Video Game Review from the Vault: Tomb Raider (2013)

(Posted to my Facebook page on December 14, 2014)

I finished Tomb Raider (The new 2013 one) earlier this week and thought I’d post my thoughts.

Tomb Raider sits in… an interesting place in gaming. It’s a very classic series, dating all the way back to the Playstation 1 era with the original Tomb Raider in 1996. That alone gives it history, but it’s garnered a lot of hate for oversexualizing the main character, Lara Croft (Her huge breasts actually originating after an artists misclicked while modeling her character. The team thought it was funny and told him to keep it like that), and for basically stagnating and doing nothing notable in a long, long time. The last game main series game, Underworld, got some decent reviews (But honestly these days it’s more difficult to get bad reviews if you’re a major publisher) but, again, did nothing of note. Since then, Lara has gotten a fresh coat of paint and has been rebooted in this new series, a sort of prequel showing Lara’s first major step as an adventurer/archaeologist/historian.

Her new look is appreciated and serves to help bring her into the modern age. Just like Wonder Woman in Injustice, Lara finally gets to wear a pair of pants instead of her old booty shorts. One thing that gamers may notice is that Lara’s old primary weapons, a pair of pistols, has been traded up for a bow and arrow (A theme that’s becoming strangely popular in games like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed). Overall, it’s a good step forward and necessary for Tomb Raider to have any chance in the modern world.

As stated, Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft’s early years. It starts off at an interesting spot, because it certainly doesn’t show when she learned how to free run or where she learned all of her historical know-how, but I guess a game where she studies at a university and sometimes goes to the gym just wouldn’t be as interesting. It instead focuses around an expedition to find a lost civilization; Lara’s college friend, Sam, has funded an expedition to find the lost civiliation of a Sun Queen (To whom Sam believes she is related). Along for the journey include the “No seriously I’m not an antagonist” dick of an archaeologist whom it is mentioned mentored Lara for a time, not one but TWO grizzled old men to inevitably die protecting Lara (Don’t even pretend like this is a spoiler) and a bunch of people who aren’t very interesting. I’ll be honest, the story isn’t a strong suit. The characters aren’t very strong on a whole, since the story is supposed to focus on Lara’s evolution and “Strengthening” as a character. On that note, I should probably mention the mediocre writing. It certainly could be worse, but I lost track of the number of time Lara said “I can do this” or someone else said to her “You can do this.” Yes, we get it, she’s supposed to be gaining confidence, stop trying to shove this point down our throats. There’s also a scene fairly early on where Lara kills a person for the first time in a struggle. It’s a very emotional moment and tears Lara apart, leaving her fairly destroyed, but needing to pull herself together to get out of the immediate danger anyways. It was a fairly effective moment… until Lara, not two minutes later, begins to mow enemies down with machine-like efficiency. To its credit, the game has Lara mention how easy it was to ultimately pull the trigger, but given how much it clearly bothered her to take a life, it seems like this moment is really ruined as she continued to just mow down endless waves of enemies. It gets pretty ridiculous at parts; I’m having difficulty believing that the cult leader on the island managed to even recruit this many people, and Lara manages to mow down hundreds of these assholes with no end in sight. She seems downright bloodthirsty at some points, which seems to devalue the earlier scene and make her less relatable than the writers want her to be. The story isn’t great, it isn’t even really good, but it serves its purposes well enough, I suppose. One nice thing is that the threat is certainly present, and the game is large enough to feel like a nice kick-off for the new Tomb Raider.

Combat is functional enough. Lara has plenty of tools at her disposal including a bow and arrow with multiple gadgets attached, a small pick which she can use is close-quarters, and three different firearms. The problem exists here that the developers spent a lot of time and effort focusing on the bow and give it plenty of tricks, but the bow is made almost entirely obsolete by the time you find the pistol. Firearms are just straight up more useful. Arrows are a little more plentiful, but you’ll still never be hurting on ammo very much. Even in the cutscenes, when it seems like it would have been far more logical to use her assault rifle, Lara still, like an idiot, stubbornly uses that stupid bow. There’s little enemy variation, and it becomes a pretty generic third person shooter, though enemies are intelligent enough to give you a decent challenge, and the game encourages you to stay mobile and use the environment, which is a nice touch.

The free running and exploration are probably the best parts of the game. Lara is fairly agile and constantly gets new tools to assist her in exploration and her free running, which is fun. Early exploration as Lara is left alone and with limited resources is definitely the best; having to scavenge makes you really feel vulnerable and desperate, adding a lot of tension and fear. Later on you’ll be a bit more confident but… well, this is probably a good time to mention that Lara gets the everloving shit kicked out of her for this entire game. It’s somewhat uncomfortable at some points, as some of the death scenes (particularly from failing quick time events) are very brutal. Even outside of those, Lara is constantly getting the shit beaten out of her, and while it adds tension at first, it becomes very tiring and boring later on when it’s still bloody happening. Another problem here is, well, with a game called Tomb Raider, you’d expect there to be a lot of Tomb Raiding, and there sort of is, but it’s almost all optional side-tombs, similar to the ones seen in Assassin’s Creed 2. The problem here are that the tombs are extremely one dimensional; there’s usually a grand total of one puzzle and once you figure it out (Which rarely takes very long) you’ll finish the tomb in less than a minute after. In Assassin’s Creed the tombs were great because they felt like large gauntlets that were testing your free running, stealth, or exploration and felt appropriately epic. In Tomb Raider, however, they barely distractions. I feel oblidged to do them, since the blood game is called TOMB RAIDER, but I don’t get much satisfaction out of them. Hell, I found in one tomb an elaborate fire puzzle where I was clearly supposed to light one torch, swing it into another, and swing it into a pile of wood blocking the path using my rope arrows… but I had already unlocked fire arrows at this point! It took me about a minute to finish the tomb at that point as I quickly used the arrows to burn the two barriers away. They should be the main focus of the game, or at least designed on an epic scale instead of this laziness. There’s also a hell of a lot of collectibles; most of them are forgettable, but the relics are at least somewhat interesting, offering you interesting bits of history and even some story behind the mysteries of the island. Journal entries are similarly interesting and well-written; if only that same care was put into the ACTUAL writing of the game…

A major issue on the gameplay front, however, comes from the fact that the game uses quick time events. A lot. Of fucking. Quick time events. I recall in an interview that the developers said that they used the quick time events “Until Lara became stronger as a character” to show her struggles as a character or some shit, but I’m seriously doubting that. Developers love quick time events because it makes it easy for them to design a cinematic “Interactive” moment for the player without having to actually design much gameplay, which is exactly what happens here. The Quick Time events, as seen in every video game ever (With the possible exception of Heavy Rain), not only are miserable, but hold the game back from becoming much better. Hell, it straight-out ruined several parts of Far Cry 3, an otherwise fantastic game including the climax, where the final boss was defeated with a long, painstaking “Memorize the buttons and die a bunch until you memorize the button-press combo” awful fight. When will devs learn that Quick Time Events do nothing but make your game worse?

In the end, I’m feeling charitable towards Tomb Raider; it made a lot of missteps, but it was also a huge step forward for this classic series and opens up a chance to finally breath life into the series. Despite my problems, I DID have fun with the game, and I would recommend it to play. It’s got a long way to go, but I’m rooting for you Tomb Raider. You can d… No, fuck that. You said it enough. You know what I mean.

I give Tomb Raider (2013) a 3 out of 5.

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