April 16, 2013 by Pete_XXVII
When making a ‘hardcore’ game there are several things you want on the box. ‘Gritty’ and ‘visceral’ both have to be up there but I’m not so sure that ‘hilarious’ is. Amazingly Tomb Raider manages to pack all three of these into the game ans still come up trumps.
Crystal Dynamics have taken us back to where all the endangered animal killing began by creating the genesis of Lara Croft. On her first expedition she, as well as all her crew mates, become stranded on a mysterious island while searching for – wait for it – a mysterious island. Could Lara have found what she was looking for? Of course she has.
The story really is pretty generic. When looking at the crew line up see how long it takes for you to work out which of them will be safe and which may find themselves in a slight predicament. It’s not a plot spoiler to point out that not everyone makes it back onto the boat to civilization because it’s a tale of how Lara became a survivor and that wouldn’t fit if they all had a mildly uncomfortable time. Suffice to say that if this was a film from 10 years ago, you could work it all out within about half an hour. That’s before we even start considering the explanations for what happens on the island. I won’t spoil that here but suffice to say it makes no sense. At all.
Amazingly though the game doesn’t suffer because of this. In fact it actually plays into it’s strengths. With the developers not having to care that the plot is absolutely bonkers they’re able to focus on the core mechanics of the game and they certainly succeed here. During the course of the game Lara acquires only 4 weapons but they balance perfectly. For the stealthy approach the bow is extremely useful and when that doesn’t work the other weapons are great up close. With only 4 weapons to choose from they are also able to make an upgrade system that feels very tight and like you are actually making a difference to the weapon. It could be argued that the pistol is so good that once it is upgraded you really wouldn’t need any other weapon; I found myself using the others only rarely but that’s only a slight downside.
The adventuring system is pretty robust as well. Through the use of ice axes, rope arrows and some well timed jumps you can find pretty much any area of the island accessible, though it is in no means an open-world adventure. The timing of these new gadgets also plays out well, giving you a reason to go back to areas you’ve already played through just to see if you missed something. Occasionally I found myself plummeting to my death though because Lara didn’t seem to jump where I wanted her too though and it doesn’t feel quite as tight as it could.
Oddly in a game called Tomb Raider there aren’t that many tombs to raid. With only 6 in the game they do feel like they were placed there just so they could put a tick on a check list. The ones that are there are also very simple to work out, often involving only well timed jumps or counterbalances – occasionally both.
As seems to be the fashion these days there are collectibles hidden around the island for you to discover which will uncover the backstory of what happened there. Whilst tracking down all the little bits of information feels addictive, it really is only necessary if you’re determined to get all the trophies as they add little to the overall plot of the game and, as I’ve mentioned, that plot is insane anyway. You really won’t spend the time finding out the story of the world as you would in say Bioshock Infinite.
So far this all sounds like a solid 7/10 game, and it would be if it weren’t for the fact that the game is brilliantly funny. I’m still not sure if it was intentionally made in the mould of a B-Movie but it works so well that it’s hard to see that it could have happened by accident. For instance during the game Lara is at least indirectly responsible for a shipwreck, a plane crash and a helicopter going down. If it were played straight then you might find yourself thinking “Oh for heaven’s sake, this is ridiculous”. I ended up thinking “Oh Lara, what have you gone and done now?”.
The many, many death scenes which occur when you fail to manoeuvre obstacles in time, or respond to the QTEs, again end up being funny rather than unnerving. Imagine watching a horror film that strays too far onto the side of comedy and you’re thinking along the right lines. Often these come about because the game really is obtuse as to how you should complete objectives or give you such narrow linear paths to go down as to become tedious. I died at least 10 times because I didn’t follow the exact path down a waterfall that Lara should take that she became impaled on the spikes that were inexplicably always in the wrong place. However, it never became so irritating that I wanted to turn off the game because of the humour of the piece.
Overall Tomb Raider is mechanically a very good game. It feels tight and polished and certainly one of the best third person cover shooters around. It becomes excellent due to it’s ability to not take itself too seriously and because it doesn’t seem to care that it makes no sense. It’s not a criticism to say that it’s not a cerebral game because it really isn’t. It’s an excellent example of a genre we see too rarely these days – games that make no apologies for being fun to play and I for one would love to see the scrapes Lara gets herself into next.
*I’m deliberately not talking of the multiplayer here because I have no experience of it. I tried several times but always found that I couldn’t join any matches. Whether this was because of my connection, or the fault of the game, I couldn’t tell so it hasn’t affected the score.