So the past couple weekends I’ve been playing Tomb Raider on my laptop. It runs at a glorious 10-15 fps on low settings but I don’t mind too much cause it’s so fun. Since I’m about 70-80% through the game I figured hey, why not share my thoughts on it?
I first heard about Tomb Raider (the reboot) back from 2012? 2011? It’s been awhile. I wasn’t really familiar with the Tomb Raider mythos so all the talk about a reboot and a prequel didn’t really interest me. I can’t compare the new Tomb Raider to the old ones since I’ve barely played them, so I won’t be doing any of that. What I will say was that my initial reaction to the new Tomb Raider was holy crap awesome it’s like Uncharted but with more survival horror. And I guess the new Tomb Raider is pretty much like Uncharted… but then Uncharted is pretty much like the old Tomb Raider with Nolan North so yeah. Having played the game I cans say Tomb Raider 2013 is a lot like Uncharted but without some of the annoying parts Uncharted had and a few annoying parts of its own.
I’m divided on the gameplay. For the most part, it’s really fun. There’s a heavy emphasis on exploration and you can spend a ton of time getting immersed in the environment on the island you’re stuck on. There’s all sorts of extra stuff to find off the beaten path from relics which explain the island’s history to documents that give insight into some of the characters you meet to salvage which gives you salvage. Everything you collect really boils down to experience and salvage, both of which go into a faux-rpg system. You can use the experience points to upgrade Laura’s abilities which can be anything from revealing tombs on the map to doing one hit melee kills. Salvage goes into upgrading your weapons to dealing extra damage or having better range. You know, the usual. It’s a system that works well enough so no complaints there. There’s some replay value added as well since after upgrading your gear you can revisit areas to find new places to explore and pick up new relics/documents.
The combat can be really good or somewhat frustrating. It feels really rewarding to try to be sneaky and work out how to use the environment to take out a group of enemies without ever being spotted. For me this is the combat system at its most satisfying, where you’re depending on your bow and arrow to make stealth kills. It’s tense but not frustrating and requires you to be precise and careful. For the majority of the game you can play like this and take out enemies at will. This is where the game emphasizes surviving.
Unfortunately there’s also segments where you’re suddenly blocked off and oh snap wave after wave of enemies! Better pull out that shotgun/rifle and go Rambo on them all! Personally I almost never enjoy these segments. They bogged down the later Uncharted games for me and just turned frustrating. You can take out fifteen or so bad guys but then one guy you didn’t see lunges at you and bam, you’re doing the whole segment all over again. It’s probably just a personal thing but when I’m out roaming the island and being metal gear croft it’s off-putting to suddenly turn into call of duty. And story-wise it doesn’t make much sense either, though I’ll get to that later. I will say the weapons handle well enough and after upgrading them it’s far less frustrating. There’s even a somewhat humorous segment where the enemies block you off then you pick up a random grenade launcher and start wreaking havoc, making the enemies scramble away. Little moments like that make these segments somewhat bearable.
My only other gripe with the gameplay is the QTE segments. They don’t really make much sense. In Tomb Raider 2013, the QTE segments usually take over when you’re escaping yet another explosion or cave-in. Better mash those keys then that key ad oh nope, you didn’t time it right you’re dead do it again. It’s made more odd by the fact that there are escape moments that aren’t QTE segments. The escape segments where you’re in control are great. You’re on the edge of your seat running and dodging and it really feels immersive. But then the QTE segments… why do we still have these segments? They break the immersion because suddenly you’re not running for your life, you’re being told to ‘MASH LEFT AND RIGHT TO ESCAPE’. It’s just so odd to see nowadays. I loved the escape segments where I was in control. Give me more of that mad scrambling, not the button mashing.
Wow, story wise this game is… kinda okay? I dunno, I find the whole grim gritty reboot where EVERYONE DIES to be a bit old hat by now. There’s some cool parts of the story though and there’s a decent progression for Lara’s character from “Oh crap I’m shipwrecked I’m gonna die” to “LET ME AT THE BAD GUYS TIME TO SAVE EVERYBODY”. It falters at times though. For example, when Lara first kills someone else she freaks out and almost breaks down. Oh wow, that’s pretty harsh. I feel bad for her now. She’s gotta go through so much and it’s so sad ;-; oh but then a few minutes later she’s killing left and right without batting an eyelash. Wh-what just happened? Who knows, maybe Lara’s tougher than I thought. Or maybe the game’s pacing is a bit off.
Though she’s definitely tougher than I thought. Lara seems to intentionally try to fall off every ledge she can and flop around like a rag doll before landing at the bottom and limping it off. Sometimes her tendency to the most painful outcome is just amusing, other times it just feels like torture porn. Seriously, the first thing you do in the game is set yourself on fire, fall about 15-20 feet to the ground on a spike that goes through your side, LIMP IT OFF, struggle against some attackers, avoid a cave-in and rock slide and yes, everything on this island tries to kill Lara every minute. Not really but it still feels over the top at times. I suppose it stands out in stark contrast to the more restful moments where you’re just searching for loot and I’m not really complaining about it. I just question the need for such a high level of violence.
There is a bit of focus on the horror part too. Your enemy is a crazed cult who enjoy ritual sacrifice after all. If you’re squeamish… yeah, you should probably avoid this game. Don’t like blood? Lara bathes in it (literally at one point). There are skulls everywhere. Which to me isn’t really horrifying, though it did make me curious how they managed to get the skulls in every nook and cranny and what they did with the rest of the bones.
Oh, and I seem to recall there was some controversy over a scene that people were calling ‘attempted rape’. I’m not really sure what scene this even is since she’s being grabbed by guys all the time, though they pretty much always try to strangle her. When they’re not doing that they’re beating her face in. Lara gets treated like crap by basically everyone in the game. Do I think it’s misogynist or sexist? Not really. After all, she has a grenade launcher.
Finally (The TL;DR Part)
Tomb Raider 2013 is a really fun game. It’s super ambitious and there are parts where it falls short, notably when it falls back on old gameplay habits of QTE segments or enemy waves. But for the most part it’s a game that pulls you into a story of a lonely girl who pulls through struggles most of us would never even dream of. It’s an immersive game with a varied and interesting environment that usually tries to kill you but hey, you’ve got a bow and arrow. A girl’s chance of surviving increases by a thousand percent when she has a bow and arrow. I’ll probably do a video review or game stream of Tomb Raider some day when I get a better computer. Until then, enjoy this rambly review.