Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tomb Raider: A Survivor is Born


               First off, I know this review is coming extremely late—but I have been working, moving into a new house, and a whole bunch of other things that have nothing to do with Tomb Raider. So let’s get past that.
                I have always been a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise. My first experience was when a friend and I had burned through all of our Playstation games. We decided to borrow Tomb Raider 2 from her older brother, and my love for Lara Croft began by locking her butler in the freezer.
                Lara has always been one of my favorite video game characters. I have always seen her as one of the strongest, defiant women in the video game industry—however, I couldn’t and still can’t argue that she is a sex symbol. What started out as a programming error easily became an iconic feature of one of the most recognizable game characters in the world. Lara Croft’s “assets” became a focus when it came to the franchise. When I heard they were rebooting Tomb Raider, I didn’t really think anything of it. I figured they would begin spinning out more games like Tomb Raider: Underworld. Once I heard Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics would be working together, however, I knew I was in for something good. And that’s what I got.
                The Tomb Raider reboot took what I saw in Lara Croft and projected it onto fans everywhere. Playing as such a resilient, popular character makes you wonder. How did Lara get this way? How did she develop? It was always apparent that archaeology, history, and the search for ancient wonders was a part of Lara’s family and upbringing, but we never truly got to see the moments she became who she was, and the new Tomb Raider gave us that opportunity.
                Tomb Raider opens with Lara Croft and company on a ship voyage to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai. A violent storm rips the ship apart, leaving Lara and the crew stranded on an island. Before Lara can reunite with the crew on shore, she is taken by a savage man of the island, and that is where the adventure begins.
                The gameplay was extremely smooth. With active cutscenes to move you through the action, everything flowed very well. In fact, it almost went too smooth. I would find myself saying, “Oh I’ll quit after I do this next tomb,” or “I’ll shut it down when I clear this area,” but it never happened. One problem with the older games of the Tomb Raider franchise was players not knowing how to move forward. Lara may have aided you with a hint, but sometimes it was silly how the game expected you to figure certain parts of a puzzle out for yourself. The Tomb Raider reboot fixed this with “Survival Instinct”. Think of it almost like Fallout 3’s VATS (without the pause). Lara will analyze her surroundings, revealing enemies, points of interest, collectibles, and items that can be utilized for XP or in puzzles. Survival Instinct didn’t necessarily hold your hand in a tomb, but it definitely helped. Eventually you can also level Lara up to the point where Survival Instinct will include revealing hidden items.
A unique aspect of this installment was the fear it instilled in me. In other games, I was never really intimidated by enemies (animal, human, T-Rex), but in the reboot I was pretty afraid, because they took regular human beings and made them the monsters. The enemies in Tomb Raider scared me because I knew what they were capable of, and how far they would go to protect their way of life on the island. At one point I had stayed up extremely late in the night playing, with Turtle Beach headphones, and was exploring some caves inhabited by feral, savage human beings. Needless to say I called it a night after having raspy whispers blared in my ears.
    As far as gameplay goes I did not run into anything that hindered my experience.
                Dialogue and character development was amazing. The player is introduced to various friends/coworkers of Lara, through cutscenes and memories. Lara’s memories provide insight to each character and what they mean in Lara’s life. I found myself growing as attached to these characters as Lara was. But the star of the game is obviously Lara’s character development. In the beginning, we still see Lara as a young explorer—but something is missing. She begins as a weak character, depending on the others to find her, save her, etc. 

             One of my favorite moments is during a cutscene when Lara grimaces and proclaims, “I hate tombs.” After enduring challenges throughout the game, Lara slowly holds her own and gains what was missing from before: fire. A burning passion for revealing the truth, solidifying myths, and raiding tombs ;) Watching Lara grow is truly a unique experience, especially for fans. For me, it was watching one of the women I looked up to in video games start out as a cornered animal. It was seeing Lara Croft in a light that I had never imagined, because she was too strong for that. But Lara wasn’t always strong—she wasn’t always a hero.
                Multiplayer was unfortunately, needless. I understand the vision that stemmed it, but it just didn’t draw players in. I can definitely say Tomb Raider would have been just as successful without it.

                All in all, Tomb Raider is a great play for fans and non-fans alike. Overall gameplay aside, fans will enjoy seeing the Lara they knew revitalized, and non-fans will enjoy discovering Lara in her first true adventure. Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix did an amazing job taking the strong, resilient, the one and only Lara Croft and breaking her down to build her back up again.