QuickView: Tomb Raider (2013)
You know, I was never really a big fan of Tomb Raider. I didn’t really enjoy the games and always found the character of Lara Croft to be overrated. Yes, seriously. There were dozens of awesome female leads in videogames that predate her: Baraduke, Valis, El Viento, Metroid, Ninja Princess, Legendary Wings, Trouble Shooters, Arrow Flash, Burning Force, Rolling Thunder II, Athena, and Psycho Soldier just off the top of my head.
However with all the talk about this new Tomb Raider I had to take a look. The moment I saw it I knew exactly what they were trying to do: make Lara Croft into a “true female character” (don’t get me started) and make her “more believable” (something that backfired for Other M, Ninja Gaiden III, and DmC already). Then that whole “rape” debacle happened with a QTE sequence getting misconstrued and a PR guy utterly screwing the pooch on his explanation of it. Suddenly this new Lara was even worse than the old one. Then it was revealed that Rhianna Pratchett was writing this mess and suddenly everyone shuts up and then opinions do a complete 180 with the game being celebrated for its “phenomenal writing” and “strong female character”.
So I gave it a rent. I had to know what the deal was. Besides, trailers made it seem interesting if not exactly Tomb Raider. A survival horror game where the horror is actually in the survival aspect? I’m not a fan of the genre but the concept is interesting!
So, having forced myself 2/3rds of the way through the game (I stopped half-way through the escape from the Solari base) what do I think?
Well the game was nothing like what I thought it was going to be, not being even remotely survival horror-esque for better or for worse. I’m starting to think the people who cut videogame trailers have only ever seen horror movie trailers. The writing was nothing special, the story and gameplay clashed drastically until the game devolved into screaming stupidity, and this new Lara is neither super progressive nor offensive.
I’m cool with that last part. There is such a thing as trying too hard and my early impression was afraid of that.
No, the game just got stupid.
First of all, as an origin story this game sucks. If you wanted to tell the origin of Lara Croft you’d start with her surviving the plane crash that killed her parents. That was where she decided to become an explorer archeologist thing. Here she has already decided that and is in college and on an expedition. It doesn’t really tell you why Lara is doing this.
Shortly after this, the ship crashes, Lara washes up on shore. Contrary to what you might have seen, she isn’t alone. She waves to her friends and then gets bonked on the head and dragged off without anyone knowing…somehow.
From there the game becomes Heavy Rain. You basically just follow button prompts and walk forward with little actual control. Credit has to be given as they managed to make Lara’s movements incredibly natural. Her pacing changes, she puts her hand against the wall, she looks around, she rubs her arms, she holds her side. It’s very natural and very impressive. Unfortunately, it does make the controls a little sluggish and worse, detatches you from the character. I feel less like I am Lara Croft and more like I’m some invisible guy behind her, pushing her into death traps.
The blending of cutscenes and gameplay is also impressive as it cuts away and back to gameplay so smoothly and seamlessly it…well it really is like watching a movie. Eventually though you begin to realize when you are and aren’t in control of the action. Often the game would expect me to hold forward and I wouldn’t be. So Lara would just walk forward for a while then stop as if confused that I’m not blindly holding forward.
The first chunk of the game is somewhat aggravating. It tries so hard to be realistic and succeeds so well it starts to feel like a cheap movie based on a videogame more than an actual videogame. The characters look more like poorly dressed actors playing the characters than the actual characters.
Not to mention the game takes great pleasure in showing all the pain Lara goes through. It lavishes in her specialized death cutscenes that start reminding me of Dragon’s Lair…minus the humor. Worse still is how the game seems to skip this when it involves enemies. Lara gets crushed by rocks? You will watch. Enemy gets crushed by rocks? Let’s just look the other way real quick now.
This happens so often and Lara gets so beat up it starts to get uncomfortable…then she steps in a bear trap and the game crosses the absurdity event horizon.
At that point you realize the game really is out to get Lara. Every platform will crumble, every object will fall, every rope will break. It just gets stupid! Now the game gets fun but only because it’s so dumb! Now I’m laughing at the stupid thing! “Uh oh! Dramatic camera angle! I wonder if this rope is gonna break!”.
Soon you find yourself running down exploding hallways and shouting “Looks like I’m gonna hafta juuump!”…and then you realize this is the fifth exploding hallway you’ve run down, and that your character keeps veering in random directions while you just hold up, and that you have no clue why these hallways keep exploding!
Then you have the enemies. You see, you often catch badguys talking to eachother and…they sound disturbingly normal. In fact you find out they’re just like you and are only in this crazy cult because the cult leader is a psychopath…but you kill them. You murder them in cold blood and…well no game has ever made me feel more like a murderer than Tomb Raider. I legitimately feel bad for killing these guys! Well…kind of. Once you cross the “Absurdity Event Horizon” I just start grinning like a madman and laughing.
Part of the problem may come from the intentional choice to have the enemies avoid “engendered insults” because of the backlash(?) Arkham City recieved. Meanwhile Lara gets to scream “That’s right you bastards! I’m coming for you all!”.
…you know I just realized something: why is it that every time someone deliberately tries to make a “strong female character” they come off like a psychopath? Janeway, Wonder Woman 2011, and now this. Is that just me? Is it some kind of weird gender prejudice I’m not aware of or is it the result of trying too damn hard?
This game is stupid.
For a while I was enjoying it. I considered it a weird mix of “so bad it’s good” mixed with sky high AAA production values. Like Mind Jack with a budget!
Then, I got to the Shanty Town.
This is where the game shits the bed as it’s the first big setpiece action scene with huge numbers of enemies. When fighting 5 guys in a hallway, the game works. But a big open area with 10+ guys and the combat just falls apart.
For the most part it’s Gears of War except Lara automatically takes cover. She also likes to automatically switch weapons. You see what I mean about not feeling like you’re in control? This leads to some irritating inconsistency that makes the game very irritating to play.
See, you don’t have an on-screen health meter and enemies also have machine guns…and there are a lot of them. One shot from a machinegun and you’re dead. They might also throw grenades, which will kill you instantly, or try to rush you down and stab you…killing you instantly. With such a big area and so mkany enemies it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Now you could use Survival Instincts to spot them all…but that usually doesn’t work for some reason. It only highlights enemies when it feels like it. You could shoot then enemies but how many bullets/arrows they take seems completely random. Sometimes you can off a guy in two shots, other times you have to dump a whole round into them.
Then the enemies get in close and you try to dodge, but how far you dodge and in what direction are not completely in your control. You could throw sand in their face, but sometimes Lara just…doesn’t. Sometimes she does and the enemy just doesn’t react. Then you get the ability to use the ice pick as a melee weapon and this can off a guy in two hits! …or three…or five…or never.
After about three sections of this barely controllable bullcrap I had enough. I couldn’t plan, I couldn’t strategize. Everything fell apart because nothing was consistent. After spending a good hour just trying to get through one stupid bullshit room, I quit. Every time I was doing well a stupid piece of instant death would come out of nowhere. At times it felt like I just exploded for no reason.
In closing, Tomb Raider is weird. It is well aware of the commonly mocked separation of story and gameplay and how a character can act completely differently in each, it tries to fix this, but it manages to make it worse than ever before. It tries to make it seem like Lara was pushed to the edge and like killing other humans is difficult, but it just turns it into a joke. It tries to be a big budget well written game, but it winds up being the most laughably badly written mess I have played since Mind Jack! It tries to be hyper polished yet somehow manages to be screamingly inconsistant with it’s gameplay.
It’s here that we learn that Tomb Raider does not want to be a game. At all. All the money, all the budget, all the effort went into the graphics and the attempted writing and smoothly transitioning into cutscenes and making things feel natural. The result is that when the game is actually forced to be a game, it utterly falls apart. It’s not bad perse and I could see how one could enjoy it…but it’s not entirely a game either.
If I had to ballpark a score?
Not bad. Not really that good. Not sure if game.
EDIT: Perhaps the reason I got stuck is because they just gave me the grenade launcher and were expecting me to spam it. Problem is the grenade launcher does not show the arc of the grenade and it can only hold so much ammo. As such I did not find it to be consistent or effective. Maybe the game gets less enemy happy later on and thus returns to being playable but again, it’s barely a game. I’m barely in control. No. This game is not my cup of tea.
Also I admit I did not stop and smell the side-ruins as I was too busy rushing through to see as much of the story as I could. Shamed as I am to admit it, I played this like a bad reviewer more than like myself. But again, that’s why this isn’t a review. I had to re-rent this 3 times just to coherce myself to get as far as I did. I found the game utterly unenjoyable most of the time and I did have more fun with Mind Jack. At least it was consistent.
I’m pretty sure this game wanted me to play it in a very specific way and since I did not follow it’s script I got fucked. I’m sorry but no.
Here, have a video of the exact spot I quit at and a good example of why and what I mean about inconsistancy.
There was about an hour of this at just this spot. I had these same difficulties in two other spots. I’m done.