I was going to write this post a few weeks ago, but I got ill for a bit. Then I forgot about it. It’s a bit of a shame because I had replayed the game only a few days before so it was all really fresh in my mind. Now it is only a slightly vague memory. Oh well. On with the show!
Okay, unpopular opinion time: I really, enormously and with a full heart, love the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider – and when I type ‘love’ I am not exaggerating. I think it is one of the best games I have ever played. Now – before you lube up your maces and WD-40 you rusty pitchforks ready to track me down using Google Maps – you should know two things; my blog is hosted in America which is not where I live and don’t judge me until you have read this review.
Okay, firstly let’s talk about the obvious thing that everyone complains about a lot. I wanna start this review by explaining the bad things about this game and telling you why you should get over them and play this game. Actual puzzles. Anyone who has played one of the original Tomb Raider games will know that they had no shortage of puzzles in them. Mostly athletic type things which involve jumping around, landing on buttons, weighing things down and stuff like that. They were often not super complicated, just hard to perform. It’s the kind of thing you have to have the patience of a monk to handle. I never didn’t like them, I just didn’t often have time for them and after a while would resort to the internet to get things moving again. In the 2013 version of Tomb Raider, there is a distinct lack of these puzzles in the main campaign. I think off the top of my head there are about two or three.
There are other puzzles, but they are all optional ones which you have to seek out and solve to get something (It was never particularly clear on what I was getting out of solving them other than a sense of satisfaction). The puzzles in the main campaign are not too difficult to work out, and they don’t take too long either. They are easy once you know what you are doing. The optional puzzles are different. Most of them are kinda challenging to work out what to do, and I would have completely given up on a couple of them if it weren’t for the obviously-Arkham-inspired survivor vision (or whatever it’s called) which, at the tap of a button, marks your objective and makes anything you can interact with glow a bright yellow. Some would argue that this makes it to easy. That’s a fair opinion, and I have a solution for you: don’t use it unless you are completely and hopelessly stuck, and let the stupid people use the easy option.
The other problem with the puzzles is – as all the good ones are optional – it’s often a puzzle to find them. When you are kinda near an entrance to a puzzle room the game will notify you with a sound effect and a popup. It doesn’t actually tell you where it is, and survivor vision doesn’t highlight it for you (unless it does and I never tried that). Worse, some puzzles you can’t enter until you get an upgrade. This means you have to remember where it was (it doesn’t mark it on the map (unless it does and I never tried that)) and come back for it later. This puzzle thing isn’t the end of the world and certainly doesn’t ruin the game for me – it just would be nice if in the next game more of the puzzles are in the campaign or just easy to find.
So – if the puzzles are lacking in a Tomb Raider game, what’s left? Well, I’ll tell you: lots of mind-bending and exciting action. The game starts off running, and practically never stops – this keeps you glued to the game. It’s like the game has grabbed your ankles and stops you from leaving until you have finished. Occasionally it lets loose a little bit and you can struggle free to rest a bit, but in my playing, I’ve just wanted to keep going until the game ended. There are countless action sequences which have Lara jumping and flipping, hiding behind cover and being a super action hero as you run through an area shooting people in the face with a shotgun and sniping people with a compound bow as the entire world around you blows up and falls apart leaving you to jump wildly – desperately attempting to just cling on to anything you can to survive.
There is one – what only can be described as a ‘holy hell’ moment – where you’ve been fighting on a big old boat suspended in some trees, and when the flight is over, the ropes holding the boat up on one side are broken, and the whole boat drops sideways, leaving you to hang off tiny ledges in the ground – while a maniac is shooting at you with a mini-gun. It gets a bit intense at some points.
One thing Crystal Dynamics really vamped-up from the original games is the sheer amount of gore. The first few Tomb Raider games were known for their gruesome death cut scenes, which some considered to be a bit much. This was a practice which eventually died out in the Tomb Raider series. Well, Crystal Dynamics wanted it back, and it really is back. There are many times in the game where if you make a small slip up, a jagged, rusty pipe will end up being lodged through the base of Lara’s head and come out the top, though the middle of her brain – and other things like that.
I don’t think it will be easy for me to remember the first time Lara shoots someone in the game; it’s pretty intense. Lara tries to escape from be captured by a load of cultist weirdos and hides inside a small gap between some huts. This part is done very craftily; you expect it to be the standard Lord of the Rings style moment where the pursuer almost finds her but is distracted at the last second. I was stunned when he grabbed her and pulled her out. In an intense button mashing session (which happens quite a lot in the game) you grab his gun and struggle to aim at his head where just at the right moment – you pull right trigger and shoot him right in the face which… almost kills him. Lara is a little upset at this – as you would be – staring into the eyes of the almost-dead shivering bloody man on the ground, who had friends and a family, and who was only trying to survive. He dies after a few seconds letting Lara pull herself together and get out of there. Yeah – it gets intense. That bit left me breathless the first time I played it. Even when I replayed it I felt a little shocked; I’d forgotten how brutal it all was.
Of course, as was pointed out by many reviewers at release, this representation of the horror and brutality that is murder doesn’t last long. Withing about thirty seconds of this you have to shoot four or five people in a cover shooting battle. It’s a little jarring, to say the least, and it leaves you not sure how to feel about all of this. You quite easily forget all of that when you get more into the game and the combat system gets quite fun.
Okay, time for another unpopular opinion: the combat system in this game isn’t bad at all. I grant you it takes some getting used to and it’s not so fun when you aren’t very good at it, but when you are good at it and you unlock some of the combat upgrades, it gets deliciously exhilarating.
The combat first starts out as cover-shooting, which I normally find quite boring and I don’t really want to spend my time doing it. You start off with the handgun you stole from that guy you killed, but during the story, you find some other weapons. They’re all old, a bit damaged and kinda crappy. But that’s okay! Over the course of the game, you pick up salvage from boxes and crates. Sometimes it’s a puzzle to get it but it’s quite satisfying when you do. Using this salvage you can upgrade the weapons. They’re all themed upgrades and they’re quite realistic to the situation. For instance, you can’t attach a scope to the assault rifle; where would she have the parts to do that? But she can tape two magazines together to allow for faster reloading, she can bind the stock to reduce recoil, she can tape a flint to her torch to light it wherever she wants. All of these upgrades are realistic to the situation, and it’s things like this that I like.
The combat is brutal. It starts out as cover shooting, but evolves to more melee elements, in the most traditional sense of melee, meaning a confused fight or scuffle. Early in the game you acquire an Ice Pick for opening doors and as a general multi-tool – it’s surprisingly versatile. After a bit of upgrading, Lara learns how to throw dirt into the enemy’s eyes and drive the ice pick into their skull. Yup. You can unlock finishers which have Lara push them to the ground and pepper them with the assault rifle. Yup – it’s harsh. Fire arrows will allow you to set your prey on fire and a grenade launcher attachment to the rifle lets you generally blow stuff up. I like it. Some people don’t like how the brutality of Lara’s actions juxtapose the timidness of her character at the start of the game. I like it; it’s character development. She’ becoming the Lara Croft of legends (and video games) past. This is addressed in the dialogue at the very end. The bad guy (?) says this to Lara:
“I was only trying to save people’s lives. How many have you killed to do the same?”
(That’s not an exact quote; I don’t have super-memory) She starts out hating her experience, but at the end of the game it’ revealed that she grew to enjoy it – like Lara Croft is like in other games. The game ends with this cheesy line:
“Don’t worry, we’ll get you home soon.”
“I’m not going home.”
And then the music swells and the credits roll. She could just go home, but it’s probably better she doesn’t; she may well get bored and kill a bunch of the public for taking too long in a queue or something.
The story is… okay. It’s quite a puzzle because the whole big thing about this game was how Rhianna Pratchett came along and was all huffy and puffy about how games never have good stories because developers don’t care enough and are evil compiling machines who just want to kill people in a digital fantasy land. Pratchett wrote the story and was all proud of it, I remember her talking about it on the radio. Personally, I think the story ain’t bad. The main complaint I’ve seen about it is it being a little difficult to follow at times. I won’t spoil it, but play the game yourself and see if you understand it.
The main problem I have with the story is not the complexity of the plot, but of the characters. You see, there ain’t much. Every character is pretty two-dimensional. Lara’s companions are a multi-race 80’s power supergroup involving an Asian woman, a black woman, a Scottish stereotype, a nerd, a Hawaiian, a clearly-going-to-sell-us-out-at-the-first-opportunity cowardly intellectual man and a trustworthy, down-to-earth northerner. They all behave the way you expect they would. This wouldn’t be so noticeable if it weren’t that Lara’s character is so three-dimensional. Do I care about these characters? Yes, I do. Well, most of them anyway; there’s a couple who you know are going to die from the start, so forget about attaching to them.
The antagonist is alright, though. He’s this sort of religious leader type who knows what’s up on the island because he’s been there so long. He’s become hardened in his old age and will do anything it takes to get off the island. By the end of the game I pretty much was sympathizing with him; by that point Lara’s body count is pretty much in the hundreds and he’s just trying to get off the island. Granted – the process involves human sacrifice, but he’s been there for about twenty years – he’s gonna do all it takes.
The picture above was taken at one of my favorite points in the game. It’s quite early on where Lara is trying to radio for help. The only way to get the radio tower working is by climbing to the control panel, which is helpfully located at the top of the tower. I’d like to point out that there is no reason for any sort of control panel to be at the top of the tower, but this one is. When you get to the top, it just feels great. I don’t really know why – but it does. And then you get to zipline all the way back down it’s a bunch of fun. Climbing in this game is awesome. I can’t tell you why, but I just love the way Lara traverses around the place. It feels like an action film and I love it.
So then, to conclude, this game is great. If for any reason you have not played it, I must inform you that you are missing out, and we should all be excited for the new game coming out early next year (I’m not counting the xbone release in November because I don’t have an xbone). The new game is set to have many more puzzles in the main story line and some actual tomb raiding! Seriously, play this game. Stop reading this, stop doing anything else until you have played this game to completion.
Wow, you read all of that? Thank you very much for giving me your time. You deserve a treat. How about a look at my Tomb Raider screenshots folder (warning: very vague and minor spoilers!):