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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Tomb Raider Reboot Review

Tomb Raider (2013)

Reboot Review

Disclaimer: I played this game on the Xbox 360 - other playthroughs may yield different results.

                Tomb Raider is a long running series that started back in the year 1996; it has since been a staple in the gaming industry, being one of the first games to have a female protagonist. While the games themselves have not been so great, the main character, Lara Croft, has arguably propelled strong female characters. After sprouting movies, comics, and spin-offs, Crystal Dynamics decided that it was time to start the series over. After getting their hands on the rights, that’s exactly what they did - but did they make a game that can stand-up to the original?

                In the reboot, Lara Croft is the protégée to the famous archaeologist Dr. James Whitman. They lead an expedition to find the long lost Yamatai kingdom. Lara believes that the kingdom is on an island within the Dragons Triangle, a triangle that makes Bermuda look tame. With little funding and less time, they decide to follow Lara’s gut. The boat splits in half due to horrible weather conditions and the crew finds themselves stranded on the island.

                In this game we follow Lara Croft, as she grows into the “Tomb Raider”. Lara starts off as an innocent woman, just doing what she loves: archaeology. She finds herself stranded on an island with thousands of psychotic killers and no way off of the island. Doing what any sane person would do, she tries to avoid the dangers but finds herself getting dragged back into it constantly, eventually being forced to kill.

                The story in this game is well written and extremely well executed. It shows Lara go from a university archaeologist to the cold-blooded killing machine called “Tomb Raider”. Lara feels guilty for getting her friends stranded so she takes responsibility for getting them off of the island. Although this proves to be quite the challenge, as every time they get close to being saved something else happens that puts Lara back to square one. Lara literally never catches a break. She is constantly plagued with bad luck; Lara Croft takes Murphy’s Law to a whole new world. Although the game never overuses this trope and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.

                The gameplay in Tomb Raider is not anything we haven’t seen before, but the developers add a few minor mechanics that add to it and make it feel new. Not only is the game fun, but if you are playing on the hard difficulty, then it is quite challenging as well. Worry not though - this challenge is not rage inducing and adds quite a bit of entertainment to the game.

There are four different gameplay sections in this game (all of which are fun - some more so than others): puzzle, shoot-em-up, parkour, and escape. All of these add their own flavor to the game that makes it what it is.

                Puzzle sections have been a staple in the series since the very first one was released in 1996. Although in previous Tomb Raider installments the puzzles were extremely difficult, this game tones it down for new-comers to the series. Although they get increasingly difficult, these puzzles are overall pretty easy. If you do happen to get stuck though you can use Lara’s survival instinct, this will highlight important objects in the environment as well as give you an objective marker. These sections usually involve some parkour to move around the room and are mostly intended to give you some practice with the new mechanics introduced in the reboot (ex. Rope Arrows).

                The shoot-em-up sections are the most abundant in the game and are ever evolving. By adding new enemy types or new weapons/weapon mechanics slowly as the game progresses, Crystal Dynamics manages to make these sections feel fresh and fun every time they happen. The AI isn’t terrible either, having dynamite and Molotov’s that they could throw at you forced you to keep moving. There are enemies that rush while others sit back and wait for you to come out of cover. This makes for some really tense moments and some make-shift strategies to survive the encounter. These really tense moments do not happen terribly often, but when they do they help drive home the fact that Lara is fighting for her life.

                Lara’s movements change depending on what’s happening in game. If she hears an enemy nearby then she will crouch down and move slowly to make less noise. If close to a wall or box she will take cover behind it, making a flawless cover system. When using a gun, enemies will hear you and attack on sight, but if using a bow you can make silent kills. Stealth works well overall, although there are points where you are forced into combat anyways. Each weapon has its own upside and downside. The bow is silent and easy to aim, but slow to shoot, while the rifle is loud and can fire several times in succession but is extremely hard to aim. The shotgun has high damage but a low range, while the pistol has low damage but a high range. This forces the player to plan ahead their strategies when entering a fight.

                These sections aren’t perfect though. Sometimes the lighting feels weird and makes it hard to see enemies, or if you find yourself in danger of dying you can just keep rolling around and bullet dodging until your health regenerates. Although this didn’t always work, it worked often enough to remove some of the danger of certain enemies. There was also one point in my play through where the game glitched and an enemy became invisible (although this glitch could be a problem with the console being used, or the specific disc, as it only happened one time).

                The parkour sections are another staple in Tomb Raider history; in this game it is mostly used to get from one place to another. Lara would find something or learn a new skill that would allow her to climb to new heights. These constant updates kept parkouring relatively fresh and fun. It would also seem that Crystal Dynamics took a few tips from NaughtyDog’s Uncharted series (this is a good thing). The camera angles in these sections make climbing easy, while having certain sections fall as you climb past them gives the player a sense of urgency. This makes the player move faster, so as to not have Lara fall to her death.

                The escape sections are where Lara is running away from something (like a crashing airplane or a building on fire). These sections are the fastest paced one and are arguably most tense. They create a realistic sense of urgency in the player. This urgency happens throughout the whole game, but these sections bring it out better than the others. This is largely because of the death scenes that accompany a failed attempt. These scenes are extremely gruesome and are hard to watch, because they not only show the death, but they show Lara, struggling up until her last breath. All of this happens in a few seconds and you just stare at your screen mouth agape wondering what just happened and why you watched it. Although gruesome, these death scenes are crucial in bringing Lara’s urgency to the player. These sections sometimes happen back to back, to push the story forward, but can be a bit too much at times.

                While playing through the game Lara will gain experience - gain enough experience and she gets a skill point that she can spend on survival skills. There are three trees; Hunter, Survivalist and Brawler. All of these give Lara some minor skills that will help her excel over her enemies on the island.

                The story is very dark, compared to previous installments, and has a myriad of gruesome images (such as the death scenes) that accompany it. Although there is one point where the story fails and that is Lara’s first kill/murder. Lara is petrified with fear, and almost pukes with disgust, yet seconds later has a kill/death ratio of 100/0. This is a problem that many games tend to have, and it seems that the writers at Crystal Dynamics did not find a way to overcome it. Although this nearly unavoidable problem is disappointing, it doesn't really hurt the game much as a whole.

                Tomb Raider's multiplayer is very generic. It is probably the weak-point of the game, as it doesn't do anything unique. Don’t take that in the wrong way either, the multiplayer is fine. It works and is fun, but it just feels like it was thrown in for the sake of having multiplayer. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, as the game's multiplayer does add hours onto overall playtime.

                Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider has a lot of good things going for it: interesting characters, a beautiful world (both graphically and design wise), great cut-scene quality and cinematography, and above all else; fun. Tomb Raider is an extremely fun game, from scavenging for supplies to fighting for your life. While this game has many of games tropes, such as an endless influx of bad guys, and a main character that is seemingly invincible, in the end none of that matters. Crystal Dynamics has managed to make a game that is fun from beginning to end, and because of this, all of the things that would normally bug people are overlooked. Will this game stand the test of time, or will it fall into the shadows of newer, better looking games? There’s only one way to find out.


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