a blizzard is a marvel to see and experience. Hunting down the lost relics of the ages gave me a sense of accomplishment and I hated to put the game down each night. If and when this game has a sequel, you will see me online absorbed in the adventures of Lara Croft, Tomb Raider extraordinaire.

  • Lighting and environment are well executed
  • Graphics are some of the best of any current gen games
  • Combat controls are fluid and tight
  • Characters are believable
  • Voice acting is well done
  • Storyline is entertaining
  • Beautiful settings and visuals
  • Intriguing and difficult puzzles
  • Additional tomb side quests
  • Lack of control during some cinematics
  • Overuse of QTE
  • Multiple instances of wave after wave of enemies
  • Tomb rewards
  • Too much hand holding
  • Tacked on multiplayer
Overall Verdict: 9.0

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