One thing I think I’m going to use this blog for is reviews of games because I dearly love writing them. The premier entry is a bit shorter than I would like to do but I came up against a shortness of time and a desire to not spoil anything about the game. Without further ado, please enjoy.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Tomb Raider is the prequel/reboot of the franchise with the same name, a staple of gaming and even pop culture since its origins on the original Playstation. For those who don’t know the franchise stars Lara Croft, a wealthy, beautiful, British, version of Indiana Jones who sported a pair of pistols and an even larger pair of boobs who had a penchant for exploring ancient ruins and burial chambers only to discover that the mystical and mythological legends of those places were more real than modern science would like to admit. That’s really all there was to it. The games would cross the globe putting her in various locales and she’d shoot things and people who were trying to kill her for some reason. You’d dodge traps and find relics. Cut and paste over half a dozen games later and the whole thing was starting to feel pretty tired.
I’ll admit I fell off the bandwagon a long time ago and haven’t played anything past Tomb Raider III until this one. There may have been good games in the 15 years between that title and the new one (good god, I’m old) but I couldn’t tell you which or why. The reason is the series has always seemed pretty flat (except for the boobs) in that Lara was never that exciting a character. She never grew or changed. She wasn’t exactly deep as a starting point, either, having mostly appeared to be cobbled together to get teenage boys to buy video games. Shooting and puzzles are fun but in those days I was chasing JRPGs because they were telling stories with characters that stimulated my brain and not my hormones.
However based on the buzz about this new game I had to check it out. Every single person was talking about how we would get to see the events that shaped Lara as a person into who she would become. She was made to be more than a stuffed bra and tight shorts. I got it and immediately found out that all the hype somehow wasn’t an exaggeration.
The premise of this game is thus: Lara, fresh out of school where she got her degree in knowing everything about old stuff, and some companions are on a boat looking for some lost civilization. A storm happens and their ship crashes. The survivors find themselves on an island and then things get worse and Lara has to find the strength within herself to save her friends, herself, and figure out the mysteries of the deadly island.
And that’s all I’m really going to tell you. There will be future reviews with more content about the game but you don’t need it. The setup’s simple – you’ve heard it all before – but it’s the way the game delivers it that makes this title so damn good. I love everything about this game and if you have the opportunity to play it I urge you to do so. Anything more that I say will just detract from the experience.
However, I can go on a bit more as there’s another aspect of this game that needs to be considered. I think the real measure of how much of a success Tomb Raider is will be how they handle the inevitable sequel(s). It’s received enough positive reviews and made enough money you can be sure those same money-grubbing corporate suits will push for more. It is an origin story and (SPOILER) Lara doesn’t die at the end of it so we know her adventures are going to continue. The problem is I don’t think it’ll work.
There’s three things going for the game: visuals, mechanics, and story. It’s absolutely gorgeous and though it is quite linear it’s very easy to lose yourself in the panoramic views and the small bit of open spaces to explore so it doesn’t usually feel badly linear. The level design is fantastic with all sorts of little cubby holes to poke around and a camera that always seemed to know where to point itself to give me the best view even in fairly frantic combat. This stuff could easily transfer to sequels as long as they don’t have to rush too much.
The mechanics aren’t exactly unique but they are effective. Lots of upgrades for the standard weapon selection pool which makes each one useful for different circumstances or more fun. Unfortunately, it will never work so well again because we’ll all just ask the question “why doesn’t she have upgraded gear already?”. The learning curve with story-points unlocking new skills that you’ll have to learn to traverse the area also won’t work as Lara will be expected to already have the means to scale cliffs and zip line without burning her hands off. That means they either have to strip her of all her equipment again (like they do in ever Assassin’s Creed) or come up with new stuff. Not impossible hurdles but something to consider. I should also mention I was playing the PC version of the game. I don’t know how the last two points differ on consoles.
The biggest issue is going to be the story. I don’t mean plot because even this very good game didn’t have an especially great overall plot. It was mostly just a vehicle to carry Lara through various areas and provide stimulus for the real story which was an intensely personal journey for the main character. I can’t think of another over-the-shoulder action shooter that had anything like that character arc (feel free to recommend some!) where you get to see, hear, and feel what Lara feels in her best and worst moments. They do it brilliantly and anything more I say on the subject will just lessen the impact the moments would have. Sufficed to say the singular best asset this game has, in my mind, is that arc. The franchise needed it too. It’s been a badly beaten dead horse for a while and Lara was never more than a pair of tits and an English accent in most of the games. With this, we see how she was forged into the fearless Indiana Jones knockoff she’s best known as. But the next game has to continue that journey and I’m sorry to say that while her story certainly isn’t done and she has many ways she could grow as a character I don’t know if anyone will pull it off.
Origin stories are easier because you get those moments of first discovery and reactions from the character. Lara will never again be as vulnerable, naive, or accessible as she was in this game. She won’t have that moment where she takes up her bow for the first time and intends to take a human life. She won’t have those moments of doubt where she’s scared and thinks she can’t physically do some insane stunt. She’s done all that. From the moment the next game starts, she has closed off that portion of her character and will be fully formed as a badass. She also won’t have the outside stimuli she did in this game because never again is she likely to put all of her non-adventurer friends in danger. Is it possible they’ll find another great story to tell? Of course. There are very talented writers out there, some as yet undiscovered, itching to do stories like this, I’m sure. But my cynicism and experience with the industry tells me to be prepared to be disappointed. The bar was set very, very high.
I hope you enjoyed this review and I hope that if you were on the fence with this game that maybe I convinced you to check it out. If you have any comments or criticisms please feel free to leave them below. I only ask that you not post any plot details or revelations simply because I sincerely do not want to spoil this game for others. Thank you.