So I finished the new Tomb Raider in two and a half days. The only reason it took me that long is because my girlfriend insisted I try these things called eating and sleeping. Yes, I found the game just that entertaining, and it’s been a while since something other than Mass Effect caused me to miss Lasagna Night! I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum but just in case:
As a little background, I enjoyed the first Tomb Raider, despite some obvious drawbacks within the gameplay and the graphics, to name just two. Does anybody else remember that alleged waterfall shimmy “glitch” that fueled the concerns of women everywhere?
Future iterations of the game didn’t really grab my attention, and the movies did nothing to help with that. Lara became pretty wooden to me, as did the games; all jump here, go there, yadda. Still though, I was properly excited when Square Enix announced an all-new Tomb Raider for 2013. I pre-ordered it, something I almost never do, and sat down over a weekend for a play-through. Since I like having an idea of what I’m getting into, I checked out a few reviews that contained minimal spoilers. Throughout most of them, the common thread was that this game just had too much violence and not enough tombs, to which I say, really? Was I the only one who assumed from the trailers that there would be less tombs, more action? Or did we all get different trailers?
The game itself opens with a bang, wherein the freighter ship carrying Croft & Co is coming apart at the seams. She is rescued at the last possible second by Roth, and let me tell you, these split-second moments are abundant throughout this game, making me devolve into a button-smashing noob for as long as it takes to shimmy across a crumbling bridge. Anyone heading into this game assuming that they’d be sidestepping spikes and army crawling under a ceiling of snakes while ninja kicking tigers should check that assumption at the door by the time Lara gets to shore, as it gets crazy from then on. I had no delusions that this was going to be the usual Tomb Raider game, with lots of, you know, tomb raiding. I guess because I just took it as Square Enix marketed it to me: an origins story about Lara Croft, before she became the short-shorts wearing, cliff-shimmying diva we know and love. What I was more concerned about were the game mechanics, Lara’s movement and overall gameplay, and on this note I was not disappointed. Player engagement levels rank at an all-time high for me with this game, particular in those moments that required climbing with the pick. Imagery also featured high on my list of Things I Love About The New TR, as this Lara is much more believable both as a woman and as an archaeologist (but I betcha Anita Sarkeesian’s mad that Lara’s still wearing a tank top and has a nice figure…because clearly you don’t have to be fit to raid tombs). Camilla Luddington does a great job as the voice of our zip-lining heroine, and Robin Downes is much more engaging here than he was in Assassin’s Creed III. If I had to pick a gripe (and I’m really reaching to find one here), it would be that in situations where I personally would keep my mouth shut and just think instead of speak my words, Croft & Co seem to have no issue practically yelling their revelations in dark tunnels or creepy burial chambers. Maybe this was done on purpose, because I quite recall yelling “Stuff a scone in it, you muppet!” at my TV on several occasions.
As for the violence…it wasn’t on the excessive side and I found it perfectly acceptable, as it was meted out in doses I considered believable for a group of people shipwrecked on an island populated with certifiably insane religious zealots. It’s an island, and though the in-game map and concept art may give the impression that it is a vast and easy to get lost in, take it from someone born and raised on an island: it’s not. Add to the fact that it was properly established through in-game collectible journals that Mathias has been collecting minions for his brotherhood for quite some time, and you’ve got a recipe for gun-slinging disaster. One reviewer mentioned that it seemed like the franchise’s DNA was spliced with Call of Duty; I have to vehemently disagree here. Honestly, I find that irresponsible games journalism. At no point in time did I feel as though I was playing something that was laced with traces of Call of Duty. That pop-rocks-on-soda-and-acid feeling wasn’t there, and the game offers enough stealth-based combat that I only found myself running out of ammo in the last 15 minutes. It doesn’t take NASA to figure out that every gamer plays a title differently; Dishonored was a perfect example of that differentiation between the ninjas and the John McClanes of this world. More than once, Tomb Raider put the option in front of you to either go in guns (or arrows, depending on your style) blazing, or you take care of an enemy quietly. The only difference here is, unlike her Square Enix colleague Agent 47, Lara’s not dragging bodies out of sight.
Overall, I think the game does Croft right and does her justice. Think about how many origins stories have been bungled or plain-out disastrous, reducing beloved characters to something akin to wallpaper and discrediting years of fan adoration. Rhianna Pratchett took a tough task and followed through with it, showing us a Lara Croft that was believably innocent yet necessarily ruthless. The lack of actual tomb raiding was necessary for this, I believe, because really (and duh) she wasn’t an actual tomb raider as yet. Maybe they should have just called the game ‘Lara Croft: Origins’ to save themselves some of the headache? Be reasonable, people. Bellyaching about how there weren’t actual tombs to raid is nitpicking at best, and at worst it frames you as a fanatic who is against change. Visually and emotionally, the game accomplished what it set out to do and that is to tell a story about how Lara Croft became LARA CROFT, with the mistakes and tough choices people sometimes have to make blocking her every path. At the end, you’re left feeling the same way she is; exhausted (and in my case, hungry), but excited for what’s to come.
Also, for that one guy…don’t worry…in the future, there will be tombs.