Tuesday, August 20, 2013

'Tomb Raider' Game Review

This year, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics released a prequel.  To the uninitiated, the original Tomb Raider tapped into the power of the first scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, where our intreped hero is traveling deep into the jungle, navigates various traps, gets the treasure and has to escape.
   Tomb Raider took Indy, brought him to modern times, replaced his whip with dual wielding pistols, and turned him into an acrobat - able to leap and flip around the environment.  Oh, yeah - and turned him into a buxom British hieress.  With a ponytail.  Named Lara Croft.
  The original game didn't have a lot of backstory.  Lara, daughter of Lord Richard Croft, had lost both of her parents, and now pretty much lives out the dream of 'archeology' - mostly running into tombs, grabbing the treasure, and getting it back out again.  None of the slowly sifting through sand for pot sherds for her!  Also, every tale ends with some mystical power being behind everything, usually something evil that she has to defeat, proving that Lara is even tougher than your run-of-the-mill demigod.  Past games have tied Excaliber to the Norse Yggdrisil mith, explored various aspects of Greek mythology, and more.  Later games tried to fill in the back story, with the last trilogy explaining that Lara lost her mother at a different time than her father, which if you kept track contradicts the Tomb Raider comic, which claimed that the butler caused the plane that Mum and Dad were on to crash, and he was somehow going to inherit all of the fortune.
   This definitely put Square and Crystal into a tough position - more and more women are playing games, Lara has always been accused of being a teen fantasy (sorry, Angelina Jolie) and a bit too ready to blow away other treasure hunters.  What could have turned her from an English archaeologist to a cold blooded, tomb raiding, killing machine?  This game is the answer to that question.
   Keep in mind, that for all of the complaints about the design of Lara, she came out in that time when we were just getting games that were slightly better than Doom, in terms of graphics.  Go back and look at the original Quake, for a comparison.  I had a Pentium 586, and it struggled at times to keep up with even the low polygon count that Lara  displayed.  So her over-endowed assets were also just an attempt to make her not look like a dude.  With the character established, the massive proportions entrenched, it became clear as the polygon counts rose that she would probably have backaches most of the time, and almost certainly not be able to backflip off an incline to grab a ledge behind her.  This game also attempted to give Lara more realistic proportions, and a more realistic reaction to all of the craziness going on around her.
    Is it a good game?  Yes.  Is it a good Tomb Raider game? Well... kind of?  There is definitely enough of Lara here to feel like it is Lara.  And I am glad I played it.  But, I always enjoyed the puzzle solving aspects of the Tombs, and those are mostly gone.  There are optional tombs, but those generally have only one or two puzzles that need to be solved.  The rest of the game is a linear exploration with multiple set-piece battles.  While the Uncharted games was born out of Tomb Raider, this game seems to have borrowed the ambush and clear motif back from Uncharted.  Multiple times I'd walk into an area that had convienent cover spots, and know that I would be fighting a battle there.  One time, I avoided the obvious trigger, and explored the rest of the area, with no sign of any bad guys.  Once I hit the trigger, it was as if the entire 101st Airborne had landed and had to be killed before I moved on.  That was some great hiding, guys!
    This is a very mature game - but not as bad as the pre-release hype.  It definitely falls into the 'dark, dirty, gritty' camp, with the first portion of the game leaving me wanting to turn up the gamma somehow.  I ended up having to adjust the lighting in my game room b/c it was so dark that my normal lighting made it hard to see what was going on.  After a climactic sequence, the game brightens noticably, as sort of a subtle cue that Lara has emerged from her fear, and is becoming stronger and more confident.  But this is a game that throws in your face that something very wrong is going on here.  There is one moment where Lara is emerging from a pool, covered in blood, evoking the last scene of Apocalypse Now.  I found it a little odd that with all of the death and decay on this island, that there wasn't a huge stench and an overwhelming amount of flies!  I think perhaps there was, but that was probably removed during development.
   Bottom line, was it good?  Should you get it?
  Honestly, it is hard to say.  I have one game console that is not in the family area, so I was able to exercise 'parental guidance' judiciously.  This game could give kids nightmares at some of the more intense scenes.  If you like puzzle games, like the old Tomb Raider' games, this is not one of those.  You will not get lost, because in addition to the linear nature, with a touch of a button you get a glowing blue pillar of light that shows you where to go.  If you liked the Uncharted games, this might be a good game for you to play, as it has the fighting sequences, the environmental acrobatics, but not the same sense of humor.

No comments:

Post a Comment