Tomb Raider review

Posted: March 5, 2013 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

tomb_raider_2013

A better title might have been Arrow Murderess, but it lacks the whole franchise backing and all.

Sometimes when I review a game, I start off by saying basically “let’s take off our gamer hats and be art critics.”  Now we’re going to do the opposite.  I’m going to drop any pretense of describing Tomb Raider like a piece of art because it is first and foremost a game that is made to be fun.  What matters is I often forgot to pee for hours at a time while playing this game.  My leg falling asleep because I hadn’t moved since I haphazardly sat down and reached for the Xbox controller was no more than a vague and distant concern.  Every single second of this game is fun.  Every time you do a fun thing, at least 2 other unexpected fun things present themselves along the way.  While you’re doing this constant series of fun things, if you happen to look in any possible direction, there is something neat to explore.  If you were a kid who loved to explore and climb on things and was no stranger to a bloody nose, this is your game.  Actually, if you like video games at all in any way, this is your game.  It may just be that A) I am that kid.  B)  I freaking love history and mythology   and C)  I loves me some killin’ folk in the woods, but this was one of my favorite games this generation.  It also helps that Tomb Raider is one of the best looking, smoothest playing games I’ve seen in recent years.  It’s really hard to find a flaw in this one.  I found a few and I’ll go into that later, but by any reasonable comparison to other games, Tomb Raider is a masterpiece.

One thing I wanted to take care of right off the bat was to clear up some rumors that I’ve only seen briefly mentioned in pro reviews.  A few features speculated about like a Snake Eater-esque healing system and enemies who try to deceive you are not in the game.  That is just part of the opening tutorial level and I’m honestly glad.  Lara does get totally brutalized throughout the game.  In fact there is a part where she gets so violently worked over that I was seriously aghast.  Me, sacrificer of grannies and puppies to Skorm and demolisher of Megaton.  But fortunately for your gaming patience, she shrugs it off with John McClane-like stoicism and just gets progressively more scars.  After the first mission, every single other person on the island but your buddies declares themselves as hostile, so I’m pretty sure enemies trying to fool you into trusting them was never an intended feature.  One other pre-release comment I’ve seen a lot is that the game looks a lot like the movie The Descent.  Yes it does!  The devs clearly loved the movie, because they not only casually reference it, but directly pay a brief homage about halfway through the game.  It’s very tastefully done and totally comes off as “yeah, we loved that movie too, so sue us.”  So it’s not like they’re trying to pull it off like “Gritty Reboot Lara” draws no inspiration from The Descent’s axe-handy spelunkers.

As you would expect, Lara does of course borrow a lot from Indy, just as she always has.  The difference is this is the first game from either the Tomb Raider or Uncharted series where I have liked the character as much as Indy.  The part of the Indiana Jones movies Tomb Raider mimics is not the chases or the fist fights, but the discovery moments.  You know, the parts where he holds up the torch and finds something, the John Williams soundtrack gets all emotional and Harrison Ford gets all dewy eyed about history.  Lara Does Indy better than Indy at some points and I do not mean that as some sort of dirty joke.  I almost want to bullwhip myself as an Indy fan for saying this, but this was the first Tomb Raider game I’ve played (of like, a zillion) where I didn’t think to myself “I wish there were more good Indiana Jones games…”  I’m worried that the next time I watch Last Crusade I’m going to be thinking “I wish there was a Tomb Raider movie this good” the entire time.

One thing that you will appreciate immediately about the gameplay is the synergy of the different controls and systems.  Lara transitions effortlessly from being extremely mobile to taking cover or using stealth.  Whether it’s dropping off a zipline behind cover from guards or climbing over an edge and spotting an unaware enemy, Lara without fail lands where you want her to and crouches at the right moment.  Normally I hate any kind of player hand-holding and “rubber band” style aim assists and handicaps, but it is pulled off so elegantly in this game I can’t complain.  Lara just plain does what it seems like she should in every situation.  She ducks when she senses danger, but gets up and runs when fire is imminent.  Never once did I jump up and yell the frequent gaming exclamation “Why didn’t you ______!?”  When I fell I was too slow and when I got shot it was because I dove out too soon.  I think this was essential for this game since it isn’t actually the first Tomb Raider game and Lara does have very serious competition these days.  Getting it right out the gate for this reboot was a necessary win that the devs pulled off with style.  In general, Tomb Raider has an overall standard of watertight design and programming.  It’s so rare these days to see a game without physics or lighting glitches, you don’t even notice them until a game comes along that is just plain perfect.  This level of design and testing permeates the entire game.  Weapons react and sound convincing, characters animate well, materials behave realistically in physics reactions, the game engine just works flawlessly all the time.  It’s truly refreshing to play a game where I can just play the whole time without having to compensate for the game’s inadequacies in some way.  The best thing about Tomb Raider’s gameplay is that it not only matches the Uncharted series’ high watermark, it does it on a grander scale.  Lara’s levels have more to explore, bigger pitched battles and larger vistas.  It’s not that Tomb Raider is necessarily better than Uncharted 2 or 3, but it’s definitely equal and larger.

The graphics and sound are top notch.  The technology and design come together so well in this game, it almost feels like you are playing concept art come to life.  Every inch looks like something hand designed.  Every thingie makes a noise and every area and time of day has a soundtrack.  The overall presentation is so top notch, it’s just difficult to look away or turn down the volume.  Everything you see and hear is beautiful and filled with tiny details.  It’s a frequent thing in this game to be just walking along or standing still and notice something significant hidden right out of sight from the beaten path.  The environments are so well designed and realized that almost every corner is filled with something relevant to gameplay that also looks fantastic.  Some of the areas are truly enormous and the game’s engine dutifully renders trees, water, textures and you name it to the edge of the visible play area.  I’ve gotten so used to excuses from developers about the consoles’ lack of memory that I had forgotten what it was like to play a game on a console without pop-in.  Overall it’s just a terrific looking and sounding game, no need to shower any more praise on the pretty girl.

 

 

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Dear diary:  Today I shot a guy off a ladder from 150 meters.  It was so wizard.

I felt that the plot did a fantastic job of creating the Lara we want to play.  In part it was an origin story about how she became the badass we’ve known before.  In part it was a redemption story about how Lara was rebuilt as a game character to be likable.  For me it hit 100% on both goals.  I personally didn’t have a problem with her transition from pacifist Nancy to arrow murderess because, hey, I played the last 10 gazillion Tomb Raider games.  I know what kind of Croft she is inside.  She’s the kind of Croft who kills people with guns, giant rocks, her motorcycle and sometimes even tigers.  I really enjoyed seeing Lara go full tribal over the course of the game.  Think Arnold in Predator.  At first he’s all guns and strategy, at the end it’s all screaming and giant log traps.  That is you.  By the end of this game, Lara is literally screaming in the face of death as she takes on dozens of angry men, point blank with her bow.  I’ve seen a lot of reviews focus on whether Lara’s new style is a triumph of feminism or shameless objectification in a grittier form, and I say that’s nonsense either way.  Lara is female Rambo.  You put her on an island full of murderers and she’s going to rig up a bow and start killing people, just like male Rambo.  It’s not some political statement, it’s simple chemistry.  Her gender is a non-issue one way or the other.  Lara Croft is a female video game action hero, just like Milla Jovovich is a female movie action hero.  It’s a new era, these things exist already, stop talking about this game like it’s interracial marriage in the freaking ’60s.

The Length of the game is pretty solid at around 15 hours for just the main plot and maybe 20-25 for the average playthrough doing most of the tombs and optional content.  The multiplayer I’m still undecided on it’s longevity as I haven’t played it enough.  See below.

As far as flaws the biggest one I’ve found is really nitpicky and unusual.  When you go through the plot missions, the time of day is set in each area along with the progression of the story.  After you finish the game, the time of day in each area is random.  The problem is that sometimes the different lighting brought on by sunrise, sunset or night to the colors and textures of a level make it hard to see the visual cues.  By this I mean that there are for example the white paint leading you to tomb entrances, yet in some areas this is on gray rocks which become shining white in the moonlight.  So this makes it harder to see when the time of day is changed.  The same is true for the ledges and some areas that have all similar colored textures.  It’s not in any way gamebreaking, it just made me regret not having found everything the first time through, because when I came back, suddenly some areas were twice as hard to navigate.

The other is that the treasure maps for the extra objectives are too easy to obtain.  Usually you will get them for completing the tombs in an area or in a fairly obvious spot with a map hint.  So basically you can just make a beeline for either the tombs or the map marker to find it and then easily mop up all the other collectibles.  I guess maybe I would have found it tedious otherwise, combing every single inch, but it was just a little too easy.  It also doesn’t help that the last document is recieved after finding all of the gps caches, which just arbitrarily links those two achievements so you have to get them together and therefore finish every task in the main game.  Once again not a huge flaw and only something I noticed because I liked the game so much I did everything, which is rare for me.

The multiplayer is somewhat reminiscent of the recent Resident Evil and Assassin’s Creed titles combined.  I know that sounds like an odd match and I must say I am as yet unconvinced myself.  Basically there are a few modes from team vs. to a mode that’s kind of like multi-flag ctf and they include things like traps and context actions from the single player game.  So far what I’ve seen has been pretty chaotic and not actually that fun as most players try to run around and shoot each other like Halo and a few others experiment with random traps all over the place.  I’ll post an update later if this Charley Foxtrot ever becomes something resembling entertainment.  Since the game has such a fantastic and complete single-player game, I’m basically just counting this as a freebie and not holding it against the score.  Especially because it may yet become awesome as people figure it out.

Overall Tomb Raider is the kind of fantastic journey that is very difficult to create for people over the age of 10.  It’s a playground that is big enough, sophisticated enough and challenging enough to capture the adult mind the way Mario’s world does for a child’s.  Playing through Tomb Raider is like a mandatory vacation where people abduct you and take you away from your life.  From the second you put the disc in, until sometime after you’ve cleared the optional tombs, Lara’s world will become your own and you won’t notice anything else.  This game is just so unrelentingly fun from start to finish and executes such a large majority of it’s elements so well that it’s hard to put down.  As that is the primary goal for any piece of entertainment, to be completely arresting, I have to give it high marks.

9.5/10

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Comments
  1. Cryio's Qax says:

    One of the best games of 2013 and should definitely be a 1st buy for any owner of a next-gen console who hasn’t played this yet.

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