Indie. Passion. Art. Music.
Thomas Hobbes once said that life in the state of nature was, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Yes, life is tough, but if you think it’s any more relaxing once you get outside of the convenience of our modern trappings, think again. The new Tomb Raider thrusts you into an environment where you are forced to adapt to your deadly surroundings and engage nature, man, and other “things” for the ultimate prize: your life. In essence, Ms. Croft is about to give us an idea of how nasty and brutish things can get.
The plot boils down to this without spoiling too much: young Lara Croft is embarking upon an expedition to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai. After Lara makes an executive decision to take a different route her ship is hit by a freak storm that split her research vessel in two. Lara along with her friends and the ship’s crew find themselves marooned on a mysterious island that is inhabited by many foes, some human, some animal, and some not applicably either of the former categories.
As of right now video games exist in an interesting evolutionary impasse, and it leaves us with an interesting question; in a post Gears of War/God of War landscape how gritty grimy and brutal can a game get? The answer to that question: pretty damn brutal. While the gore and blood quotient is a little above average– but nothing that Call of Duty couldn’t easily trump– I can honestly say that I have never seen a character take the beating that Lara has taken outside of poor Little Mac in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. How does a quick time event involving your oblique, a gaping wound, and a sharpened stick sound to you. Yes, you will literally have to wrench a sharpened stick from your body within the first ten minutes of gameplay. But that is just an appetizer as there are literally dozens more cringe inducing moments throughout the 12 to 15 hour journey. Throughout my playtime I often wondered if the developers were trying to show how bad-ass women can be, or if they were voyeuristically enjoying Lara’s physical torment.
Now that we go that torture-y stuff out of the way we can move onto the actual gameplay. The game mechanics were responsive and fluid. The game would intuitively place Lara in a crouching position when enemies were nearby. The game also displays Lara’s keen navigational and situational awareness; when she is on a narrow bridge she immediately starts walking carefully, if she jumps towards an edge she will immediately grab it, in some ways these aspects worked fantastically, but in other ways it felt like it might have cheapened the experience by going slightly autopilot during these segments. Shooting is pretty intuitive, especially if you’ve played any modern third person shooters, definitely think Gears of War here. The game is sprinkled with jumping puzzles à la Assasains Creed and Darksiders 2. The survival instinct even sort of reminded me of detective mode from Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. You occasionally will hunt for food, and there are enough quick time events here to make Asura look on angrily (then again he’s always pissed). Stealth is also a mechanic you will utilize because more often than not you will be outnumbered and out gunned. The graphics were good for the most part, but sometimes it felt like the designers got a little lazy. The water would look strange like a mirror or quicksilver, and the explosions looked a bit less than stellar.
Your primary weapon is a bow and you eventually get 3 more guns and a climbing axe. Lara as well as her can be upgraded. And experience is gained from doing cool things; stealth kills, headshots, etc., gains you points, which can be used to either bolster survival skills, hunting skills, or brawling skills. You also salvage items from your dead enemies, which are then used to upgrade your arsenal of weapons. The game is definitely fun, but all the gameplay elements put into the mix make the experience feel a bit frankensteinian, you are essentially Nathan Drake in drag working his way through the latest incarnation of Far Cry.
The narrative is very engaging as is the obvious tonal shift of the character that is Lara Croft. No longer are you the dare-devil, dual pistol wielding, human flotation device, tiger murderess; rather, this Lara Croft feels more vulnerable and realistic, she is out to prove her self-worth to everyone including herself and it shows in the decisions she makes throughout the course of the game. So, yes there is total character development here, she changes both mentally and physically. As Lara overcomes obstacles and becomes more adept at surviving, her character also undergoes a bit of transformation as well, which is nice to see in a video game narrative. I also liked that the developers chose not to over sexualize her; the character has appeal, but overall you are going to be too busy scrambling out of the line of fire to notice the occasional cleavage. The voice acting is top-notch and all of the characters unique personas are expressed in markedly different ways.
The Tomb Raider reboot has proven to be more necessary than other reboots we have seen recently, in that the last game in the series was forgettably sub-par, and the character subsequently needed an overhaul. This game was up for the challenge, and in plenty of ways exceeded my expectations. Even though the game doesn’t necessarily bring any new mechanics to the table, all of the elements work in conjunction to create a memorable re-imaging, and a solid addition to the Tomb Raider franchise.
Overall Score: 3/5
The game’s brutality will make some cringe and question the motives of the developers, but the game itself is a solid action/adventure title that you’d be foolish to miss out on.