Review by VirtuaVash
"This is not Tomb Raider"
This game is truly difficult to review. On one hand, I knew this was a "reboot" of the franchise, and I knew changes were to be expected. On the other hand, I had hoped that certain fundamentals of the series would help guild this new project. This reboot of Lara Croft's character, and of the gameplay itself, truly had endless possibilities. Developer Crystal Dynamics was tasked with rebooting everything everyone has ever known about Lara Croft, and reinvent the franchise known as Tomb Raider. This was no easy task, to say the least. But at the end of the day, what was created is nothing more than a extremely scripted cover shooter. The type of cover shooting we already have on store shelves in abundance, and to the point of total saturation. Yes, this was an attempted "Reboot", but things could have gone down a far more original and thought provoking path than this. Instead of turning Tomb Raider into a entirely different experience, the creators and publisher have unfortunately done nothing more than sell out to current third person shooter trends. So many possibilities could have been explored, so many ways to reimagine one of gaming's most iconic franchises.
But, let's start from the top. This Tomb Raider begins its tale with Lara and her companions traveling to the Dragons Triangle. A Bermuda Triangle of the east, so to speak. They are all in search of adventure, and uncovering a long forgotten mystery. Things go bad quickly for the expedition, and the boat they were traveling in ends up breaking apart during a bad storm. This all told through a cut scene, and get used to that, because this game is busting at the seems with lengthy cut scenes.
You actual begin the game proper by hanging upside down in cave, surrounded by dead bodies. This was an attempt to Intentionally put a player on their heels from the get go. But this intensity is immediately deflated through very limited player engagement. This is plainly seen as the opening moments merely takes the player from set piece to set piece, not allowing the player to have full control for more than a few moments at a time. You will also quickly realize that this Tomb Raider is desperate to overload your senses with brutal imagery. What I mean is, horror movie level graphic imagery. This game contains the most brutal death animations I have ever witnessed ( and wish I had not witnessed ). During these opening moments you will also be welcomed to one of Tomb Raider's most enjoyment suffocating features. The awesome, and always loved, QTE ( Quick Time Events ). Sarcasm aside, some of the past Tomb Raider games actually did have QTE, but they were essentially harmless. However, the QTE used here in this game are poorly implemented and interrupt the flow of the game horribly. The QTE also contain intensely horrific depictions of Lara being killed/murdered, and are incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Trial and error will also become your travel mates with these QTE segments, because failing them is made all too easy. Try as I may, but moving my joystick from right to left quickly never seemed to resister correctly. All in all, these QTE moments serve no purpose other than to show off death animations, and to frustrate players through unresponsive controls.
Now that you have cleared the QTE and set piece filled cave, you are set lose upon the most linear island known to man. GTA or Skyrim style open world this certainly is not. This also is when the tutorials kicks into high gear ( and never seem to let up ). Your first night on this island sees Lara needing shelter, and warmth from the elements. This is actually well portrayed, through the use of more cut scenes. The following day Lara finds her first weapon and sets out to hunt for some animal meat. Why she doesn't even consider looking for eatable vegetation, or even water, I do not know. She is on the island for only one night, and her first choice of food during a crisis is a well done steak? But none of this matters, not one bit. Why? Because this is the one and only time Lara ever requires food. They make a big deal about her being hungry, and yet Lara never once mentions food ever again for the duration of the game. Just like with many other aspects of this game, it's style over substance. Indeed seeing Lara hungry and desperate for food was a good plot device. But moments like this are made entirely meaningless when you realize that there isn't any real substance behind them. Why have the player go through the motions of learning about the desperation of surviving in the wild, only for it to be worthless throwaway gimmick? There are no survival skills involved in the game whatsoever. None.
Watching excessive amounts of cut scenes doesn't give this game more depth, it just removes the player from the equation yet again. And this game forcefully removes your choices all the time. I Hope you like mandatory aim assist to such a degree, that the simple act of freely aiming yourself isn't allowed. The moment you press the aim button, the game automatically snaps to a target of its own choosing. Why not have an option to turn off this very overbearing aim assist? The platforming also doesn't need your interference. This game actually takes complete control of Lara's mid air trajectory, if your jump isn't where the game wants you to land. Oh, you didn't want to automatically go into the cover animation, while enemies are around? Maybe you want total freedom of all of you character's actions? Too bad for you, as this game gives you no choice in the matter. Get used to this game removing basic player choices, in favor of the game itself making those choices for you.
I do commend the beginning of Tomb Raider however, as first two hours had a somewhat unique flow to it. Then it happened. At about the two hour mark, Lara is put into a situation where she must fight off a rapist. Good thing she has the all mighty QTE and cut scenes to save her though. After this event Lara is badly shaken up by having to kill another human being. But no matter though, because this game has other plans in mind for our heroine. From this moment on, Lara becomes a psychopathic killer. Self defense is one thing, I can understand motive. But Lara going on a two hundred man killing spree is beyond comprehension. I almost get the feeling that Crystal Dynamics had a very different vision for this game, from the flow of the game within the first two hours. It really is too bad Tomb Raider didn't go down a different, more cerebral path.
This game quickly becomes a undisguised attempt at capitalizing on modern day shooters. Taking no risks whatsoever, by unapologetically going after fans of Uncharted, Gears of War, and Call of Duty. With this new direction comes a hefty focus around combat, and cover shooting. This game is so trigger happy, that very little gameplay is found outside of combat. This game does little more than provide busy work for players to do, outside of watching cut scenes and getting head shots. You can collect salvage from creates, kill animals, kill/loot humans, and basically collect random rubbish. That's basically all you do in this game, kill, climb, and collect junk. How is collecting mushrooms, shooting ornaments, or burning flags even related to this game in the slightest? They aren't. These task are literally blatant padding to try and hide the fact that this is a very short game.
You can use collected salvage and XP in order to upgrade your weapons and skill trees. But, it more than boggles the mind as to how person is capable of upgrading a pistol, from looting dead animals. I can only assume it's on the lines of "stop thinking and get to shooting". Spread throughout the island are camp fires where you have an opportunity to do all of your upgrading. But how does Lara manage to become a Gunsmith simply by sitting at a campfire anyway? This is never explained, and is entirely at odds with the storytelling. A story about young inexperienced survivor, barely beating the odds to stay alive. But! This young inexperienced survivor also just so happens to be able to build mega powerful assault rifles on the side... with no tools. Why not allow Lara to find someone that actually has the facilities to make weapons? Actually build some sort or relationship with one the island inhabitants, other than killing them all. That actually makes sense, and would have built a layer of morality to characters that are nothing more than target practice. What we are left with is a game that has Lara building tanks out of chicken bones, and her literally killing every person she sees. The absurdity of all this dumbfounding.
For the rest of the game you will have an opportunity to do some very light exploring, and even find a few "Secret Tombs". The game will alert you ( and even pinpoint them on your map ) every time you go near one of these "secret tombs". So calling them a secret, is a play on words. These "tombs" consist of a long walk, one very simple puzzle, and then a treasure chest for your 2-5 minutes of trouble. This exact formula is used in each of these "secret" areas, with no exceptions. The rewards you get from these "tombs" are extremely minimal, but the real low blow is the lack of sense of accomplishment involved with these areas. Ultimately though, I was thankful for the inclusion of this optional areas. Because without these handful of areas, this game would basically be devoid of any traditional Tomb Raider content.
I sincerely want to avoid giving away too many details about the storyline, but to say the least, this story feels thrown together. In the beginning a cast of characters are tossed your way, and the game immediately demands that you care deeply for all of them. This sort of setup takes character development and cast it to the wind. If a character happens to die that you are not even familiar with, how are you supposed to care? If Lara threatens to kill a innocent man at gunpoint, doesn't that make our heroine basically no better than the villains? The overall plot makes little sense, and is actually more about the moment to moment action. What is the point of going in the direction of a darker, more gritty plot, if you are simply going to fill the story to the brim with nonsensical drama? All the way up to the very end, this game's story feels as if it never gains any meaningful weight.
As far as the game's graphics and sound go, they both are good. If graphics matter to you, you will enjoy the beautiful artwork on display here. The only exception to the nice graphics are the enemy designs. All of the enemies are incredibly bland forms of stereotypical "bad men", and they are all basically indistinguishable from one another. The audio department is also fairly good. While I certainly did miss many of the iconic melodies the franchise is known for, the music here is rather nice all on its own. The music is entirely forgettable, but non offensive.
There is an online competitive multiplayer in Tomb Raider, which is a first for the franchise. This concept works well here, because the heart and soul of this game is now is nothing more than a common shooter. So it was incredibly easy to shoehorn deathmatches into this game. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with adding in a competitive component, as many people enjoy competitive gaming. I will say that the idea of the Tomb Raider franchise going competitive is a bit disheartening though. Did any fan of the series ever think to themselves "I wish Lara could be apart of the dudebro crowd"? I'm going to guess not too many. I do have to wonder about something though. I wonder what may have been If the funds that went towards this outsourced and tacked on multiplayer, went to the single player portion instead. This game realistically needed more single player content, not deathmatches. But, you see, you can't sell overpriced map packs, without a multiplayer.
There is a DLC ( downloadable content ) option in the main menu. As of my most recent update to this review, there are over thirty pieces of DLC available for purchase. These DLC packs include purchasable items like extra maps for the competitive portion, and micro transactions for the single player portion. The micro transactions are not intelligently used here, and shouldn't be used here at all. Tomb Raider, with micro transactions, instead of unlockables... you can clearly see where their priorities are.
Also a very BIG warning about the camera system used here! This Tomb Raider uses quite possibly the worst camera system I have ever witnessed in any game. With every single step you take while running, the camera drastically wobbles around. It was incredibly uncomfortable to watch as the screen constantly jerked and titled around. The camera work here is eerily similar to what was used in Kane and Lynch 2, another game published by SquareEnix. But IO Interactive, the developers of Kane and Lynch 2, were thoughtful enough to implement a option to turn off the camera effect in their game. A constantly jerking, tilting and swaying camera was actually thought to be the ideal portal to which players view this game? A option to turn off this overly dramatic camera effect would have made a world of difference! I had hoped for a patch to add an option to turn off this camera effect, but unfortunately, that will never happen. Some patching was implemented though, fixing some ( not all ) of the game braking bugs this game shipped with.
I simply wanted to help others know that this game isn't what made this series beloved by so many people, for so many years. In past installment the levels themselves used to be one gigantic puzzle that you slowly learned how to unlock. The simple act of exploring, and discovering all the hidden secrets was nothing short of amazing. Past games used to tax my brain as I finally reached that one last key I so desperately needed, or concurred a difficult puzzle. I used to have to manage my ammo supplies, health packs and inventory. In this Tomb Raider however, none of that thoughtful gameplay is ever applied. This Tomb Raider is all about combat, Hollywood style set pieces, watching cut scenes, and upgrading weapons. The charm and thoughtfulness of the previous games has been replaced with endless combat segments and barley interactive gameplay.
I'll leave you with this. You may end up loving this game if you give it chance. Or, you may end up wishing you never bought it. I implore everyone to make their own opinions when it comes to games. Take this review, and all reviews, as nothing more than personal opinions. These are just a few of my personal opinions on Tomb Raider, and I appreciate you taking the time to read them. I love the Tomb Raider franchise, I really do. I loved the Core Designs Tomb Raiders, I loved the three previous Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raiders, I loved The Guardian of Light, and I even enjoyed the Game Boy Tomb Raiders. But unfortunately, something bad happened in response to Underworld selling less than expected. Crystal Dynamics and publisher SquareEnix decided to win over the masses, by simply selling out to current popular gaming trends. This franchise used to set gaming trends, and used to have a unique flow all to its own. This one however, is completely at odds with the rest of the franchise. This isn't Tomb Raider, this is nothing more than a project fueled by marketing statistics, in an attempt to ensure sales.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 03/22/13, Updated 04/16/14
Game Release: Tomb Raider (Digital Edition) (US, 03/05/13)
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