Tomb Raider (2013)
Tea: Cactus-fig Cinnamon
After having a streak of bad luck with good games recently I can now finally announce that it is over. Tomb Raider is a mediocre game that I can tear to pieces again. But just to clarify I am talking about the 2013 released game by Crystal Dynamics. Good thing everybody numbers and names their games appropriately so it is easy to tell them all apart. If I had to sum up my opinion about Tomb Raider with one picture it would be this:
The story dives into the origins of Lara Croft an unexperienced archeologist who is thrown into a dangerous alien environment and must uncover the shady actions by a cult around an old magician lady. Now before I get into any criticism I must confess that I can’t say anything about the voice actors. Why? Because Crystal Dynamics, or whoever was in charge of this, thought that Germans only speak German (and French apparently?) so I am stuck with this horrible cast of voice actors that either sound very similar to one another or are totally unimpressed with what is going on. Lara herself might have been the worst choice of all. She is voiced by Nora Tschirner a German actress. Not having seen any of her films I can at least say that she should stay away from any more voice-over work. She puts no effort into this. All tragedies that strike her mildly unsettle her and now has to pick up the shards and if she tries to sound tough it becomes all the more hilarious. So thanks Crystal Dynamics for making that decision. Every criticism I have with the dialogue is therefore with the German translation, but since I can imagine what the original must have been there is not much saving grace for it.
After having a disastrous accident with their boat, Lara and her team of ethnically diverse scientist stereotypes are washed up on the shore of a mysterious island. Lara is quickly separated from the group and dragged into a cave by a cannibal (?). I am honestly not sure, the game never explains his motives. But Lara can escape and must do anything to find and save her friends and find out what is keeping them on this island by controlling the weather. The story is nothing special. It is not stupid to an unfathomable degree, but uninspired. A major twist towards the end can be easily guessed near the beginning. In fact, I unraveled it before that until the ‘experienced archeologist’ told me otherwise, only to retract this statement later on. The story, bland as it is, only serves to show Lara Croft becoming the Lara Croft you know from the other games and I don’t buy it. There is no character development in this game. She starts out as Lara Croft the adventurer and ends up as Lara Croft the adventurer. Her skills and all of that are present from the start. Except a very iconic detail I also predicted was going to be worked into this game. And lo and behold I was right again.
– I don’t know where this comes from. She never tends her wounds and there is no pirate ship in the game –
The writer thinks that character development is something that just happens when you toss your main character around a lot and make him endure a lot of physical and mental trauma. Sure she gets upset when people die, but it never affects her beyond that, sometimes it doesn’t even affect her at all. One death is handled by her like she just dropped a glass of water and now has to clean up the shards. It was hilarious to watch and Nora Tschirner added to it even more. Her character arc is a straight line with a lot of physical abuse throughout it. There is a sequence early one where you have to hunt a deer to survive and Lara makes a big point in showing how it affects her to have been forced to kill another animal, but it never comes up again and is not a problem anymore. Same thing with her first human victim. A rapist-guy she shoots and then mourns. There is even sad music playing as we are supposed to feel sorry for this rapist murderer. Rest in peace rapist, you will be missed.
– Remember kids: Massive internal bleedings can be slept off –
Lara team is not much better. All of them are ethnic stereotypes and only serve as props. None of them ever have genuine dialogue like human beings, they only sputter exposition. Some of them do die, but most of the time it is either hilarious or flat out stupid. Not to spoil anything here, but try to predict who lives and who dies at the beginning, you will probably guess it right. The villain is flat as well with no real explanation for his motives other than to get off the island, but why this must be so difficult is beyond me. The game comes a bit more to life in brief files found throughout the game, written by different people from different times. They are actually quite interesting and provide at least a bit of nourishment for this hungering corpse of a plot.
But Tomb Raider is not about the story, some might say, but the gameplay. Well, prepare to be disappointed again. The gameplay ranged from boring to hilarious to more boring. Let’s start off with climbing. That being a central theme in Tomb Raider games. Here it is reduced to waiting basically. There is no challenging climbing section. All of them just ask you to press the stick towards the highlighted path even a monkey could find. There is nothing to dodge, to attack, or even do during these segments. Yes, they might look ‘spectacular’ and they might try to check whether you are still awake with a brief quicktime event, but there is just so little to do. Compare this with God of War, for instance, here you are asked to dodge falling debris, or fight enemies, or at least climb faster to avoid something. Highlighted paths are sadly a must-have apparently and there is a really hilarious scene where I once thought I had to find the path myself, since I didn’t immediately see it and then lightning struck about four times and blasted away some parts of the building and the path was clear as day. This is not spectacular in the slightest, this is terribly funny if nothing else.
– Good thing someone painted all those beam white, otherwise I wouldn’t know where to go. Also: FUCK THOSE WATER EFFECTS! –
Aside from climbing and traversal there is also regular jumping around and oh my God the jumping in this game! Never have I seen such a floaty jump. Every time Lara jumps gravity just passes out due to sheer boredom and she hovers around for a bit. There are moments when you can easily manipulate this by turning the camera to make her jump around corners, since she feels so suspended in the air you can turn the world underneath her. Whenever she lands she strikes down like and avalanche of rocks as if the game designers thought maybe she seemed a bit to light during that jump. If you are trying to jump over anything like, say chasms, it is only possible if you are supposed to. Now don’t get me wrong I can fully understand that you are only supposed to jump at certain points. But if you CAN actually make it and are supposed to her jumping distance is sometimes stretched so far you wonder why she doesn’t just jump off the island and straight back home. This is not good design. I have no idea of her possible jumping distance. If you should you can and if not the game gives you the middle finger. Should you actually be able to make that jump the game will more than once reset your positon if you are not 100% spot-on where you are supposed to land. “It’s not cinematic enough if she doesn’t land like this. Let’s just awkwardly reset her position. No one will notice.”
– Earth to Lara! You can come down now, gravity is back on again –
Shooting is okay for the most part. Except enemies have the quality of being hard to distinguish from the background. But overall it is functional, even if the dodge move looks a little awkward. The bow is probably my favourite weapon. And stupid fire arrows aside it has a really fascinating property. There are section where you can use stealth to take out the enemies. By shooting an enemy with the bow in stealth a headshot will kill them, just like normal, but also a shoot to the body sometimes did the trick. However, in open conflict enemies take up to five arrows to the body until they finally stay down. So this bow knows that it is currently unseen and thus becomes stronger somehow? That is an awesome bow. In fact the stealth sections are pretty badly designed now that I think about it. What is the point of giving enemies flashlights if their beam does not represent their vision cones? More than once I was staring directly into a glaring light, blinded by it, wondering why I wasn’t spotted. It just there to confuse you I guess?
As previously established Lara takes quite a beating in this game, but my goodness does she heal fast. More than once she is fatally injured but shrugs it off after the cutscene plays out. Or she just sleeps off a severe wound or broken bones and is good to go the next day. I already mentioned hunting near the beginning, but it is never needed again. I though you would need to collect food to survive, but no. Gameplay element gets introduced and then tossed aside immediately. You can still hunt to gather materials to upgrade your weapons (how do chicken bones strengthen a shotgun again?), but why would you want to? Materials lie around for free anyway and you never notice the strength of your weapon anyway. Enemies become stronger just like your weapon, so it never changes and upgrading is not useless, but has no feeling of accomplishment to it. Other than napalm arrows, because they get shit done.
– This woman that mourned a deer can stealth-take-down a guy by breaking his neck with her bow…. –
There is also a leveling system, since every game needs these token RPG-elements I suppose. Not only does it make no sense. I mean what is happening when Lara is leveling up. Is she just at a point where she decides: Yeah I might use my axe to kill people now. Is this the stand-in for character development? Anyway, most of the upgrades are not worth your time and you will not notice them. Dodge-countering is the only thing I found to be useful. Her progress is also tied to specific upgrades you find during the course of the story and while some of them may seem quite reasonable (grenade launcher to open doors? Yeah why not…). Others are flat-out hilarious again. A rope can be attached to your arrow and fired at specific points to create a way for you across. But the target points for this are usually wooden beams wrapped thickly in ropes and it looks so out of place. Why would anyone just wrap something like the upper beam of a gate in 20m worth of rope? Yes, you must somehow highlight were you can shoot, but how about you exercise a bit more subtlety. Once again, the distance on where you can shoot is beyond my understanding. At one point there were two spots I could fire my rope-arrow into, but one did not work, even though it seemed about the same distance as the other one and even closer than another rope-arrow section I had already done.
– Hey, I got 20m rope lying around. Just wrap it around the door –
To bring this to a conclusion. Tomb Raider is not worth your time. It is quite a long game, but you can see how they are trying to stretch it near the end (a lot). It is nice for an adventure type game like this to not be too short for once, but at least keep a consistent pace throughout if you do. It is a fun playthrough, but mostly for the sake of making fun of it. Should you be able to get it for a weekend for free I cannot really say you shouldn’t at least look into it, but there is no point in buying it. It is a linear succession of set-piece and Lara is forcefully dragged from one to another. All the while having healing abilities that would put Wolverine to shame. Her non-existent character arc and team of cardboard cut-out team members take all that was left from the story and plunge it into comedic territory. Gameplay is functional, but never challenges you in any way. It holds your hand throughout the entire game and never lets go, like a creepy date. I dread the sequel that gets subtly shoved into your face near the end alongside the developers stating that they did their best to make this a worthy game of the name Tomb Raider. If this was your best I have no faith for the sequel.
Image sources in order of appearance:
- http://www.disapprovallook.com/images/look.png (Last date of access: 05.08.2015)
- http://exposedgaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/2013-tomb-raider-game-wallpaper-for-1600×900-hdtv-9-502.jpg (Last date of access: 05.08.2015)
- http://www.haywiremag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/TombRaider2.jpg (Last date of access: 05.08.2015)
- http://i.ytimg.com/vi/RQEkUHlESzE/maxresdefault.jpg (Last date of access: 05.08.2015)
- https://nasilemaktech.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/2013-03-11-20_49_54-tomb-raider.png (Last date of access: 05.08.2015)
- https://criticalteatime.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/39140-tr-kill.jpg (Last date of access: 05.08.2015)
- http://guides.gamepressure.com/tombraider2013/gfx/word/969129062.jpg (Last date of access: 05.08.2015)