Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris

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Enter Lara Croft and the throwaway characters!

I know what some of my fellow non-Xbox One owners are thinking: This game is a cheap throwaway to try and satiate us until the very delayed release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on the PS4. How insulting and demeaning!

Well, perhaps. But I honestly really enjoyed my time with this game. It’s not a game to approach with an ounce of seriousness. Because, really, it’s a shallow experience. Casual and fun, but shallow nevertheless.

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Dungeon crawling Tomb Raider style: Yes, the archaeologist busts vases for loot.

As you can see from the above image, Temple of Osiris draws very heavily from games like Champions of Norrath and Diablo. The general premise is similar: Explore dungeons solo or with friends (This game even has couch co-op! Yay!) to slay mobs of enemies and collect loot. Again, let me be clear: this is not a game you will become too invested in. There’s little to no character creation or building. There isn’t even a skill tree! Lara Croft and company use guns and a staff that shoots a fancy Egyptian laser beam. That’s it.

Same can be said for loot and equipment. What you see is what you get. Of course, that didn’t stop me from getting excited when I won the RNG treasure chest lottery with a Legendary goody:

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Uploaded from my Twitter account, so the text is hard to read. Just trust me when I say it’s the best piece of loot I came across.

Gear doesn’t pop out of vases or enemies here. All you’ll get is gems, which become currency for opening treasure chests at the end of each dungeon and in the main map. Treasure chests have different tiers of loot ranging from 100 gems to 1,000 gems to open for your RNG jewelry. Rings and amulets are all you’ll find. Guns, of which there are a pleasantly surprising number, have to be earned through progression, challenge dungeons, or stage goals.

I enjoyed replaying stages to try meeting many of the optional challenges per dungeon. Almost every stage has a speed-run challenge, a “Collect 5 Red Skulls” challenge, and a few others with more variety based on level design. Meeting these requirements earns you gear, ammo upgrades, health upgrades, and even guns.

You really have to try some of the optional challenges, if for no other reason that they’re the only feature adding any sort of longevity to the experience. Well that, and replaying with friends for something to do for a couple of evenings.

I don’t know how much this title sells for on Playstation Network, and I don’t like to suggest good price points because we all look for different things in games. But I will say that as a free Playstation Plus game this month, it is one of my favorite free offerings to date. While not a typical Tomb Raider game, or as involved as many dungeon crawling games out there, it’s got great puzzles scattered throughout a relatively laid back, fun game.

Plus you get Egyptian gods shooting guns. That doesn’t happen very often now, does it?

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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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     Oh hi! Just let me introduce myself. My name is Sara and I’ll be you feminist, err… game reviewer for the evening. Well, I guess I can try to be both and respect the sanctity of the male dominated video game industry and, ya know, ignore the fact that I have girly bits and am not traditionally feminine… Or not. Let’s not. Sorry boys, but one of your new time favorite games got a thumbs down from the girly squad, and I think you will be surprised which one!

     So I had the pleasure (and I’m serious here. This game was a good time!) of playing the Tomb Raider reboot where we (the 90’s-era gamer kids) get to see a beloved character’s origin story. Or part of one, at least. I was super excited because I had played the first one when it came out and loved that there were badass women out there I could be like (Looking back, I was a little disillusioned). Being a wife and mother in a small northern New York town didn’t have large appeal to teen me. Go figure. So now that I am a wife and mother in a small northern New York town… I wanted to relive my glory days of being one of the first girl gamers in the world (yes the world… let me have my nostalgia). What I learned? I got old.

     Cynical too. But who cares about what women think of video games, right? Girls don’t game as much as boys, right? (see: http://www.cracked.com/article_18760_6-things-everyone-knows-about-women-that-arent-true.html )

      Maybe not, but we have some pretty high standards when we do. Before we get to my nit-picking, feminist rant, let’s talk about the good stuff! The overall composition of the game is great. It is visually striking and felt more open world than I had expected a linear plot line to allow. I think most of this came from the lack of a mini map overlay and points of interest popping up all uninvited. I found this much more immersive than other games I’ve played before. I know games like Drake’s Fortune beat this one to the punch but I still liked that they stayed with it instead of doing something revolutionary. This will be the only time I say that I liked how UN-revolutionary this game is, BTW.

       I also loved the details of the relics you can find in-game, even if they seemed to only be there for the nerd factor. The cinematic quality of the game is great and it defiantly felt more like a movie in some parts (in a good way). The first ten minutes were crazy! Laura drowns, gets punched in the face, lights herself on fire while predicting “This is gonna hurt,” only to fall into a pit where she gets shanked with a metal spike. After the first encounter with some of the Endurance’s surviving crew members she gets captured and has to escape with her hands bound by sneaking around. I had so much fun and nothing made my night more than shooting that first jerk in the face! Blood thirsty, I know, but girls have needs too 😉

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     Laura is the ultimate starter bad-ass. She is a nerdy scholar drawn to really messed up situations and she has the overwhelming need to, ya know, live. Best part is she is pre-op (implants anyone?) and clothed like an actual normal female who doesn’t work on a pole. The Rambo-esque cover made me all kinds of excited for tomb crawling and bears trying to eat my innards (Crystal Dynamics, why no bears!?). So when every Tomb Raider game known to man (and woman) went on a STEAM sale for less than $20 I begged the hubby for it. The deal: sell my soul to Guild Wars 2 until I hit level 80 and I could have it (I also negotiated in all the DLC’s for the reboot). That is the fastest I have maxed out a toon in an MMO, ever.

     Was it worth it? Not really. It appears that Laura didn’t just lose her boobs, she lost her balls (after the game’s introduction). It truly felt like after the first half hour or so Laura threw her hands up and said, “OK I’ve done all the cool survivor thingies I know how to do. Where are all the men who are supposed to protect me!?” The whole point of this game is to show how Laura Croft became a “survivor” (cue Destiny’s Child music) but several times (you know, at the key plot point where we would expect to make vital decisions about how the protagonist is going to survive) the plot becomes a living, breathing monster and eats up all of Laura’s options. There is a big flashing arrow with a sign that says “You Must Go Here.” This ties in well with the start of my feminist rant: if you are going to make a game with a badass female lead you have to let her, well, lead. When the main character cannot come in all their awesomeness and save the day the game starts to lack, um, awesomeness.

     Let’s do a little role play. We all like role play, right? Ahem… that is why we play video games. So let’s say Laura Croft wasn’t female, but a hot-blooded male. And not just any male, a testosterone-filled action hero male. Would Stallone or Willis let their grandfather figure commit suicide to save them? Yeah, probably, but only if it was the event that propelled them on a bloody path of vengeance. When Grim takes a suicidal swan dive to keep Laura from turning herself over to the Solarii we don’t get a ripple of homicidal anger from her. At that point I was like, “Man saves you from a very bad time and you don’t want revenge? You’re not human.” But OK, I’ll let this go. I know that whole trauma thing can crop up at strange times so I’m sure we’ll get back to how pissed off she is that the Solarii killed grandpa eventually. Or not.

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     Let’s not get me started on Sam… Anyone order a useless princess plot device? Here is a tip for anyone who wants to write one of these action-adventure stories: don’t put two extreme stereotypes next to each other and expect them to play nice. Laura = female put in the traditionally male slot of a standard “save the princess” plot, and Sam (regardless of the cutesie gender flopped name) acts like no real man or woman ever would. Laura finds her multiple times and Sam never goes, “Hey, you have all those nice shiny weapons! Can I haz one?” What’s worse is that Laura The Badass is besties with a mewling idiot. I don’t know about the rest of you but I like my friends to at least try fighting back (or at least not putting themselves in compromising positions). At least she is hot I guess, cause, ya know, that’s all that matters for a worthless plot device.

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     Yeah that smug look on his face is because he knows boys only want to have something attractive to look at while gaming…

     Enter the person who is the “real” action hero: Conrad Roth. He is the man. He is literally the guy every red blooded (British?) boy wants to be. And let’s not forget he is Laura’s mentor/babysitter. But he is also where Laura gets her “permission” to be badass. You see, Laura apparently wasn’t born a bad ass like the drowning scene in the opening cinematic suggests. Roth quickly becomes her cheerleader and repeatedly tells her, “You can do it!” (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qztuEucrNBc ). So when he bit it I thought Laura would become the badass he once was (and her father was too, apparently). But noooo, stupid Alex has to go and take over the hero role. That little wanker is also a cheap plot device thrown in to make nerdy gamer boys feel more heroic. Yep, sorry but his only purpose is to once again sacrifice himself to get the tools and save the day so that little Laura won’t get hurt. Why in the world would you have a NPC do all the leg work in an action-adventure game!? “But Sara,” you say, “The mission was about a woman heroically saving a man!” Ah, no. The mission was for Laura to (finally) save the day! Did she? No. But I can’t say I felt bad when that little glory stealer got permanently removed from the picture. It should have ended with Laura sniping her way into the belly of the ship, finding the tools after a nasty mini-boss fight, and then finding that stupid twat on the way out so that Reyes can give him grief for acting like a little brat! Breathe Sara, breathe. The male gamers just needed someone to connect with so that they could feel like they had a hand in saving Laura. I’m sorry, but I thought Laura was supposed to be saving them.

     Now here is another interesting tidbit that further enhances my belief that this was a game targeted to boys. They cut the rape scene. Yep, that lurid act women are afraid of (and we actually talk about) is way too taboo to put in a game for boys. Why? Boys don’t want to talk about it. It’s tough to see someone like yourself (I.E. another man) doing something you know is wrong and (because it involves sex) risk getting aroused by it. To that I say watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JLOaKknzWVU please! I know this video is about video game violence but the same principal applies to sex and violence. I am a big believer in the experience and if you think most people are going to see a “suggested” rape scene and be like “Aww yeah!” I think you have serious trust issues. 99.5% of the time these themes will make people uncomfortable. It sure as hell made me grimace. But it is never good to avoid talking about these issues! What better way to tackle the issue of rape than to experience the effects that being raped (or almost being raped) does to a woman than through the eyes of a woman? It would give teen boys more reason to keep their buddies from acting like rape is the trendy thing to do. And I hope that in the future, female video game heroes can stand up and give real world women the confidence to blow the brains out of anyone who tries to rape them. Girls play games too, and we need to start beating that into the industry’s thick skull so when we see games like this Tomb Raider reboot come out and it’s not the reboot we were hoping for, I want more women to call them on it. (Can I suggest hiring an actual feminist to fact check?)

     To step away from the cultural taboo, let’s talk about where these really dramatic moments are placed in regard to the plot. I thing the first half hour of game play should have been the last! I started the game with a “Hells yeah!” and ended with, “I have to save her again!?” The plot innovation just dissolved after Roth got killed and I was left with a mushy “damsel in distress” game that suggested Laura might be a lesbian? To which I again say “Hells yeah,” but they could have played it up a bit more.

      All in all, an A- for design. The visuals were awesome, there were no noticeable bugs when I played, and her equipment was innovative and fun to use. C+ for plot/story. This started so well but the experience soured over time. I can tell the main focus for the developers was how the game played. The crowning achievements are the fun shooting galleries. Not even the two pain in the ass bosses near the end were enough to keep it from being boring. Meh to killing Mathias in a cut scene. And I’m still mad I didn’t get to actually boss fight Himiko. What could have been a better way to end the game than fighting an all-powerful sun goddess zombie!? The developers dropped the ball on that one!

     Well, there is my list of gripes but I seriously hope you read these other extended reviews that I found very compelling as well, and thanks for your time!

     http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/02/tomb-raider-review-multi-platform.html

     http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/tomb-raider-why-lara-crofts-feminist-credentials-are-as-inflated-as-her-chest-used-to-be-8521099.html