Tomb Raider review
No Tombs Were Harmed in the Making of this Fil-...Game.
Tomb Raider is a series well-known by gamers. Not as a franchise that impacted the industry but was rather...appealing. Lara Croft, the main character of the Tomb Raider games, was quite a symbol due to her *bleep* appeal (large breasts and tight clothing would generally garner attention, after all, see: this). But unfortunately, that's all that was remembered from her series. The games were standard action-adventure, and whilst they were actually fun and new for their time, the series became more and more bland with each passing title, eventually leaving Lara's tales in the shadows.
Enter Uncharted. A series that made it big, satisfying the needs of treasure hunters all around the world. With a rather snarky group of characters, heart-pumping quick-time events and over-the-top set pieces, the game hit all the right marks, developing into a well-loved series. It seemingly borrowed from the Tomb Raider games with its adventure, plot, and overall format, but Uncharted did it with more class and flashiness not seen in many other games before. It felt like a cinematic experience, taking you along for the ride at your own leisure. Many companies took note of Uncharted's success, including Crystal Dynamics, the team behind the more recent Tomb Raiders. And with that, we're graced with this reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise, simply titled: Tomb Raider. It follows Lara in her first true adventure, young and inexperienced, attempting to discover a small civilization's ruins which were thought to be a myth. Things go wrong on the voyage in search of said ruins, as Lara and the ship crew she travelled with are stranded on an island after a nasty storm rips their ship apart. Lara fights to save her companions, uncover the truth behind this mysterious island, and above all else: Survive.
Now, that brings me to one of my biggest gripes with the game. The need to "survive" was marketed throughout this title's pre-release and post-release life-span, demonstrating that it was a major aspect of the game. Take this trailer, for example:
"A Survivor is Born"
Lara's going through some incredibly traumatizing, agonizing moments as shown in the trailer, adrenaline pumping through her with each clip. It's no doubt that she's fighting hard as it's a life-or-death matter, and she's taking bumps along the way, showing that she's only human. But at the same token, her pain tolerance must be at an all time high to not get major after effects after each crushing collision. Ah heck, a game's a game, logic isn't entirely a focus, and tends to be bent/broken for the sake of of entertainment. They serve as an escape from reality, after all. Tomb Raider was bound to be an action/adventure just like its previous entries, and many were already comparing it to Uncharted well before its release. But going back to the issue at hand, Lara isn't really taking the necessary steps in to survive. She's risking it all in high and hell water, but with plenty of help. Scattered throughout the game are loads and loads of ammo as well as arrows, the game holding your hand throughout the entire story. I could understand ammo being at camps of the enemies here, but barely any of them use bows, and it seems foolish to leave so much lying around in random areas. It would make more sense if you would need to loot the bandits for ammo, but here you never have to.
To further prove how inconsistent the aforementioned theme is, the first 20 minutes into the game has you kill a deer. Lara claims that she's hungry and so, to "survive" we kill that deer and cook its meat. She never gets hungry again for the rest of the game. Not to mention she took a terrible wound in that first 20 minutes and it just magically became fine again by this point, completely left untreated. I know I'm going on and on about how non-survival Tomb Raider is, but when you market a theme as much as Crystal Dynamics did on this game, I'd expect them to follow through with it. Instead, we're riddled with quick-time events and not hitting them quick or precise enough results in a gruesome death. I feel my take on survival is rather different from Crystal Dynamic's.
Misused theme aside, the game is incredibly pretty. The environment, the tombs, the characters, it's quite vibrant and a nice sight to take in. You'd want to stop from time to time to look at your surroundings. Each area has a certain feel to it, making it different/unique than the last section of the island visited. Even the ruins and such have a nice appeal to them, littered with lore such as ancient paintings and carvings. The team really did bring out the best of the platforms they worked on here. The animations keep on-par with the wonderful island. Lara needs to make use of fire quite often throughout the story, and it looks "fiery!" No but really, it's some of the best fire animation I've seen in a game. The waves in the ocean don't go unnoticed, either. Rain effects are rather nice, as well. Overall, the atmosphere is astonishing, and I certainly felt like I was on an island. The character movements are smooth, barely any hiccups, save for the silly wildlife. It's no doubt that CD spent quite a bit of their budget on the graphics portion of the game.
The gameplay is solid for the most part. Some nice key details include the fact that shooting a guy on his limb would yield proper reactions. Bow is great, effective, feels powerful overall. The guns...I'm not fond of. They are quite effective, but it seems like they are toned down, possibly on purpose to promote more bow usage. A much, much welcomed feature is Lara's cover system. She automatically ducks down in combat sequences behind anything she can. It's smooth and I hope other games can put that minor yet wonderful feature in. Pressing a button to hit cover never looks fluent. As far as the platforming goes, the game, for the most part, delivers. There's quite a few moments where the her ice pick wouldn't respond and her leaps would look odd, but it's forgivable. One great change to this game as opposed to the rest of the series is that tombs are completely optional. The tombs themselves aren't difficult at all, maybe one puzzle at best being a pain due to precise timing but they were generally simple and fun. Which is good, as Lara herself has expressed her opinion on tombs...
There's some decent stealth aspects to Tomb Raider if you so choose to take advantage of those moments. However, it's easier just to go in guns-a-blazin' as the game throws ammo at you and there's no significant bonus for stealth kills. There's skills you can earn as you progress through the game and get experience for various challenges, exploration, combat scenarios, etc.. And you can also upgrade/modify your weapons through picking up salvage scattered across the island. By the time you hit the end of the game you should have most of the skills and upgrades with just a bit of exploration. The skills themselves aren't too impressive. Half of them are quite useless, such as picking up on where nearby animals are (they would light up if you're near them). It's absolutely pointless to track them down unless you want a very minimal amount of salvage. There's also arrow retrieval, it's a skill to retrieve the arrows you shot off a body. Strange skill, indeed, but also unnecessary as the game throws quivers upon quivers full of arrows at you. And if you wish to 100% the game by picking up the collectibles, there's an ability that would reveal any and all items. Other skills include holding more ammo, which, again, barely any need, and a skill for using your axe as a weapon. Takes a skill to do that, apparently.
It's all pardonable until you come across the worst part of the gameplay, though, and that is the QTEs. Aside from the combat QTEs which make the game far too easy, there's also the hectic scripted ones.They are troublesome to do in some instances, and feel rather out of place. Tomb Raider puts the Q in QTE, with quite a few do or die QTE moments. It's understandable, taking aspects from Uncharted and all, but this is one feature I was hoping would be left out. There's a scene where you're pinned down and have to fight off a pack of wolves, no QTE's yet keeping the intensity of that moment through some slow downs. It flows much better than the timed button presses, and it's a shame the style was only used once throughout the story. Another problem I have with the gameplay is how terribly set-up the set pieces are. You can easily tell when a heart-racing moment is incoming long before it happens. For example, Lara purposely creeps up steps after you control her at a steady pace, all to set up an "ambush" scene. It's as if she had a sixth sense for the attack. There's another scene where a rope dart is used very far away, and with the huge gap it's no doubt she'd be vulnerable. The action flick style coming well into play here.
To keep on par with the rest of the package, the themes in this game are suspenseful, thrilling, overall give you that "edge of your seat" music that fit the story quite nicely. Whilst not powerful themes, they do hit their marks, and if you manage to listen to them during the climatic scenes, you're bound to enjoy the songs played. Camilla Luddington leads this reboot as Lara Croft, and does an excellent job. With all the torment and hardships Lara goes through, transforming her into the heroine of the series, Luddington expresses Lara extremely well; stellar performance through and through. Rooting for her success comes to the players naturally. The rest of the cast are no second or third wheel, as everyone is believable and quite easy to decipher. Normally the latter wouldn't be a positive, but for what the team is going for, it works here, easily telling who to trust and who to leave to the fishes.
Admittedly, I've barely touched the multiplayer for Tomb Raider. What I did play was initially fun, but died down within a few minutes. It felt like a sort of silly third-person Call of Duty I suppose. I felt that this game really didn't need multiplayer. Focusing on that feature probably hurt the content of the single player experience, the true experience. In fact, Crystal Dynamics announced that there was no single-player content planned for the game, meaning it's all currently multiplayer-focused, which is baffling to say the least. The multiplayer overall is, well, there.
I know I've bashed the new Tomb Raider quite a bit in this review, and my score wouldn't make many who've played the game happy, but I felt cheated after the first hour of this game. It did a full 180 from having nice depth in gameplay, replayability, to cater to the easily predictable action-packed style of pretty much how any hubris action film is. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this reboot, it's without a doubt a necessary reboot and a step in the right direction for Lara. One can easily see Crystal Dynamics put in a lot of effort here, and props to them for that. But alas, it's short (I clocked in 12 hours, and that's with getting the collectibles and taking my time exploring), and the game seriously holds your hand throughout the entire experience, which kind of kills things for me. Here's hoping the sequel (and there's bound to be one with how successful this title was) follows through with its theme(s) and builds onto what this reboot began.
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