Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Tomb Raider (PS3)

Survive, Lara.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

First and foremost, I'd like to state that my previous experience with the Tomb Raider franchise is limited to watching the Angelina Jolie films when they came out, and running around Lara's mansion for all of five minutes in the original game. That being said, I'm all for games featuring female leads, and I've been itching
for a new, fun action game.

Tomb Raider is that game. Developed by Crystal Dynamics, who have created titles such as Legacy of Kain and the more-recent Tomb Raider: Underworld and Lara Croft: Guardian of Light, and published by Square-Enix, Tomb Raider is a reboot of the franchise, chronicling Lara's first adventure in the Dragon's Triangle.

Read on for the full review...

Players assume the role of Lara Croft, an inquisitive archaeologist on an expedition to find the lost island of Yamatai. On her suggestion, the crew of the ship Endurance sail into a dangerous area known as the Dragon's Triangle. Upon their arrival, a freak storm causes their ship to crash, and Lara and her shipmates are thrown into the wilderness, forced to survive while being pursued by a cult worshiping the mysterious Sun Queen, Himiko.

Lara's journey for survival is brutal. She reacts with fear to her surroundings, and when she's injured, she limps and her jumping ability is inhibited. One specific part of the game comes to mind when she's on a quest for a first-aid kit; I recall finding a ledge and wanting to explore, but Lara was hurt so badly that she could barely walk, let alone lift herself up.

Besides her reactions to the craziness she finds herself in, Lara's strong. She's principled, reacting with disgust at the thought of killing another human being, but when it comes down to it she'll do whatever she needs to in order to survive. Although the transition from her killing her cultist kidnappers in self-defense to mowing them down to move on is a little jarring, the very fact that she seems reluctant for a while is a pleasant change from most games. Direct confrontation is only encouraged in certain segments, where the majority of the game is spent sneaking around with naught more than a bow and arrow, with the occasional stash of pistol ammo, giving the first half of the game almost a survival horror feel.

Hunting provides a small respite from the desperate cultists.
Image from CroftGeneration.
Gameplay itself, for the most part, is smooth. Lara can run, jump, and climb, but remains rather realistic while doing so; the injury mentioned above, where Lara can barely walk let alone climb, ups the feeling of fear and the thoughts of survival that permeate the rest of the game. Unfortunately, tombs in the game are few and far between, their puzzles simplistic and rewards meager. It does nothing to detract from the entire experience, but it certainly doesn't enhance it. Optional objectives--from lighting up torches to shooting mines--are present throughout the adventure, and provide a mildly
amusing distraction for when the action gets too intense. My main complaint would be the responsiveness during quick-time events; while they are used relatively often, they're never enough to take away from the gameplay experience--until they don't work. It could be an issue of my timing, but there were a few occasions where it felt like I pressed the button at the right time, and yet Lara still died.

The game's fairly highly polished. Using Lara's survivor vision highlights enemies and, with the right upgrades, sources of experience akin to Batman: Arkham Asylum's Detective Mode, but it only lasts for a few seconds, and there is never a reason to spend large swarths of the game using it. I only encountered a single glitch while playing, but that was when friends were deliberately jumping into walls, causing Lara to get stuck rotating in midair. The graphics themselves are gorgeous, and save for the instance of Lara hovering beside a cliff, there are times where it's hard to decide if what I was seeing was gameplay or cutscene. Her death scenes are brutal, as other websites have covered, and watching her limp around, clutching her side caused me to wince quite a few times.

Tomb Raider clearly takes its cinematic approach from the Uncharted series, but it doesn't ever feel like a clone. Finding journals throughout the game gives more background on the major players and the history of Yamatai, and while the supporting characters are rather underdeveloped during the main campaign, watching Lara's growth from excitable archaeologist to intrepid explorer is compelling. Despite a terrible PR campaign, Lara Croft is not a woman you want to protect, not a woman who goes through sexual abuse or is broken, but is a person hellbent on surviving and keeping her friends alive. Tomb Raider is a game that everyone should experience.

-Compelling gameplay
-Lara is a well-written, strong female character
-The plot is intriguing
-Survival aspects blend horror and action

-Quick-time events aren't always responsive
-The tone of the ending shifts a little further into action than I would have liked
-Optional tombs are simple and far between
-Supporting characters lack depth

Play it if: you want a compelling, cinematic horror/adventure game. Well worth your time.

The main storyline was completed within several days, using the Playstation 3 version of the game, totaling approximately 21 hours without accounting for idle time.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. I agree that the game is quite well done, yet I still dislike the fact that it was brought about as a survival game (which greatly interested me) and then was tossed for hocus-pocus stuff (which greatly disinterests me)