Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tomb Raider (2012) review


    I confess, I've never played Tomb Raider until this game. This is due to the fact the games just didn't look that interesting. I was a big fan of Indiana Jones but I didn't really get my Xbox360 until Dragon Age and Mass Effect were out. It was impossible not to be aware of Lara Croft, however. She was an icon for a short-while, located in everything from game magazines to movies. I love the Angelina Jolie films but they fill me with a silly sort of guilt. I mean, the developers thought she wasn't well-endowed enough for the part.

    Angelina Jolie.

The Hunger Games parallels are unintentional. Probably.
     The shift of Lara Croft from kickass female adventurer to gamer sex toy is a well-documented phenomenon and rather tragic. It's one of the reasons the series desperately needed a reboot. After one failed reboot already, I was leery of this game but heard good things during the development. So, deciding to pick it up at Redbox, I gave it a whirl.

    It's a great game.

    Tomb Raider takes a somewhat Batman Begins approach to Lara Croft, creating a backstory where she's forced to live the "Green Arrow" origin  of being trapped on an island where everything is trying to kill you. Actually, with a bit of re-writing, this might have made a decent Green Arrow game. Lara Croft, in the tradition of Katniss Everdeen, spends much of the game using a bow and arrow to annihilate her enemies. It's, by far, the most iconic and useful weapon in the game.

    The plot of the game is deep and multilayered. It also is one of the few I will say actually benefits from no spoilers. Several times, I thought I had a handle on what was going on only to be pleasantly surprised when the game threw a twist at me. It was only by the midpoint of the game where I realized what was really going on.

    The game borrows heavily from Lost and has a similarity to Far Cry 3 at the beginning. There's a lot of mysterious goings on and the island definitely has a Bermuda Triangle-esque feel despite being nearby Japan. What's going on? Who are these people? Why are they doing it. All the answers come in time and some of them are quite surprising.

    Despite this, the oddities of the island never actually get in the way of the world-building. It's one of the first games to explain why you might find ammunition around an old tomb (because it's being used by the scavengers around the island). Rhianna Pratchett is very good at making the island feel like a plausible place despite its wonders.

    Lara Croft in the new game shines as we meet with her before she's killed anyone, explored any tombs, and seemingly right out of her first two years of college. She's the daughter of famous archaeologists but hasn't made any sort of mark herself, so she's latched herself onto a television crew. The game highlights the amount of punishment, pain, and personal loss she has to go through in order to become the badass character we know from the original games.

    Truth be told, I'm not sure I wanted her to become that sort of person after getting to know the new Lara. New Lara is a likable, friendly, brainy, fun-loving sort of girl who I might have enjoyed having drinks with at her age. Watching her have to sacrifice pieces of her humanity to save her friends is a heartbreaking experience, like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. By the time she decides to continue her adventures, I'm not sure if she's become a triumphant adventurer or if she's suffering a serious case of PTSD.

    The gameplay is similar to the Uncharted series with elements taken from many other games. For example, the collection of artifacts is similar to the Darkness 2 where you're able to build a rather impressive haul of archaeological booty despite the people shooting at you. There's a few too many people needing to be killed in the game (some zombies or dinosaurs would have been appreciated) but less than in most games. This game makes a good argument we could return to King's Quest-like games without violence.

    I also applaud the developers for coming up with extremely good puzzle-rooms. As opposed to tomb raiding massive underground cities similar to Moria, you only have little small ones to explore. These allow more attention to detail and give Lara as well as the player an intellectual challenge. I hope future games are like this since I enjoyed all of the ones I explored.

Lara is still a pin-up but it's gone from "ridiculous" to "artfully applied smudges."
     If I had any complaints about the game, it's the death animations are too violent and visceral. It's one thing to see Lara Croft killed by an alligator when she's just a bunch of pixels but photo-realistic Lara getting eaten by wolves is disturbing to say the least. That's not including the number of times she's stabbed, impaled, strangled to death, or thrown off a cliff. Eesh. Still, they weren't enough to lower my score of the game.

     Less of a complaint and more of an observation is also the game has a bit of difficulty developing the characters outside of Lara. They remain fairly stereotypical and with rare exceptions, I'm not particularly all that interested in seeing any more of them. The game isn't shy about killing them off either, which saddens me because a few of them were fairly likable.

    I'm particularly fond of the characters of Alex and Sam, both who play the role of "normal" archaeologists who react to their situation with decidedly less epic heroism than Lara but avoid being useless. I also enjoyed the character of Roth, who is a friend of Lara's father and takes the place of previous series antagonist Von Croy as our heroine's mentor in adventure archaeology.

    Did I have fun with the game? Certainly. Is it a perfect 10? No, I can't say that it is. The game's visceral elements plus its padded story took away from an otherwise perfect gaming experience. Still, I had an immense amount of fun and never found it too difficult or frustrating. If there's a sequel with this Lara Croft, the human and vulnerable one, I'll definitely be picking it up.

9.5/10

Buy at Amazon.com

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