Monday, March 11, 2013

Gaming Review: Tomb Raider


First of all, let me say that I finished this game with 73% completion in about two days.  Now for most games, that would annoy me because I'd feel like there wasn't much substance.  With this game, however, I felt like there was no real choice.  I HAD to finish it.  The story demanded it.

I have played all but two games in the Tomb Raider franchise, and I have to admit that this may very easily become second only to the original.

The Premise
A prequel to the 1996 Tomb Raider series with an origin story for Lara Croft that we have never seen before.  A 21 year old Lara is part of small crew on an expedition to find the lost Japanese city of Yamatai.  Under Lara's suggestion, Captain Roth, a friend of Lara's late father, agrees to steer the ship towards The Dragon's Triangle, a place they describe as worse than the Bermuda.  True to the legend, the aptly named Endurance, is caught in a horrific storm that leaves two crew members dead and the rest scattered along the island.  Lara, who fell farther than the others, is on her own.  As she desperately struggles up the grass to regroup with them, she is violently apprehended and when next we see her, is hanging upside down in a cave.

After struggling out of the cave, and getting some form of contact with the rest of her crew, Lara's newest plight is learning about the dangerous inhabitants of the island.  Have they in fact reached Yamatai?  And if so, will they have to contend with the legend of Himiko, an ancient Japanese Sun Queen said to have controlled the elements.  Will Himiko ever allow them to leave?

My Thoughts
It's hard to write out my thoughts because I'm just screaming in my head about this game.  To describe it, let me say that it was like someone from Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics played Uncharted, Call of Duty, and Assassin's Creed and went, "Oh, okay. Allow us to show you something".  There were subtle nods to each of these games in terms of the look, feel, and game-play   

Assassin's Creed lets you climb to the top of a building and peer down at the city?  Lara can do that.
Call of Duty has some snazzy design elements?  So does Lara.
Nathan Drake can escape a burning plane, shipwrecked boat, or fiery building?  So what? Lara can too.  And she can do so with a bullet wound, concussion, pierced rib, and scratched face.

Lara gets pulverized in this game.  Seriously.  From the very beginning we watch her just get wrecked.  At the beginning of the game she seems to be so fragile, that it is hard to watch.

When she finally gets Roth on walkie talkie, she has tears in her eyes and begs "Come get me".  Roth tells her that he can't, and that she has to figure out how to meet him and the crew at their rendezvous point.  She starts out by trying to encourage herself out of her fear by telling herself "I can do this", or "I can make this jump", and the fact that our iconic Lara needs that much reassurance is unnerving.  She works on learning how and what decisions to make, and we watch her come to terms with what must be done.

We are constantly reminded that this is not quite our Lara Croft yet.  Her shorts and tank are missing, as well as her twin pistols.  Instead, she comes across a nifty crossbow that proves to be as efficient as it is deadly, and a hacksaw that can do everything from open tight doors to fend off enemies.  Her signature ponytail is ragged and her jumps are clumsy.

But as the game progresses, we see that clean blue tank become ripped and a familiar white one of games past peeks out.  As she scrambles through caves and tombs, her khaki pants get rips just high enough that a good tear could make them into her trademark shorts.
We watch how this:

Came from this:

And it made sense.
Which is the highest compliment I have for this game, really.  It made sense.  Inside the beautiful locations, were logical puzzles.  The story was fresh but fluent, and the puzzles contributed to and fell in line with the plot.  I could see how Lara, who in this tale is not fully a believer in the causes her father believed in, would become a believer after this.  Even the game itself lists Lara as "Innocent Lara" at the beginning of the game and "Lara Croft" by the end.

Now there were some parts I didn't like, but they were minor.  For instance, the game introduces Lara to  hunting for food, but after her initial need to find food, she never mentions it again, and players more interested in treasure hunting or story may never hunt again.  I also found issues with the AI of enemies.  They were good for the most part, but there were times when I was clearly hiding and yet somehow someone "spotted me".

Overall, I was highly impressed with this game.  There were certain subtleties that I would have enjoyed even as a newbie to the Croft universe.  Lara will reach out and touch the banister or wall if she's close enough to one, and she wipes her hair from her eyes.  The time in the game is marked not only by the condition of her clothing, but also actual daylight and nighttime.  As an original fan, I was satisfied, and if I weren't a fan before, I'd be one now.


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