Tomb Raider Review
An expedition to find the lost city of Yamatai, the home of Himiko the Sun Queen. Tensions are high, as every member of the crew has opposing views of where the lost city actually lies. While the captain is keen on following in the footsteps of past, failed archaeologists, Lara Croft, the fresh, inexperienced member of the group insists that they should take a less travelled path. Through gritted teeth, the group accepts the unorthodox route and approaches the Dragon’s Triangle. Upon being hit by a storm, the ship is destroyed. Sinking quickly into the ocean, the group of archaeologists gets separated from one another; and Lara disappears from the group, held captive by the native inhabitants of the island, and thus, a survivor is born.
Tomb Raider is a reboot of the classic platforming series, and a good thing too, for it had become a satire of itself. No longer is Lara Croft an unrealistically well endowed Barbie doll, whose sole purpose is to cater to the fantasies of the basement-dwelling gamer stereotype; but rather an ordinary woman, who is put into an extraordinary circumstance, one who must transcend from being a fragile socialite to being a hardened survivor. Right at the genesis of this unexpected adventure, the scene opens to Lara dangling helplessly from a rope, and it’s up to her to get herself out. This event is unnerving to the player, as the heavy scripting shows every ounce of pain and doubt that Lara is feeling. There is hardly any control over these events, however, causing a bit of frustration as I found myself constantly wondering “why am I doing things this way?” “This guy says he’s trying to help me, why am I running away from him?” This turns out to be a bit of a theme throughout the game, and it turns into a bit of a dichotomy.
The game doesn’t always let the player have control, but when it does, it is simply unmatched. Crystal Dynamics have done a fantastic job of creating a large collection of playgrounds for the player to jump around in. Throughout the island there are puzzles that must be solved in order to progress, and they never feel forced or unnatural; even if the environments seem to be designed by a puzzle-loving deity who thrives on arranging all of its toys in tricky little systems. The puzzles are fun, and never start feeling like a chore. Where the puzzle solving feels organic and delightful, the combat is the angry step-brother. Scattered across the island is debris, rocks, tree roots, and walls that are all suspiciously chest-high, and you know what that means! Combat in Tomb Raider is really nothing to write home about, it does nothing new. Crystal Dynamics have never been extremely well-suited for creating shooter game-play, and have now opted to just use a system they know works; cover-based shooting. It may indeed be a huge improvement over the previous Tomb Raider “lock on target and jump about mashing the fire key” combat, but it just doesn’t fit with the game; here the player is controlling a fragile young woman, one who feels regret and sorrow over having to kill a deer in order to eat, but she’s able to kill a dozen armed men without even breaking a sweat. The transition is jarring and consistently broke any feeling of immersion that I felt during the course of the game.
The dichotomy mentioned earlier comes to the forefront when the game wrestles control away from the player. The developers don’t seem to be comfortable with letting the player take matters into their own hands a whole lot, and many of the landmark moments within the game are scripted, asking the player to look, but not touch. This happens at an alarming rate at the beginning of the game, as the developers want to focus the player’s attention on all of the pretty pictures they painted, and they’re worried that the player will be more utilitarian in their approach to the situation, and not look at the pretty picture at all. This is beyond frustrating, as I bought the game to play it, not to watch it unfold, while the game slaps my hands with a ruler whenever I try to take control over my own progress. This is what happens when a game gets modernized, I suppose; in an age where AAA games want to drag players by a leash, forcing them to look at the expensive set-pieces the studio created, in order to justify their multi-million dollar budgets.
When all is said and done, Tomb Raider is a welcome change to a stagnating series. The platforming is fun and natural, the characters are believable, and the world is gorgeous and realistic. The combat and the constant theft of control might be a bit jarring and unwelcome, but in a world where military grunts get all of the spotlight, playing a game with character development, and a solid focus on story is unbelievably refreshing, even if the character is a bit ambiguous when it comes time to defend herself.
Release Date: 5 March 2013
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: SQUARE ENIX, Eidos Interactive