The lights are on
My favorite game genres are Adventure, Platforming, and Stealth, hence why my three favorite gaming franchises are Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid and Assassin's Creed. The new reboot of Tomb Raider interested me for these very reasons. It was also marketed as a “survival action” game, which immediately thrilled me. Throw in collecting salvage in order to upgrade gear and skills, telling a more grounded and realistic story that shows the famous Lara Croft go from a naïve and unsure girl to the great explorer we all know her as, and you have a recipe for greatness. And that's exactly what it is...at first. Upon completing the game, I felt slightly short-changed, for a few reasons. I should have a subtitle for this review that should read: “Survival Action...but they lied about the first part.” Or instead of “A Survivor is Born” (the game's tagline) it should read “Another Merciless Killer is Created.”
That being said though, the game is solid technically, and a marvel graphically. The level design is varied, and environments are beautifully exotic, while the animations from Lara to the wildlife are silky smooth. The games controls are tight, although the aiming felt a little clunky at times, as well as the quick-time events and cover system being a little too finicky, but it's not enough to where it becomes cumbersome. And anything to do with the platforming is oh-so good. Also, the bow and arrow. Mmm mmm MMM, do I love me some bow and arrow. And the sound effects for the game are all spot on.
The open world layout is very similar to Batman: Arkham Asylum, where you have a giant map, with a linear progression, but with giant open areas to explore spread throughout, which greatly adds variety to the combat and platforming. After you clear the game, or even prior to, you can back track to these areas via fast travel camps and search for any collectibles you missed (and oh, are there TONS of collectibles), which range from antiques and treasures, to journals that show character insight, as well as reveal secrets about the island. Also located around the map are a number of tombs to raid (hehe, get it?), which allows players to take a nice breather from the chaotic action and throw in some very clever environmental and timed puzzles. Finally, there's a great upgrade system, which allows you to customize your gear and learn more skills to make platforming, combat and exploration easier. Didn't grab everything your first time through? No problem, because have we got a deal for you! Just hit continue and you can jump right back into the game to pick up and find anything you didn't tackle your first time around. IT'S THAT EASY!...erm, yeah. Speaking of easy, even on the hardest difficulty does the game not present any real challenge...which kind of goes into the next section of the review.
Now remember when I said in the first paragraph that the game was marketed as a “survival-action game?” (Go and check, it's up there). It's at this point where I feel jipped because everything above that made the game stick out and be amazing, is now dragged down to just being “decent and fun” because of how it goes from being an alleged survival-action game, into being a mindless action murder spree.
When someone says “survival” what's the first thing that comes to mind? For those who are smart, your answer should be “health.” This is the game's first misstep, because in all of the great survival games, the player has a health bar that they need to monitor in order to “survive” (see what I just did there?) through the game by finding and/or crafting healing items. The second and third thing that should come to mind when thinking of a survival game is salvaging items and materials to craft any tools and gear you need, and the scarcity of ammunition to fight back.
What does Tomb Raider do? It has regenerating health where the screen becomes distorted and white, and blood fills up the screen. I remember how in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, if you got shot by an arrow, you had to remove the arrow, disinfect the wound, stitch it up and throw a bandage on it, which was all done so you can begin to regain your health, and all had to be done by finding those materials throughout the game.
The“salvage” system, which in a survival setting, usually revolves around acquiring materials that will aid in your non-death (I.e- stick+rock+vine+knife= arrow). However, all that “salvage” is is a name for the in-game currency, which can be found on enemies, in chests spread throughout the environment in chests, nets or even animals. For the sake of stream-lining the crafting system by putting all of those acquired items under one name, it's forgivable. However, the last thing that immediately changes this from “survival” to straight “action” is how often you find ammunition for your weapons. I can understand being able to pick up some off of enemies or even finding a camp that might have some lying around, but it's located everywhere, and never once was I afraid of running out of ammo during the game. But in Tomb Raider? A “survival” game? Sit behind that log, that wound will heal itself. Then, go and pick up whatever ammo and useful items are on those guys you killed ,sit down at your campfire and make yourself stronger. Solid, but not survival by any stretch of the imagination.
Which is odd, because in certain story-driven moments, Lara becomes wounded through during certain scripted moments and cut scenes, and you have to find first-aid or bandage up your wounds. The same goes for hunting. The first time you kill your deer (which has significant character impact, because it's the first time Lara has killed anything), you have to do it because you need food. However, throughout the rest of the game, animals are only used as a source of XP, which kind of ruins the illusion.
Finally, we have the story, the characters and the tone, all which are good, mostly bland and inconsistent respectively. The story, without spoiling anything, does its job by balancing set-pieces and the mystery of the island without letting one side over take the other. But on the other side of the coin, the game takes forever to end. Around the 75% waypoint, it began to drag and I was getting antsy. The score, while appropriate, is forgettable. The characters are all stereotypical and one dimensional (the angry Scotsman, the strong-willed African-American woman, the old, yet wise mentor and the shady-predictable boss), with Lara being the strongest (but not by a wide stretch). Due to the the tone bouncing all over the place, her transformation is not only questionable, but also unsympathetic.
The first time she kills her deer, and the first time she kills someone it's do to one thing: survive, the first time from starvation, the second from being murdered. Both of these scenes show Lara feeling remorse for having done the deed, and for each of those kills bearing weight. But that's pretty much it for that. Throughout the rest of the gameplay (and between cutscenes that are supposed to show Lara's humanity, by crying when people die or whenever she has to kill) she mows down (and sometimes quite brutally and savagely) anyone who stands in her way, turning her from someone fighting for her life, to a killer who finds plenty of ways to make her victims suffer (which are rewarded with even more XP than a standard kill). Why silently pick off a guard with a well-placed head shot with your bow, when you can rush the guard, whip out your machine gun, and pump him full of bullets from his stomach to his chin? While this makes for a good action game, it doesn't bode well for a game that is supposed to be fixated on a believable and sympathetic character who is only trying to survive. Also, she screams WAAAAYYYY too much when she gets hurt. It started to get annoying after awhile.
Finally, there's the multiplayer, which is essentially trash. The graphics are muddy, the shooting and hit detection inconsistent (especially with explosions), the climbing useless and the upgrading system is competent, yet nothing new. It feels like a completely different game, and makes me wonder why they added it in at all.
As I stated before, the game is solid, but it has a case of mistaken identity. I enjoyed my time with it and I can't wait to play the sequel. The devs did a fantastic job at putting together a game that's extremely fun and takes many great concepts from other games, even if it wasn't executed as well as the games it borrowed inspiration from. I just wish it was a survival game, ya know? Instead, it ended up being a pulpy and brutal action blockbuster with no sense of humor (almost reminds of this other treasure hunting fella I know...almost; at least he was funny).
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10 B
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