Tomb Raider (2013)
Before this year’s entry into the series, I had never played a Tomb Raider game. I missed out on the bulk of early video games throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. They just weren’t anything I was interested in at the time. I had a few consoles growing up but I never had more than just a few games on either of them and my computer gaming was strictly limited to Dogz, Catz, Sim Park, and the Sims. Lara Croft is such an iconic character that I have honestly felt like I was missing out. Trying to jump into a series that’s been running since 1996 never really appealed to me before and I never got into the movies. So I’ve really been looking forward to this game ever since it was announced back in 2011. The reboot was my way in.
And it is one hell of a reboot.
To be honest, I didn’t expect much from Tomb Raider. It looked awesome in all the trailers and press releases but I had this idea in my mind that it was going to be little more than an Uncharted clone with a popular name and a pretty face slapped on. While the series has certainly taken some inspiration from other popular action-adventure series, Tomb Raider stands on it’s own entirely. The game takes it’s source material and reworks it in a way that not only makes it easily accessible to new fans and players but also sets an impeccable standard for things to come. Tomb Raider is easily one of the better games of 2013 and if Crystal Dynamics keeps on this path we may be looking at one of the next generation’s powerhouse series.
Part of the reason this game was so great – and why the series has so much potential – is that we’re watching a new Lara Croft grow and develop. This isn’t the bad ass, big breasted Lara Croft that has been in the media for a decade and a half now. The Lara we are getting to know is still young and in this game she’s really being tested for the first time. There is a realistic vulnerability that comes along with this story as she leads her first archaeological expedition into the unknown only to have everything come crashing down around her. As things begin to happen quickly you can find yourself caring almost instantly and all that matters is bringing Lara through it all.
I loved seeing Lara as a real person and I think that the writers and developers showed us just the right amount of weakness throughout without making her too much of a victim. Lara very clearly has a hard time dealing with the situations she finds herself in now and again but she ultimately rises to the challenge. Maybe a bit too quickly, though. I had a bit of a hard time reconciling the fact that I was murdering and massacring people all across this not-so-deserted island Lara landed on while at the same time she was still trying to wrap her head around it all emotionally in the cut scenes and conversations with others. Now and again they would also try and remind us that she was actually an archaeologist but while there were a number of nods to the underlying historical and mystical elements of the plot there was a lot less heart in those moments than in others. That made her character development throughout the story a little bit awkward at times even if it was ultimately very fulfilling.
Though, to be quite honest, her character development – while awesome – is almost scary. I don’t know if a survivor has been born or some kind of thrill seeking, borderline suicidal psycho-murderer has been born…
Sadly, none of the other characters really got the same sort of development as Lara. So while she’s running around trying to save people and fighting this crazed cult of shipwrecked mercenaries or whatever I don’t really share her motivations. I’d rather just get the hell off the island. Even Sam – who is apparently Lara’s best friend – sort of gets the stereotypical, weak female marginalization and becomes a lesser character than she might have been otherwise.
But otherwise, it’s a very solid story. Better than the third installation of the Uncharted series, that’s for sure.
Gameplay-wise, too, Tomb Raider really is a pretty great experience. I wasn’t a bit fan of the myriad of quick time events. The timing always seemed to be a bit off and I don’t think it was just me. I mean, I’ll accept a very high percentage of the blame for my incompetence but most of the time the QTE were just a bit bothersome and unnecessary. I wouldn’t have minded just putting up with a quick cut scene instead but that might just be me. And, really, that’s the only complaint I had about the game.
I really liked the gameplay. A lot. Combat in Tomb Raider is all fairly intuitive and it’s fun. You’re not just running around like some regular first person or third person shooter just opening fire left and right. You’ve got options on how to play the game most of the time and regardless of your play style (mine generally mirrors the famous mad dash of Leroy Jenkins) you’ll have fun. There’s an element of strategy that can go into your wide spread murder and there is nothing more satisfying than shooting an arrow all stealth-like through a bad guy’s face or even opening up on him with a semi-automatic rifle. The weapons in the game are limited but well chosen and handle well. At no point – as trigger happy as I was – did I ever worry about running out of things to kill people with or ammunition because in the end I could always rip a man’s face off with my ax.
Even the upgrading system for the weapons was great. I usually don’t bother upgrading anything in games because I’m lazy and extremely forgetful. But with this game they all served a purpose and you really needed to think your way through them if you didn’t manage to salvage enough upgrade materials.
The last few elements of the game that are worth mentioning are the puzzles, secret tombs, and the whole ‘survivalism’ theme they start you off with and then abandon pretty much immediately. I guess maybe there is some benefit to collecting plants, pelts, and meat but I did it once or twice in the entire game and it didn’t change the way the story played out. Tomb Raider is styled as a survivalist sort of game but it really plays no part of it in the long run.
Similarly, though the secret tombs were kind of cool and the puzzles they presented were decently challenging at times, they were definitely added in more as a herald to the old school tomb raiding days than anything else. They added a little bit of narrative on the history of the island and things but beyond that were pretty forgettable.
At least the puzzles throughout the game in the main sections were equally as engaging. They added just enough downtime and change of pace in the game to keep you interested and give you a break from the faster-paced action sequences.
The main game took me about fourteen hours to complete but with more time (and motivation) I probably could have gotten through the secret tombs and everything else. And I think my run took a while longer than it would for people who are, you know, way better at gaming than I am.
For my first foray into the world of Lara Croft, I have to say I came away more than satisfied. It was nice to see a redesigned Lara Croft who wasn’t quiet as comically busty as before and have her portrayed from the beginning as an intelligent (if a bit naive at first) heroine that could hold her own in a genre and industry overly inundated with male protagonists. I think that Tomb Raider showed that game developers who continue to claim that the market just isn’t out there for strong, realistic, female leads are full of shit.
Tomb Raider (2013) is probably one of the better games released this year and an awesome first entry into the rebooted series. At no point did I feel that being a new fan limited my enjoyment of the game and I think that anyone who picks it up will enjoy it. I won’t say it’s a ‘must buy’ at sticker price but if you can get it on sale for twenty bucks pick it up. It’ll tide you over until the next generation starts churning out comparable titles. And if nothing else get it and play it to see what you’re missing out on being stuck playing meat-head, stereotypical dude action heroes all the time. Chicks can kick real ass.
I played Tomb Raider in a matter of days, and ended the game loving it. I explored a ton of tombs (often just because I took a wrong turn), I killed crazy cultists in stealthy mode, I survived the wilderness with my own savvy, and I ultimately fell in love with Lara Croft. I played Last of Us not long after this game, and found myself wishing TLoU was Tomb Raider instead. Plus this game got me prepped for all of the QTEs.