Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Excellent, next one please

Tomb Raider went by so fast that I managed to not talk about it at all. I do not mean that it was too short, as it was in fact the perfect length for a game of its type. When I sat down to play I thought of nothing else for the entire session and nothing was played in between. Tomb Raider so monopolized my attention that I forgot to talk about how much I liked it and me not talking is a rare thing indeed.

Let's get all of the praise and adulation out of the way: Tomb Raider is a total reboot and does just about everything right. This Lara is younger, less experienced and best of all anatomically possible. There are scenes that make it past the uncanny valley, perils and injury that look so real that I tried harder to not die just so I didn't have to see what it looked like if I did. I recall one specific section where Lara was navigating a crawl space full of hot pipes. The way she moved was perfect and it made me wince when she inadvertently touched one. This Lara is a more believable character than any of her previous incarnations. The only complaint would be how quickly she moves from being horrified at killing a guy who was about to kill her to full on terminatrix, popping fools in the head with her bow from impossible distances, but that can be explained away with a repeated phrase from the game:

She's a Croft.

This character reboot would be pointless if the game around her wasn't new and improved. Tomb Raider is darker in tone than it has ever been. Characters die, often, in terrible ways. Grim shit goes down, up to and including a visual reference to The Descent, one of many horror movies that I should see but never will because I am a tremendous pansy.

That is exactly what you think it is.
It was not pleasant for anyone involved, player or character, and that was the point.

The island Lara and her friends are trapped on is just as much of a character as she is. It is a fickle beast, swinging between weather extremes and bringing down planes with spontaneous storms to keep anyone from leaving. Just getting from location to location is a challenge, one that Lara is up to, at least eventually. There is just a little Metroid mixed in here: areas are locked off until the next weapon or equipment are obtained. It is never ambiguous, so forward progress is maintained, and it would reward backtracking for items if I ever felt the need to do so. I didn't, though, and for quite a while I couldn't understand why. The closest comparison would be the Assassin's Creed games, in which I am compelled to pick up every hidden widget before grudgingly advancing the story. That never happened in Tomb Raider in spite of the XP rewards actually being useful. I was so caught up in the story that I didn't want to stop. I didn't want the game-y parts of the game to get in the way of what was going to happen next.

What happened next usually involved Lara killing several dozen castaways, an activity that I would describe as 'adequate,' but that could be me having just finished Gears of War: Judgement talking. Encounters almost always played out the same way, with a few guys rushing in backed up with a few other guys with bows and more guys throwing molotov cocktails hiding out in the background. Enemies give you forever to line up headshots so there is little reason to use anything but the bow until the game takes its unfortunate supernatural turn in the final act. I would have preferred a scientific explanation to things and not an ancient Japanese empress whose spirit was trapped in her last body, but that is just personally preference. It's not like the old Tomb Raider games eschewed the fantastic, I just wanted to reboot to be complete. A small complaint and not one that will keep me from playing the next game.

To my friends at Crystal Dynamics: well done. Ignore SquareEnix's whining about your game not meeting impossible sales expectations. What you have done with Tomb Raider is a very good thing. Why don't you take a break from that and get back to a certain other series that was left off with a cliffhanger in fucking 2003.

Lara got the reboot and game she deserved. How about an ending for Kain?

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