Here’s the rundown. I’ve never played any Tomb Raider games. Somehow, in my long history of gaming, I’ve just always missed these games. So with this prequel/reboot of the franchise, I thought I’d give it a shot.
The gist. We join archeologist Lara Croft as she’s aboard The Endurance, a ship destined for a mysterious island, where Lara believes an ancient civilization used to exist. A freak storm sends her ship crashing into the island and she must survive in the wilderness and try to find her shipmates. On this island however, she finds a creepy cult obsessed with human sacrifice and she must fight to survive and rescue her friends. The gameplay is a mixture of Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted, focusing on environmental puzzles and shooting.
I got frustrated with the game right off the bat (and I’ll tell you why later) but luckily a few people convinced me to get back into the game and give it a real shot. It got stellar ratings from a few websites that I usually trust so I thought… there has to be something here.
And once I gave it a shot, past some turbulence, I loved it. What this game really nailed, above all else… is tone. This game terrified me. I felt like I was there. Part of it reminded me of my experience with The Last of Us, where you conserve ammo because you never know if you’re going to find more. I had a few occasions in Tomb Raider where I would be backed into a corner, run out of ammo, and have to pickaxe my way through these guys just to survive. The setting was incredible, the visuals were stellar, and the game made you feel like you were truly trying to survive on this island. This game wasn’t as action-focused as I thought it would be, so when big shootouts happened, they were incredible. The enemies were varied, the locations diverse, and after completing a big shootout, I would literally put the controller down and just breathe.
A big focus of this game is traveling the map and figuring out puzzles, very similar to the Uncharted series. I guess the original Tomb Raider was probably an inspiration for Uncharted, but since I never played them, my perspective is a little backwards. Anyways. The puzzles were tricky but never unfair. I had to resort to walkthroughs a few times because I couldn’t connect the dots on a few things. Usually though, it was a great experience.
Visually, this island was incredible. The wind and rain effects were stellar. The water effects were great, as you walked through ponds and sewers. Again, I want to emphasize their dedication to tone in this regard. In a few instances, you wade through something that isn’t water. In one case, it was a sewer beneath a shantytown, as flies buzzed around you and I found myself actually holding my breath. In another case, you’re wading through a pool of blood, as skulls and bodies slide down into the water with you. It was disgusting but it nailed the tone completely.
I have to also commend this game for its shooting mechanics. That was one of my faults in the Uncharted series, that the shooting felt like it was an afterthought. In Tomb Raider, I always felt like my shots were accurate. And while there wasn’t a huge diversity in weapons, the ones offered were varied. I preferred the bow and arrow but the assault rifle with grenade launcher attached was a pretty sweet addition late in the game.
What didn’t work?
Here’s what initially stopped me from playing this game. There is an insane amount of quicktime events in this game and some of them are unfair in their timing and consequences. Here’s the situation: Early on in the game, you have to survive against a pack of wolves. When they lunge at you, you have to tap a button at precisely the right time, followed by hitting another button repeating, then wiggling the joystick, and then a few more taps. If you miss, the wolf bites your jugular and you die. Restart. This became so tedious and the timing was so intricate that I almost quit playing the game because I died like 10 times in a row. I’ve been playing games my entire life. I understand quicktime events and these were just cruel. There were a few other moments where a button would be required in the middle of what I thought was a cutscene and I would miss it, having to then replay that sequence. Just a little overdone.
There’s an upgrade function in the game, where you can upgrade your skills and also upgrade your weapons. I felt like this was unnecessary, as you end up basically upgrading everything by the end. The upgrades also don’t add anything noticeable. So when secret tombs would show up on the map, there was no incentive to do them because the reward was always more upgrade points. I didn’t feel compelled to do the extra activities on the map because the payoff wasn’t enough to draw me to them. They could’ve just given out these upgrades automatically, as you progressed through the story.
Tomb Raider had some issues at the beginning for me, but once I got past those, I found an incredibly vivid and engaging world to explore. It was fun to traverse and when I found myself in battle situations, the game was incredible. The sense of tone was perfect and the story was pretty unique, though sometimes gruesome. A great experience. With the PS4 “Definitive Edition” coming out, that would be an excellent choice to check out.