I’ll start with a confession, I have always been a huge fan of Tomb Raider. I played through the original on the Sega Saturn in 1996 (just typing that makes me feel old!) and really loved the sense of freedom and adventure. I was also 16 at the time, so I loved the fact that Lara had boobs. As an aside, contrary to many a schoolyard rumour there never was a code to make Lara nude, at least not on the console version. Throughout the years I played most of the games in the series, thankfully skipping some of the more dubious ones and picking up again with TR Legend. I even enjoyed Guardian of Light.
With my enthusiasm for the series I was pretty excited about the release of the new Tomb Raider game. As the preview material started flowing I was particularly intrigued by the new focus on story and the origin tale it was looking to tell. To me the strongest characters in the previous TR games were the tombs themselves, with their detailed decorations and intricate puzzles. They always felt so packed full of history (and lions!) With games such as Uncharted pushing a stronger narrative into the adventure game genre, I suppose it was inevitable that TR would follow. My biggest concern was, with the new found focus, would the story be any good? Did anyone actually care about Lara’s origin? Lara had always been such a two dimensional character, apart from the boobs of course.
I rushed out to pick up a copy on release day and somehow found the time to get through it in just over a week which is a rarity these days. I was instantly hooked by this new Lara, to me she was immediately more likeable and relate-able than the smug Nathan Drake. This was really helped by the voice acting which was fantastic, full of emotion and nuance. It also helped that the story took the time to dwell on some of these emotional moments, particularly the first kill. I can appreciate it’s a bit of a stretch when the first kill is so fraught with emotion, and yet not five minutes later I murdered an entire camp full of goons with my bow and arrow without a moments pause, but honestly even story has to take a backseat to game-play. I’ve read that some people are mad because new Lara is vulnerable, but also a woman, like these two facts combined somehow portrays women as weak. Personally I think that’s total crap, to me she came across as human. I’d much rather be a character that has emotion than a 7ft dudebro in power armour. There are mythical elements to the story too, which initially jarred in a story priding itself on gritty realism, but then I reminded myself I was playing a Tomb Raider game.
I found the gameplay to be a winning combo of old Tomb Raider with a dash of Uncharted. Sure there were set pieces, but they weren’t over done and were genuinely exciting. The main story is pretty linear, but that was always the case with old TR games anyway, it was just better disguised with backtracking and larger tombs. The shooting still isn’t as strong as it could be, but it was certainly passable. There are four weapons, a bow, pistol, rifle and shotgun, all of which can be upgraded with various attachments. 90% of the time I used the bow, it has long range, it’s silent and you can retrieve ammo from dead guards. There’s also some rather limited melee combat, which basically involves running at your enemy and mashing Y. Once you finish the main story there’s still lots to go back and collect, although only the really anal fans will bother trying to 100% the GPS Caches.
So if the story is good, and the gameplay is good, what didn’t I like? Well first and foremost, can we all please just agree that quick time events are the devils work. Seriously, people in hell are sitting there trying to press X so they don’t get sodomized by demons, the success window measured in fractions of miliseconds, or to put it another way twice as long as Tomb Raiders QTE’s. Honestly, I must be slowing down in my old age, because I had to replay the first QTE a dozen times until I understood what the shrinking circle was trying to get me to do. If you are trying to focus on a great story then here’s a tip, don’t make your audience watch the same 15 second clip over and over and over again. What was exciting or witty the first time is teeth gnashingly awful the ninth time you hear it.
Right below optional QTE’s in the circles of Hades are tacked on multiplayer modes. I played one round of the MP mode and found it boring, with little explanation of the rules. Apparently I was supposed to be killing the intruders, but the game forgot to mention they don’t die when they fall down, instead going into an annoying prone state until you get close enough to stab them. I learned that lesson the hard way in the first round. It’s not awful, just not particularly fun either. If you are into Achievements I would get on pronto, my prediction is that the MP servers will be a ghost town next month.
Finally the optional temples were pretty light. Either the sun goddesses followers were really dumb or really lazy, because their ‘deadly’ temples contained puzzles a five year old could crack. These were a nice throwback to the olden days, but I’d have preferred at least one of them to be a bit more head scratching.
Overall I was thoroughly impressed with the new Tomb Raider game. It tells a great story, makes Lara a real person and was fun and exciting to play. I’m really interested to see where they go next with this origin tale.