Tomb Raider

“Thanks for attending today’s meeting.  We are here to discuss options for the Tomb Raider franchise.  What we need to come up with is something fresh!”  Says the Corporate exec trying to screw every last cent out of a 20 year old IP.

“I know! Let’s make an origin story” Says the tired old hack writer

Too cynical? Perhaps.  But when the developers said “we never planned to make an origin story” I couldn’t quite control the involuntary “yeah right” that burst from my throat… after all Hollywood has been all about the superhero origin story for the last 10 years and in the most part they have been warmly received so why not? Lara is about as close to a gaming icon as you can get (well excluding anthropomorphic animals anyway…) so making an origin story actually makes quite a lot of sense and, truth be told, it is excellent.  In fact the telling of Lara Crofts story is pretty much the high point of this game.

It is a well written script and the voice-acting is great.  Looking up the actress who plays Lara (Camilla Luddington) was a pleasant surprise as she is a young English actress who looks surprisingly similar to Lara…  The graphics during cut scenes are phenomenal (as you would expect from a Square Enix production) and in-game graphics are some of the best I’ve seen recently. Overall the atmosphere of the game is communicated very well and it works (along with the frequent violent and gruesome deaths) to create a tangible sense of tension.   Even when I was fairly sure I had cleared all the enemies in a region I still felt on edge whilst exploring.  This tension makes no sense in gaming terms as the autosave feature is excellent and when you die you lose almost no progress so death has no consequences but still I was striving to avoid it… why?

I think it is probably to do with the genuinely horrific and well rendered deaths the Lara suffers. They are so strangely compelling that when discussing them with another gamer we both confessed to having an urge to find out just how many ways Lara can die…  Part of the reason Tomb Raider was so popular back in ’96 is that gamers (mostly young males) felt compelled to save the damsel in distress and I think this has been reinvented and, in fact, reinforced as Lara has gone from being a total hard-arse to being a resilient and determined young girl.

Game play (also known as all the different ways you can kill Lara) falls into 4 rough categories:

–       Puzzle sections with the hint of death

–       Open world exploration with the risk of death

–       Combat with probable death

–       Quick time sequences with almost certain death

To be honest the game play within each section is exactly as you would expect.  There is nothing new or cutting edge in the control systems but equally they are immediately comfortable so you don’t get sidetracked learning the game you just rip into the story.  She moves around the various areas relatively easily and fluidly and whilst she isn’t as nimble as Ezio she climbs, jumps and swings in a way that feels right for an adventurer.  I occasionally found myself tripping over tiny ledges unable to step up onto ramps which is a bit poor but trying to balance all the different ways Lara interacts with the world was never going to be easy and in general it is satisfactory.

What I didn’t find satisfactory is the multiplayer section.  I simply can’t understand what this adds to the game.  The combat mechanism is not sufficiently refined to make online combat enjoyable and all those other great “Tomb Raider” aspects become irrelevant.  For me it’s like the multiplayer in Red Dead Redemption or Space Marine, it’s bolted on to what is otherwise a great single player experience.  Game publishers seem to see the online experience as essential to any game regardless of its style or genre but personally I would have preferred to see the time spent developing the multiplayer spent on the main campaign.

So, obviously, I have saved the most important question to last.  One of the most significant features of Tomb Raider has always been Lara Crofts “sex appeal”.  Well in this latest effort her sex appeals are well represented.  Perhaps a more natural approach (representative of her younger age and innocence) but there are plenty of gratuitous close-ups that keep the sex appeal rating very high.  And speaking of high ratings Tomb Raider certainly deserves the majority of accolades it is receiving and whilst probably not going to be a classic it certainly is worth the price of admission.  I only hope somewhere in the game there is a scene where she snags her pants on something and then decides she’d prefer to be wearing shorts…


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