Reviews: Tomb Raider 2013
What happens when you combine Resident Evil and Uncharted but strip the former of its self-awareness and the latter of its mirth and charm, and then add Lara Croft to the mix? That's Tomb Raider 2013, a dour exercise in resurrecting every cliche of the AAA action-adventure genre and playing them without a hint of irony. Tomb Raider 2013 starts out with Lara Croft and her merry band of misfits on a boat, presumably looking for where Peter Jackson filmed King Kong. No, they're searching for some fabled Japanese ruins or something. Well, a storm hits and they're all shipwrecked. Thus begins some cutscenes, guided walking tours, and scenic quick time events. Soon after Lara kills her first man, she gets the urge to kill more and the island is more than happy to throw hundreds at you. Most of the game is spent shooting people or tickling their brains with climbing axes. Keep in mind that in the original Tomb Raider the human body count was around 5. There is also some platforming that more or less functions like Batman: Arkham Asylum without his gliding ability, but this is just to pad out the time between explosions and filling mooks with lead. The hidden tombs, by the way, were not hidden, and were basically there so the devs could say "hey, we put some tombs in lol". They're basically dull brown caves with a few puzzles a very dull child could solve, and I stopped bothering with them after the third one or so. Absolutely nothing unpredictable happens. Tomb Raider is a microcosm of the past few years of AAA titles that manages to be the dead median of what one can be as a result. It's all the more infuriating that it takes a franchise I had some fondness for and winnows it into a dull gray paste that doesn't stand out at all. It's neither good nor bad, it's just completely mediocre. And maybe moreso because it takes itself so damned seriously.
Fantastic game (8.7/10), worried about the legacy it creates
First, I just want to say as a lifelong TR fan and an avid ice climber in Real Life that this is a fantastic, very immersive game. The single most important aspect of a good adventure game is not gameplay nor storyline but immersion. With my gaming PC, the sense of immersion this game creates is basically on par with my heavily modded Skyrim. This is really impressive considering TR manages to do so with only 14 hours compared to +100s you can spend playing Skyrim. I totally feel that I was Lara throughout the entire game - I feel her fear when she is sneaking around in claustrophobic spaces, I feel her pain when she falls and most importantly I feel her will to survive. Unfortunately, all the good things must end here. There is dissonance between the storyline and gameplay regarding Lara killing another human being - I hate that this game does not allow a Pacifist Run or at least another way to progress without engaging in the scripted firefight. This brings me to my second criticism - the game has too much control over Lara - she sneaks, draws her bow, etc when the game wants you to; as a player I feel that the games takes away my freedom in exchange for showing off their organic animation of Lara. The weakest part of the game is its supporting casts - they're worse than being forgettable, they're annoying. For example, Sam the Damsel In Distress is like a big middle finger to every single tidbits of Lara's character development and the whole survival theme carried by the game. Since the game focuses so much on Lara, the supporting casts characters are not developed at all. To make thing even worse, half of their characterization come from the very personal documents that are scattered around the island - how is this even possible? this is just lazy storytelling. Finally the crux of my review, I'm worried that Crystal Dynamics has written themselves to a corner. By the end of the game, partly due to the dissonance between gameplay and story Lara is a superhuman, confident (run you bastards, I'm gonna kill you all) badass on a verge of being a sociopath (going directly to another adventure after the whole ordeal shows she's somehow broken inside). If they're continuing the hyper-realistic theme, the only option for the sequel are either having a Sociopathic Hero protagonist or undo all her growth to make her relatable again
So much better
Tomb Raider 2013 achieves everything it needed to do. It took a character who had nowhere to go and the only thing the developers could think of to make people care was to cash in increasingly on her sex appeal and gave her a personality and character arc. It made her feel like a relatable person instead of a mercenary-killing-treasure-stealing-tiger-shooting soulless action hero. It's a game about determination against the odds, about not being the hero because you were born like that, but because when you're tested you rise above the adversity and do what needs to be done for you and your friends. And it took the franchise mediocre platforming combined with mediocre shooting, so irrelevant that the game that defined the evolution of the Tomb Raider playstyle came out over half a decade ago and finally caught up. In fact it improved it in significant and fun ways and if other games don't learn, those games will be left behind. The combat is brutal and freeflowing, you don't stick to cover, but if you stand behind it, Lara naturally crouches under it's protection. You need to move around and use space. The weapons feel powerful and everything is dangerous but not frustrating. Enemies engage with you in a variety of ways, sometimes they ambush you, more often you sneak up on them and can pick them off stealthily, complete with distraction mechanics and enemies that are at various times in visibility range of others and then it can flow straight into combat. It's surprising how many ways certain set pieces can go. At one point a spotlight is flashing between guards. You can work out the timing and take out the guards in the periods of darkness, or you can shoot out the spotlight and they'll put it down to an electrical fault, or you can not care and charge. This is seen in the general game structure to. It's linear but there are fairly big areas you can explore and fast travel back to to find collectables (of which the diaries and archaeological artefacts really enhance the story), but even in the corridors there are times where you can hop up a ledge or snake through a path. The little touches make the game feel less controlling. The locations are all beautiful and atmospheric It's plenty flawed, but all the flaws are interesting and represent more complicated problems than those of more pedestrian games.
Could've been better, but still pretty good
First of all, I should probably point out that I was not a real fan of the series prior to playing the game. The most of Tomb Raider that I had ever played was maybe four hours total on a PSP, so I played the game with very little knowledge at all. Anyway, I definitely enjoyed this game and even replayed it. That being said, the game definitely has its flaws. One that's constantly mentioned in reviews is the lack of side character development. I mean, even Sam — the person Lara spends most of the game literally killing others to save — has very little depth. Some have said that she was the only side character that got development, but nothing about her really changed. At all. Additionally, I was under the impression that the game was to be open world, but to say that this game was even close to an open world game would be a dirty lie. Hunting around for objects — which, by the way, got extremely mundane and annoying as soon as I hit the shanty town — and occasionally "exploring" hidden tombs? That's not open world. Considering where the game's location and the pacing, the creators shouldnít have even tried. I also have to say that it does a fantastic job with humanizing Lara. I really felt Lara's fears and certainly felt connected to her. However, that connection was lost towards the end of the game as Lara becomes "hardened". Still, the game is extremely immersive and really provides for a unique and enthralling experience. As far as the game's fighting system goes, it was pretty standard, but I really did like the salvage and the modded weapons aspect. It really contributed to the survivalist feel of the game, I think. As for the story, I felt pretty invested in the gameís storyline and really wanted to keep playing. All in all, the game is certainly worth playing, especially if youíre looking for a new kind of experience. Itís definitely got flaws, but those flaws donít completely overshadow its strengths.
A decent game that falls way short of its promises, and can't seem to make up its mind what it wants to be
Not being versed in the Tomb Raider series, I am judging this as a standalone game. We were promised many things with this game. We were told it was about survival, we were told it would humanize Lara Croft and make her more relatable, and it was implied that this game would be open-world to a degree. Well, most of this isn't true. The "survival" is a joke. Early in the game, Lara needs food, for scripted reasons. You have to hunt and kill a deer. That's... basically it. Lara's has "find hidden food sources more easily" as an upgrade, but that has zero purpose, as food essentially does not exist in gameplay. The world is not open. It's linear in an Uncharted sense (albeit with the ability to warp to previous locations and use new abilities to explore further), with the occasional open environment to fight in. There was one fantastic area where enemies were searching for Lara in the woods, and I was able to take a number of them out stealthily before the rest found me and I had to use the environment intelligently to hide and fight them off. Such moments are fantastic... when they occur, which isn't that often. Most of the fights are just Uncharted-style setpieces in limited areas. Speaking of Uncharted-style setpieces, there's a lot of scripting and Press X To Not Die moments. When Lara falls down a shaft, has to shimmy along a wall, or has to climb a ladder that's bending and breaking, I find it impossible to take her struggles seriously when I'm just holding up the whole time and I can tell the situation is entirely out of my hands. The story is more well-done, though it's contradicted by the gameplay. The characters are excellently done, dialog is fantastic, and Lara really is very human. She gets covered with dirt and sometimes even blood, getting cuts and bruises and showing wear and tear from the adventure. She also dresses practically, like she's prepared for survival. However, this "more realistic, more human" Lara can take video-game-character degrees of damage and fight off half a dozen people at once, not long after her first kill freaks her out. I get the impression that there were competing visions for what this game was meant to be: survival on a deserted island, or an Uncharted ripoff. They went with the conservative choice, but remnants of the original vision still linger.
A Survivor Is Born
Tomb Raider is a solid action-adventure platformer exploring how Lara evolved from a normal woman into the Action Girl Adventurer Archaeologist we know her as. It's the first time in the series that she has been developed as an actual person as opposed to a shallow Third Person Seductress, and it's evident in her interactions with Roth and Sam. However while these three characters are very well-developed, the rest of the cast unfortunately doesn't get as much fleshing out, especially Alex. The game probably could have benefited from an opportunity to explore Endurance before the wreck to interact with and get to know the remainder of Lara's companions before all hell breaks loose, even if at the expense of getting the player into the action sooner. There's also a bit of Gameplay And Story Segregation that gets to be a bit egregious at times. A major turning point in her character is her first human kill, which is depicted as a horrible and traumatizing experience that brings her to tears, and subsequently she begins mowing the Mooks down by the hundreds without batting an eye. I think fewer, smaller, but far more difficult encounters that required Lara to rely more on her wits than raw firepower to survive would have fit the narrative much better. The survival aspects could also have been a bit more prominent. The game also largely turns away from the series' hallmark puzzle-solving for the most part, which could have worked very well into the theme of survival. At times the plot feels like it's pulling the player along, rather than being driven by their actions, and the main story feels rather short (about 12 hours of play) but it does succeed admirably at investing the player in Lara's emotional struggle. She's put through hell, and with the voice acting provided by Camilla Luddington it's hard not to feel anything with every injury and Hope Spot that gets dashed. Still, a few more hours of play in the main plot could have gone to better establishing the supporting cast. Controls on the PC are pretty responsive though some are awkwardly placed, and combined with the save interface makes it very clear this is a port and was designed to be played on a console. Still, it's a solid installment and I look forward to seeing where Lara's development will go now. Definitely worth picking this one up.