Occasionally I find myself playing something that I know just wasn’t made for me. The New Tomb Raider was one of those times. I wanted to get that out of the way before I write this review. All reviews are from a personal perspective but I like to think I can approach things with an appreciation for their existence without actually enjoying them on a personal level.
Tomb Raider is one of the more recent “reboots” of an old franchise. Lara Croft was [in my childhood] basically a female James Bond or Indiana Jones. She was cocky, athletic, intelligent, and a one woman army in many ways. The original tomb raider games that I do remember playing were not so much about combat as they were about puzzles and – well – tombs.
This is likely a matter of nostalgia and I’ll admit I have no interest to go back and double check my memory. The new Tomb Raider started off strange enough. You are setting out on a ship and the stage is set to get you introduced to the cast. The introductions are so quick and sporadic thought that I have no connection to any of these people before bad stuff starts happening.
All I know is that one of the members of my team has a creepy moustache and his character is seemingly designed for hate and for some kind of betrayal in the game. You could argue that he betrays you pretty early on but regardless all I knew is from the second I met him I wanted him to perish. Every scene he returns for is tedious and groan worthy.
Within minutes of the opening drama you are being stabbed, punched, bludgeoned, and skewered. Lara suffers a wound that would kill about 99.99% of the people that had it happen. Somehow she not only manages to survive but forgets about it for the next two to three hours of gameplay. This game felt to me at times like it really wanted to be a movie. Just when you are started to get into the game another quick time event pops up and you are given about a tenth of a second to respond before Lara is brutally murdered.
For me that was what this game felt more like. It was a grizzly death simulation rather than an adventure with a strong female lead. I wanted to like Lara and I think about the time the gameplay became genuinely insufferable I had. That was far too late though and I’ve since uninstalled. There are no fewer than four times where she should have died because she’s a moron. Every character and their cousin sacrifices themselves in one fashion or another just because she’s more than willing to get herself bludgeoned or killed.
Multiple times you hit points where an exciting climax could happen but instead she gets the shit beat out of her face or another random sharp object thrust through her body. Which is ironic because outside of these moments where you want something exciting to happen the rest of the game is a ridiculous cavalcade of action scenes ripped right out of 80’s action flicks.
Its like they had a list of rules they had to follow. “You can’t go more than 30 minutes without a sliding scene.” or “If the game is starting to feel too much like an enjoyable experience be sure to throw in a quick time event just before the next checkpoint so they have to relive a boring sequence again.”
Graphically the game is beautiful and does manage to get faces close enough to give a really uncomfortable uncanny valley effect. I don’t know if I should be upset with them for causing that in me or if I should just be impressed that they almost got it. The physics appear solid and things move or crumble as you’d expect them to in this generation of game development.
The story is extremely poorly paced with no real discernable arc. Which is exacerbated by every bad guy looking like the same two people. I shot the same guy in the face a hundred times before I started to wonder if this island had a cloning factory on it. Holy shit I can’t remember the last game where it was so obvious that every bad guy was the same guy. It was incredibly jarring for me and tore me from the experience.
You will see an awful lot of these places. Apparently a hundred thousand people have died here in the last couple weeks I guess?
The sound design and music is all pretty good. I never heard something and thought da heck? The controls I’m largely indifferent to. They work most of the time but the random grabs and QTEs are so insufferable and so damn numerous that I never really got into the game.
I made it to a bit after a great inferno and having the grenade launcher. Lara was finally turning into the woman I’ve always known and enjoyed. Frankly if they make another game and she is the person I knew her as (with her new character design) I will be deeply satisfied. That is…if they get different people to design the game and write the story.
I loathe quick time events. I don’t know who they were designed for but they weren’t designed for me. Saint’s Row has them but they tend to be far and few between. They also happen at times when you expect them to happen and generally failing them does nothing negative. In Tomb Raider they happen constantly, randomly, with little time to react, and the ramifications is that you have to sit through a long drawn out murder or death scene.
I’m also more than a little disappointed in their marketing for trying to make one of the murder scenes look like a rape scene just to get controversy (and marketing) for the game out into the internet. The character who is killing you (who looks like everyone else while supposedly being an important character) only rubs your leg suggestively because they needed the clip for marketing. There is literally no reason why he does it and the second he does it long enough for a commercial reel he suddenly chokes you to death.
Tomb Raider feels to me like it wants to be too many things at once. A jack of all trades but a master of none. The platforming is alright but marred by unnecessary and constant (extremely unlikely) changes in speed and tempo. The combat is marred by derpy controls and zerg like shortcuts instead of genuinely interesting combat AI. The story is just a complete mess and you are never given time to give two turds about the cast you are saving.
I’m disappointed because I was excited to see the new Lara Croft. I think her character design is great and if they get better writers I think the future installments will be great. For now I have a character who butchers 90 men without batting an eye and then cries in the next cut scene over something trivial like a stranger being shot [trivial in respect to the massacre she just committed].
This same weirdness came up in Far Cry 3 and it was just as jarring there.
Oh right! I did kind of get perforated through my intestines earlier didn’t I?! Guess I should notice finally.
It’s not a bad game but its not for me. I feel like the experience is what you get when you play a game. Had this not been Lara Croft but any random protagonist I suspect it would have gotten lukewarm reviews from most people. It was the fact that it was Lara Croft presented like a human that got everyone excited. She is an opportunity for a game to have a strong lead that isn’t your generic Nathan Drake character.
It’s average. Certainly gorgeous but that can be said about basically any expensive new title. If you see it on sale give it a check but don’t expect anything new or interesting. Lara deserves better and I hope the next game does that for her.
Blood for the Blood God!