“There are no heroes here, only survivors” – Matthias, Tomb Raider
When the first trailer was shown for the new Tomb Raider, I was among the skeptics. It looked like another game with an over-sexualized heroine, and there was even a potential rape scene! However, as I mentioned in a previous article, after watching all of the trailers, I came to a different conclusion: Tomb Raider was probably going to be awesome. Other journalists told me not to get my hopes up.
It feels good to be the one smirking now.
I was right! They did it! They told a woman’s story, the story of her growth into a survivor, in a completely compassionate way. Yes, her body is still a little on the fantastical side (also, why didn’t she ever steal someone’s parka so she could stop shivering?) and yes, she often makes dumb mistakes and gets herself into all sorts of ruckus, but those are minor details and really such an improvement over the norm. One step at a time! And this was a pretty big step.
The game also includes a few homages to past games and movies, which I loved. This new Tomb Raider is completely modern, and yet retains the feel of the classic Tomb Raiders. I felt it the first time I wandered into a water-filled cave. As I moved slowly through the water, a wave of nostalgia hit me. Luckily, no bats or batshitcrazy T-Rexes made an appearance!
So, without further ado, let’s zipline-and-crazy-pickax-jump into this review! This covers the PS3 version of Tomb Raider, which does not include her fancy “every strand of hair moves” technology that the PC version came with.
Check out my unboxing video here. The game came with a code for a scavenger hunt (that I was apparently supposed to do before the game came out) a mini art book, and Tomb Raider: Final Hours, which works through the Amazon Appstore.
“Armed with only her instincts and her innate ability to push beyond the limits of human endurance, Lara must fight, explore, and use her intelligence to unravel the dark history of a forgotten island and escape its relentless hold.”
In this reboot of the series, a young, 21-year-old Lara is on her first archaeological adventure, looking for the kingdom of Yamatai. Following a hunch, she convinces the crew to head into the Dragon’s Triangle and its deadly storms.
From there, everything hits the fan in a rolling avalanche of crazy.
- Alex – Know-it-all nerd boy who just wants to impress Lara.
- Jonah – The spiritual brown man, he’s nice, patient, never loses his temper, and gives me presents. He also has a dark past.
- Sam – The director of the expedition’s film. I loved seeing a woman in this role, as it’s very rare to see female directors represented in any medium. She also cares deeply about her roots, as well as Lara. She miiight be sweethearts with Lara.
- Reyes – The tough girl with a heart. She is tough on Lara and has little patience for her. She’s also a mechanic and single mother.
- Roth – Is the fatherly figure who taught Lara everything she knows.
- Grim – The badass old man. You get the idea that he, Roth, and Lara’s dad had some crazy adventures of their own.
- Whitman – The prima donna douchebag and head archaeologist of this expedition.
- Lara Croft – The young and passionate Lara lives on instinct, much as she is told to. Unfortunately, her instincts tend to lead her and others right into danger. Also, she comes off as a little booksmart but street dumb, constantly tripping on vines, loudly calling out for people instead of hiding, and never picking up a parka from one of the many dead, fully-clothed people around her. As for her new look, her arms should be way more muscly, but in general, her body is proportional and more realistic than past representations (though I still think her lower back is probably aching and hey, she keeps using a bow but doesn’t bind her breasts, but whatever, survivor, wooo!).
I love this multicultural cast of characters and I enjoyed learning more about each of them. You find out most of the info through reading documents or, rather, having documents read to you by their voice actors. It often lends a haunting and melancholy air to the adventure.
As great as it is to have a diverse cast, I do have to point out that they each turn into tropes by the end of the game. The exciting news is that those tropes aren’t based on their race or gender, but more on roles of other characters in action movies. Yes, Reyes is a single mother and has a bad temper, but she is also a mechanic, a strong leader, and has a sweet side that is shown only when talking about her daughter or around her secret beau. Jonah is the mystical brown man, but he also has a troubled past, and his mysticism has more to do with his personality than his race.
All in all, I was very pleased to see this group, and I hope other games take note!
Graphics and Sound
This game is lovely. Environments often equate to eye-porn, with the complementary music adding a sense of loneliness to Lara’s journey. The atmosphere in this game was just spot on. I was creeped out, excited, sad, whatever they wanted me to feel.
The characters look stunningly realistic, and on the PC version Lara has TRESSFX, lending super realism to her…hair.
I played on the PlayStation 3 and saw only one glitch, where a gun was floating in the air, lonely and aloof.
The gameplay of this game is really and truly a blend. It’s not exactly a survival game, because you don’t need to eat to live, and ammo is plentiful. It is an action game with strong puzzle and shooter elements.
In general, the gameplay made me think of Far Cry 3 (PS: holy fast-travel batman!) and Uncharted. Oddly enough, a lot of the controls reminded me of DMC: Devil May Cry, but that’s probably just my brain being strange. Either way, I felt that this was the kind of game that would have been more difficult to play if it had come out a few years prior, but instead feels like a natural evolution of game mechanics.
Quicktime events were used heavily throughout the game. You all know how much I hate quicktime events, but at least these generally did not take away from my ability to see what was happening on the screen.
Tools and Skills
There were a few interesting mechanics, such as lighting things on fire, environment interactions, and scaling walls with your pickax. Using fire continuously to help you in various puzzles and in traversing the environment was very interesting to me, as fire is usually a damaging feature in games, as opposed to a helping one. The game uses a system of base camps to allow you to upgrade skills and weapons based on experience points and loot (called salvage in game). Lara can also change outfits and collect relics and journal entries, adding clues to the island’s mysteries.
The UI of the skills and gear was very awkward and non-intuitive to me. It took me forever to figure out where everything was, and I found it difficult to compare weapons in any way.
I also had to figure out that when I dug in a box and didn’t find something, it actually either just made an automatic change in my gear or added to my salvage, without me appearing to have grabbed anything.
Lara’s interaction with the environment is also a solid gameplay experience. She automatically takes cover when enemies are near, she reaches out to touch walls when she gets close to them, she lights a torch in dark tombs and looks around in interest at scenic areas. I loved the automatic cover, and would enjoy seeing it as an alternative to sticky cover in other games.
As I mentioned before, the game is vaguely reminiscent of the old Tomb Raiders, especially in the optional tomb maps. Each area is its own puzzle/platformer, and there are enough varied moments that no section ever becomes dull. You could be doing anything from steering a fall to jumping around sunken ships to scaling an ice cliff to running from flames. This was truly a game that kept me on my toes, and even the most ADD player would have trouble being bored.
However, one issue I had is that sometimes areas are so clearly traps that it feels ridiculous that you have to actually go to them. This is a combination of narrative and level design that leads to this issue though. It just made Lara seem dumb for going into those areas.
Although the level design is usually very fun, sometimes it was a “learn by dying” experience, as you slowly pieced together how best to proceed in the level. Some levels needed to be stealth, which wasn’t always apparent since most areas allowed you to choose your own approach. These areas were particularly punishing and frustrating.
When it worked, stealth was mildly addictive. When it didn’t work, it was horrendously annoying. As most of you know, I don’t generally enjoy stealth games. I am very impatient, which resulted in my death numerous times because I didn’t wait for an enemy to move, or pay attention to where they were facing. Eventually, I learned to treat the game as if every mission required stealth until the mission proved otherwise.
You will probably die in at least one fire-fight, as waves of enemies relentlessly pursue you, shooting up the frail boundaries you hide behind.
In general, combat is very well-paced with the story. Modding weapons leads to very satisfactory shooting experiences. One issue I had though is that Lara is so weak compared to the enemies. I can shoot some of them in the head twice and they don’t die… but if one of them has a rifle, I’m dead in seconds.
Enemies honestly cause more harm to themselves sometimes, setting things on fire, dropping napalm, cramming a choke point…lol, blowing up entire levels…lots of ways.
In general, combat became a more enjoyable experience the more I played and became used to the aiming mechanics, which felt slightly shaky in the beginning.
Tomb Raider has four multiplayer modes:
- Team Deathmatch – Team vs. team and highest score wins
- Cry for help – Round based mode where survivors must activate radio transmitters while preventing batteries from falling into enemy hands
- Survival of the Fittest – Kill other players without dying to become the executioner before time runs out
- Rescue – Attempt to recover medical supplies while the Solarii must finish you with a melee execution
I played Team Deathmatch to get a feel for the muliplayer. It has a fairy simple set up: gain XP to get new weapons, mods, skills and characters. You get to choose which team you will play on, Survivors or Sollari. I liked that the system rewarded me not just for epic wins but also for epic fails, with a Feats and Setbacks feature.
The multiplayer is not bad, I just really wish they’d made it relate more to the main game. For example, all of the times the crew was separated from Lara could have been the setup for each of the multiplayer maps, with Lara calling in on walkie-talkie at the end of them.
Final Thoughts and Score
This game took me on a journey. I went from scared and naïve Lara to a badass warrior woman. There was a moment at the very end, where Lara does something iconic to the Tomb Raider franchise, and I actually cheered. This is the Tomb Raider we’ve been waiting for.
You know what else is amazing about this game? Women stood behind it. Girl gamers asked for it, bought it, played it, and mostly loved it. This is the proof the industry needs that “if you build it, they will come” should be their mantra! Gamers are hungry for more strong female leads in games.
Another favorite aspect of the game for me was something that even my male friends noticed: no one called me rude names! I was never “bitch” or anything like that. They called me the “Outsider.” Heck, some of the bad guys even talked about what an amazing shot I was! I love that positivity in things I kill.
Despite the sometimes punishing combat and Lara’s almost unbelievable naïvety in the beginning, this game proved to be a fun, fast ride worthy of any action flick, but with the solid gameplay of a classic.