Partially to feed my gamer appetite and partially to fuel this review, this week I spent some quality time with Miss Croft in her latest adventure: the aptly named Tomb Raider.
I’ve never been a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise but something about this reboot intrigued me. One of the most interesting things about the game, to me at least, is how closely it resembles Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune at times. The tv show fuelled expedition that results in Lara and her friends being stranded on a mysterious island with bodies from World War II, felt just a little familiar. Tomb Raider inspires Uncharted which inspires Tomb Raider; have we come full circle? All the borrowing from one another aside: Tomb Raider is a fantastic play.
A prequel to the previous Tomb Raider games, this latest instalment is an origins story which follows a young and innocent Lara Croft in her search for the lost Japanese Kingdom of Yamatai. Stranded on an island in the Dragon’s Triangle, Lara must regroup with her friends and find a way home.
Tomb Raider (2013) is pretty visually stunning, something that I didn’t necessarily expect. It’s dark, like the story, but it looks good. The cinematic camera angles adopted by Crystal Dynamics, the game’s developers, are all about showing off the game’s visuals. One thing I did notice about the camera angles, that I found annoying, was how they tended to frame Lara in the most voyeuristic way possible. “I’m off to play Tomb Raider” soon became “I’m off to objectify women” Though what else could you really expect in a Lara Croft game?
In a lot of games, the cinematic look and camera angles are reserved for cutscenes and cutscenes alone. In Tomb Raider the gameplay encompasses the cinematics. Despite the fact that the initial cutscene, where a storm wrecks Lara’s ship, would have been better playable; Tomb Raider turns the majority of the story into something interactive instead of letting small tasks like tuning a radio become a cutscene.
You can tell the developers were going for a cinematic experience through the lack of HUD and its a nice effect which draws you into the game world much more. There’s no health bar which means you have no idea how many more arrows or punches you can take, just as in reality you couldn’t possibly know. There’s no onscreen representation of how many bullets you have left, once you’re out you’re out. Simple as it is this really made a difference for me. I found the lack of map frustrating at first as I had no idea where I needed to go but by pressing L2 (I was playing on the PS3) a flare would illuminate the target area, fitting in nicely with the survival theme.
I liked the fluidity of the controls for the game a lot. (Though they were very similar to those of the Uncharted games so that helped.) I knew that if I wanted to interact with an object then square was what I likely needed to press.
The combat mechanics when it comes to shooting (arrows or guns) worked well, it was simple enough and the aim was steady. My problem however came with free shooting, I’m not sure if it was just me or if it wasn’t possible. If an enemy was getting right up in my face I’d still have to lock on an aim before I could shoot him down. And when enemies get too close I tend to give up on guns and want to break them with my fists. This is a problem if you’re playing as Lara Croft. Where Nathan Drake would enjoy a good old fashioned fisticuffs, Miss Croft was a tad on the weak side and none of her punches (or kicks) seemed to do anything.
For me though the most annoying part about Lara’s origins was her voice. Perhaps I’m biased because I was a huge fan of Keeley Hawes, the last Lara voice actor, but I just find young Lara to be shrill and irritating. Though I did enjoy the part where she says “I hate tombs…” Oh, the irony.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding the latest Tomb Raider game when a trailer showed an “attempted rape” scene. The scene is where Lara is threatened to a point where she makes her first kill and the “attempted rape” comment was soon revoked after the bad press. Basically Lara is threatened, if things had gone further then yes she could have been raped but for me the only relevant part of all this is that it fuels the story. The writer herself has said how this scene is meant to focus on Lara’s emotions rather than the threat and make the player understand why she had to kill.
Despite my pre-conceptions on the franchise Tomb Raider (2013) is a fantastic game which is a worthy origin tale for the iconic Lady Croft. The story is intriguing and the cinematic style that is offered is beautiful. However, I do feel as though a little too much focus is put on survival rather than the typical raiding of tombs that people have come to expect. As with all Tomb Raider games though, nothing is ever as it seems and things are sure to take a turn for the supernatural at any second.