A Second Take: Tomb Raider

Hey everyone! Earlier this week Shaun released his review on the recent Tomb Raider game released this past Tuesday. Now, while Shaun is our resident “Gaming Expert“, and I agree with a number of his points about the game, I can’t help but feel his review glossed over some of the more important issues that make the game as awesome as it truly is.

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The New Tomb Raider does exactly what it sets out to do, on that Shaun and I see eye to eye. It manages to deliver solid, fluid and visceral gameplay while humanizing Lara Croft in ways that no past game in the series has been able to do.

The implementation of a non-sticky cover system, where Lara simply crouches low to the ground in combat as opposed to running up and “sticking” to the back of cover, really helps support the idea that Lara is more of an agile and stealthy combatant then a trigger happy gunslinger. Now I’m sure some of you are going to cry foul and point out that the older version of Lara Croft was a trigger happy gunslinger; but take it from me, the action and tone of the game benefit’s immensely from Lara not being a duel-wielding, back-flipping acrobat every single fight.

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Likewise the level of detail to both Lara and her equipment is absolutely bar none. For example, in much the same way that Batman is slowly torn up and injured throughout a play through Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, so to is Lara slowly scarred, cut, and torn as she survives the harsh and brutal environment of the island she’s stuck on. She is, literally, not the same physical character that you started the game with. Only unlike the Arkham games where Batman’s emotional journey starts at “angry” and ends at “really super pissed plus a little sad”, Lara starts as an innocent newbie who sees exploring as little more than a fun adventure, and ends the game being a hardened survivor who’s had to make sacrifices, lose people she cares about, kill people in cold blood, and face down things she once thought impossible. That’s quite a difference.

tomb-raider-2013-pc-screenshotAnd in the same vein, Lara’s equipment changes over times as well. Want to increase the damage on your bow? Attach a thicker string to it. More ammo on your pistol? How about a longer clip? Find a lighter? Tape it to the front of your bow and use it to launch flaming arrows. Want to hold more ammo? Add some pockets to Lara’s belt. Each and every equipment upgrade is shown, visually, on the weapon itself. Adding to the overall visual growth of Lara’s character and further adding to the idea that Lara is constantly improving and becoming something wholly different from what she was.

e3a981860fe6f8e7_999_largeAnother small thing I feel I should mention is the use of the climbing pick-ax as Lara’s go to melee weapon. There is no punching or kicking or any of that stuff that, frankly, no real person would go to unless they had no other options (which, of course, is a situation that Lara does find herself in more than once in the game). But when it comes to actually fighting off her attackers, Lara’s go-to weapon is also one that is fundamentally tied to her ability to explore. It’s a crazy idea, I know, being an explorer that actually uses exploration equipment in the field; but it’s a design decisions that I really have to applaud them for. It’s these small subtleties that add to Lara’s overall character and, subsequently, make her unique.

Now here’s perhaps the biggest thing that me and Shaun disagree on; the lack of “innovation” in Tomb Raider. While Shaun feels that the game played it safe and didn’t push its genre anywhere new, I’d argue differently. I’d say that the new Tomb Raider actually pushes its genre in exactly the direction it needs to go, turning what is often a genre that favor’s over-the-top action and combat  into one that focuses around the kind of singular character development otherwise deserved for films or novels. Now that isn’t to say that games like Arkham City or Uncharted lack narrative, because they are both very story heavy.

41d9b2a58723bcd3_999_largeBut neither of them feature character that truly change so totally from the start of their game to the finish. Lara Croft is no longer just the name of a character to me, she’s a living and breathing entity with depth, pathos and history. You, as a player, care for Lara not just because she’s an attractive young woman who’s experiencing a horrible ordeal, but because by the time you reach the end of the game you feel like you know Lara; like she’s a close friend. The two of you have been through quite an ordeal, and you can’t wait to continue her adventures in what we can only hope is the eventual sequel to this fantastic game.

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You can disagree with me if you want, but I’d argue that Tomb Raider does innovate the genre that it once helped create. Only instead of coming up with new gameplay they’ve simply polished the existing gameplay to perfection and added in a layer of narrative that is, in a word, innovative. At least when it comes to the action/platforming genre. And for that reason, I’m handing it a solid 5 out of 5 stars. The game isn’t perfect (I’m looking at you multiplayer), but it’s a shining example both of what games are possible of accomplishing in a narrative and the potential strengths of re-booting a franchise where other companies may simply fall back to form.

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If you haven’t played the new Tomb Raider, be sure too. It’s fantastic.

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