Lara has a had a rough time lately getting off the ground. With her series taking a drastic downward turn, the movies sucking out all the life in her, and not to mention the supposed reboot before this not selling as well.
“If I don’t see any dinosaurs in this one, I ain’t buying it!”
Enter the actual reboot, titled Tomb Raider (developed by Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal, published by Square Enix). A new Lara was born, no duel wielding pistols, no sunglasses, no tight blue shirt or cargo shorts that looked like they were left in the washing machine for too long! No, Crystal Dynamics said that they will have none of that! The universe and the character herself were created from scratch, with the intent that they wanted to display a more realistic depiction of the tight dressed dame. What’s even more ludicrous is, and brace yourselves, the game was also written by…a woman.
Not only was it written by a woman (Rihanna Pratchett), it was also supported by other women as well (Meagan Marie)! Holy fuck. However what is it that really puts Tomb Raider (2013) above its predecessors? Or is the game below them?!
Well it start’s out with the main protagonist herself, Lara Croft, going on an expedition on a ship called the ‘Endurance’ to find the find the lost city of Yamatai. Although she isn’t looking for this city by herself, on this journey she is accompanied by several interesting characters (an egotistical archaeologist, an old adventurer, her best friend, and other engaging crew members). Things take a turn for the worst, and I mean the ‘worst’ when the ship starts to be torn apart by a raging storm, causing everyone to flee the ship and drift ashore to some mysterious island. Lara washes on the shore only to see her friends, and gets knocked out by some unknown hostile group of people.
It’s there where we see Lara tied up, like a caterpillar in a cocoon, on the ceiling of some ‘tomb’ struggling to free herself, but then gets impaled on the side of her torso with a large nail. That part right there is about as strong an indicator as to how brutal/fucked-up the rest of the game will become. And let me tell you something, it never let’s go after you get out of that cave.
One of the best parts, also probably what may be a problem for certain folks, is that the violence in this game is depicted in a very brutal manner. Ranging from impaling a pickaxe into a then-twitching islander through a stealth takedown, to firing an arrow into an islander’s throat and watching them gasp for air as they try to clutch their neck. The island itself is also a living raging beast that seeks to cause as much torture to Lara as possible through rivers filled with sharp objects and fucking wolves that want to tear out your intestines and eat them! Sorry, just having flashbacks.
It’s like going through a river rafting event or a Universal theme park ride! Except instead of being splashed by water, you’re also being splashed with barbed wire, nails, and sharp impaling rocks. Speaking of incredibly hazardous objects that could easily be imagined hitting your flesh and bone, the death sequences for Lara are just ruthless! I’m sure the creators and programmers at Crystal Dynamics have been concocting ways to make sure you either vomit or cringe heavily after playing an hour or two of this game.
However as much as I enjoyed how honest the violence is in this game was (The Last Of Us, better check yourself), the roller coaster moments do feel a little, eh, how should I put this? Those moments where you’re sliding down a river full of dangerous objects and from an exploding airplane do feel a bit much. It felt like those running sequences in Uncharted, except with some extreme violence thrown in there. Not to say that they don’t make the game more entertaining, but they can be too exaggerated for what this game was going for, which was survival and a sense of realism here (although the latter half may be debatable).
But enough with the small things, let’s move on to one of the aspects I love about this game which is the combat. Imagine a typical third-person shooter with your average weapon selection (pistol, shotgun, rifle), except completely refined. Let’s say for example that if you wanted to get into cover, you wouldn’t need to press ‘A’ or ‘X’ to do so, in this game you automatically go into cover by just running up to it and ducking down automatically.
In fact if you read my review for ‘Bioshock Infinite‘, it was stated that one of my complaints about the game was that the weapon system felt lacking along with the way upgrades were implemented. Not the same thing here, also if there was anything to compare this to, it would be the first ‘Bioshock‘ in terms of how well-managed the weapon and ammo selection was. If you wanted to switch weapons or ammo, bam, d-pad bitches! It’s all integrated very well, and not to mention it just feels natural with the way the environments are set-up.
Aside from the assault rifle and the pistol, you’ll also be using some of the weapons as tools for adventuring. The bow & arrow fires line rope that can be used to cross certain pathways, the shotgun blasts wooden blockades, and the pickaxe is used for rock climbing as well as to open locked doors.
As for their uses in combat, the weapons in this game feel great. The assault rifle at first feels a bit wonky, but after going through several substantial upgrades it can become the best mid-long range weapon of the game. If you want to just blast away at foes charging toward you, the shotgun does the trick and even more once you attain more upgrades (by the way, second favorite weapon of the game). While the pistol may be the weakest weapon here, it’s still pretty solid whenever you decide to use it. However the main showcase weapon of this game has to be the bow & arrow.
What really makes the bow & arrow stand out is not only how it evolves through the game, but how it can be used for just about anything. Say if you want to take out a group of guards stealthily, simply shoot an arrow at their heads while no one is looking. Or if you just want to set things on fire and cause destruction, use the flame arrows to do so. And as I mentioned before, if you need to go to a specific area but can’t reach it, use the line rope. Make no mistake about it, the bow & arrow is even more flexible than an Olympic gymnast who can bend her entire body into the form of a donut.
The upgrade system of the game is also very fun to use, not only because of the choices you have to make with how much salvage you pick up, but that you can actually see which parts of the weapon were upgraded or refined. Some of these upgrades even allow you to acquire silencers, incendiary ammo, and explosive tips to be used for your disposal. The level up system is the same way, allowing you to enhance your skills at scavenging, weapons, and later on survival combat. These systems can be accessed via a camp fire, where you can also fast travel to previous locales if you missed something.
This also brings up another of the game’s strong points that I don’t see often these days’, which is being rewarded for exploring these hub areas. See the progression of this game is done in a linear matter, but the levels are not. What this means is if you want to gain more salvage, experience points, and find challenges you can do so through exploring these areas. However even better, inside a certain amount of these hubs are optional tombs that contain small puzzles and crazy-awesome treasure that can be used to upgrade weapons. Plus, looking through these areas makes you realize just how gorgeous the game looks.
Pretty much everything from the lighting, to the textures, and to Lara’s ponytail are incredibly detailed. The art style maintains that sense of survival and realism, also making the island seem fantastical with all the different structures you run into. You’re not going to be stuck in the same tropical area either, as you progress through the story you’ll also find yourself in snowy areas and windy peaks. The hard work and effort doesn’t stop with the island either, and continues on with the main adventurer herself, Lara Croft.
This is going to be a bold statement here, but if the game wasn’t titled Tomb Raider and didn’t feature this sort of constantly developing female character, it wouldn’t have been as impacting. What makes Lara one of the best, if not the best female character I seen in a videogame in a while is that she is constantly maturing and growing as the story progresses. Not to mention her dialogue and writing isn’t trying to blatantly make it obvious that, “Hey, look at me! I’m a female protagonist in a videogame, I have boyfriend problems and my hair is just a mess!”
She rarely has moments of being selfish, and even when she does it’s so that she can continue to survive and help her friends, because who else can? Her dexterity and moments of withstanding such dark acts of violence or being forced to be put in very uncomfortable situations definitely add another layer of character on top of that. Sure she screams and shouts a lot at the beginning, but that’s because she’s not the type of hero you would expect at the beginning, what it comes down to is that she’s just a normal girl who’s been put in immensely violent yet fantastical situations.
The voice actress Camilla Luddington did seem a bit off-putting at first, but as the game went on the more I found her very fitting for this role (also apparently she did motion capture as well, which if true, elevates her performance that much more). In fact the voice acting for this on the whole is pretty good. As for the writing, aside from a couple of moments of questionable choices and dialogue, the writing definitely captures that spirit of adventure and survival.
Oh yeah, and then there’s multiplayer. Okay, let’s just get straight to the point, if you like the game specifically for just the combat alone then you’re going to dig the multiplayer. Other than that, it’s just okay, but confusing. What I mean by confusing is that you’ll be able to choose which character you want to play from the story, like that character with the glasses or that one guy who was kind of rape-y. It’s all very standard and personally saying, isn’t too different enough for me to elaborate on what modes are there and which modes are the best.
Although to wrap this up, I love this game and the new energy it brought to this series. The combat in this game is very fun and feels natural, even better with all the small touches made through what Lara can do. The visuals and the writing, aside from a few moments, are very solid and add a lot to the theme(s) of the game. The main character, Lara Croft, may not only be one of the best women protagonists in videogames now, but may be even one of the most relatable ones as well. If you want just a very well-rounded game, go out and buy this now.
Now if you excuse me, I have some hunting to do with my very own bow & arrow…which is made of plastic…and from Mattel…you know what?! Let me hunt in peace!