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Tomb Raider

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That doesn’t look like a tomb to me…

 

Here’s the latest reboot (?) I’ve had the chance to play. Somebody help me out here. When is a game considered a reboot? When it steals a previously released game’s title and main character and changes the story and gameplay up a bit? I guess this isn’t a continuation of the series masked as a prequel, because then it’d be, what, “Tomb Raider Origins” or something like that? Slcantwell already wrote a, what I like to call, feminist critique, of the game, which discusses the characters and plot at great length. So I’m going to do my best to stick to discussing game mechanics and the like.

In this adventure, we get to play as fresh outta grad school, less busty (but still hot) Lara Croft on her first big adventure out in the unknown. She’s set on finding Yamatai, a lost kingdom ruled by the temperamental Sun Queen, Himiko. Or something like that. You probably don’t need me to tell you they do find the island and that it’s as hostile as can be.

One of the big things the writers beat you over the head with is the malevolent weather. Himiko was basically a shaman and could control the weather. Therefore, any type of transportation craft stupid or unlucky enough to get within what is known as the “Dragon’s Triangle” crashes. And anyone lucky enough to survive is left to fend for themselves against a crazy cult intent on satiating the dead Sun Queen’s soul with a new body. They’ve got their eyes set on Lara’s annoying bestie, Sam. They think she’s a perfect match because she’s got squinty eyes or something.

Anyway, Lara washes up on the shore of Yamatai and spends a majority of the game perilously traversing the terrain in search of her crew mates and saving the damsel in distress. When you’re not cascading down tunnels and raging currents with dangerous spiky-things, you’re in shooting matches with the sausage party cult du jour. Unless it’s in an informational file scattered about the island (or I wasn’t paying attention) I don’t think the game ever says what happened to all of the women and children. Lara asks this question while observing old children’s toys she finds on the island, but I don’t recall an answer. Oh well. 

The conspicuous lack of anyone else with female parts aside, I only have one big conceptual issue with this game that I also had with The Last of Us. Where the hell are all the guns and ammo coming from?! The video game industry’s obsession with fast-paced shooter games has propelled them to throw rifles and handguns and grenade launchers in everything. Even when it doesn’t make sense. We’re on an island that allows no transports to enter (without capsizing, anyway) or leave, so they aren’t exactly getting gun shipments in. During my adventures on Yamatai I certainly didn’t see any functional gun factories around. So who is pooping this stuff out? Just how many armed-to-the-teeth military vessels have capsized there since World War 2? Like in The Last of Us, these people have no problem unloading clip after clip of, what I would consider rare, ammo on complete strangers who stumbled upon their territory. There ARE enemies equipped with bows, which makes perfect sense and I would’ve expected to see much more of those than guns. I was hoping they would’ve gotten creative and incorporated more crude, handmade tools and weapons throughout the adventure. Daggers, lances, stuff like that. Not riot shields.

For your offensive fun, Lara will stumble upon the following upgradeable weapons throughout the game: a handgun, rifle (which gets a grenade launcher attachment before the end of the game), shotgun, and bow. When at a base camp, you can spend Salvage to increase things like damage and clip size. While looting, you’ll find parts for your weapons as well. These will further improve upon your arms. I never, EVER upgraded the lame handgun. Don’t waste your salvage. My go to weapons were the shotgun and bow. Grenade launcher was situational. I absolutely loved how the cultists were all, “Damn, where’d she get a grenade launcher!?” Umm… she got it from one of you buffoons. Where the hell did YOU get it?! 

That complaint aside, the battle system is a lot of duck-and-cover shooting with some stealth throw in. It is very frustrating in the beginning of the game until unlocking some of the brawler techniques. They incorporated an RPG-esque level up system. Lara gains experience from foraging, killing and advancing the plot. Every level you’ll have a skill point to spend on one of three categories depending on whether you want to improve your brawling, shooting, or survival abilities. Unlocking the second and third tiers made me sigh in relief. But after getting the skills I really wanted I just threw the points in whatever. The only skill set I was able to max out in my one playthrough was Brawler.

Like many other video games, there are collectibles scattered and hidden over the terrain. There’s those silly diary entries and notes; I always wonder what kind of person would leave those lying around. Keeping up with Lara’s archaeological background, she also finds ‘relics’ that offer insight to the culture and background of people who had been stuck on the island. Examining some of these relics further also rewards you with a little more experience. 

On top of scouring for hidden goodies, there are seven optional tombs to explore for extra experience, salvage, and maps. Despite Lara’s self-professed hatred of tombs (Really? I thought this was a TOMB RAIDER game.), she acts pretty satisfied when she gets to explore the tomb and open the enormous treasure chest at the end of the puzzle. Too bad she only takes a map and some salvage, because these chests are always filled to the brink. Pretty sure all the shinies in these chests would have her living high off the hog for the rest of her life. 

Puzzles and I don’t always get along in video games. Sometimes I get stumped over the easiest “Duh” things. But in Tomb Raider, your puzzles are just more in-depth applications of tools you’re already using to traverse the environment. Most of the time you’ll probably figure out what they want you to do pretty quickly. And once I discovered I could rope-pull a raft in the (IMHO) hardest tomb, I found other goodies to collect out on the open world utilizing this method. There’s experience, salvage, and goodies abound for those willing to take the time to look. In a general game comparison, I’d rate the tomb and other traversal puzzles as easy-normal. I didn’t reference the internet nearly as much as I have with other games.

I played this game on the normal difficulty setting, and I gotta say, I never ran out of ammo for any of my guns.  Not once. And I’m not the best shot this side of the Mississippi, either. Yeah, I died quite a bit at some parts, but the checkpoints are so often that it’s not a set back. AND the game auto-saves whenever you pick up collectible goodies, so you don’t have to pick them up again if you die. I loved this. Every game should incorporate this feature, as there is never a reason to NOT want to save picking up a note, collectible, gun upgrade, whatever. As a sub-par shooter gamer, I will say this game is perfectly doable on normal difficulty setting in case you’re wondering. The beginning is a bit frustrating until you figure out some things about the battle system and unlock some abilities, but it feels more balanced within a couple hours. 

Slcantwell’s previous post discusses the plot and characters are length, so I won’t repeat what has already been said on this blog. In terms of gameplay and presentation, I’d recommend this game. She didn’t experience any glitches or problems playing the PC version. I played the PS3 version (downloaded it at a discounted price on the PSN and don’t regret it!), and while it ran perfectly most of the time, my PS3 did crash once. It was when I completed a GPS cache collection, though I don’t remember which collection it was. As per usual Square Enix style, the graphics are gorgeous. The characters look great. They fit a lot of character niches and stereotypes, but they look great. No big surprises there. I really like the pacing of the game and upgrades. There’s a huge battle scene that made me think I was already at the game’s climax, but it psyched me out and set the stage for another few hours of gameplay. Sometimes that actually makes me want to quit playing a game. In Tomb Raider’s case it didn’t. It only propelled me forward. I haven’t played any Tomb Raider games before this one, but despite it’s identity crisis moments, I thoroughly enjoyed it and will stick with the series if they make more installments.

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