Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tomb Raider 2013 Review

As we wind down this generation, it is no surprise we are seeing some of the best games ever. When I think of the end of the PS2 lifecycle, I cannot help but think of Shadow of the Colossus. What surprises me is that when we think of the end of this current generation, many will probably look fondly at Tomb Raider.

The history of Tomb Raider is pretty dark. The series has had a tumultuous time establishing itself as relevant since the PSOne. Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2 were amazing games at the time. Exciting adventures with an emphasis on exploring. She was associated with grace and mobility despite controlling like a tank. Once Tomb Raider 3 came along, it seemed Lara Croft had little to offer gamers. While other games were evolving, the "haven't I done this before?" feeling of Tomb Raider plagued it. Lackluster after lackluster game continued, and despite numerous reinventions, the series failed to make a blip on anyone's radar (the exception was the PSN / XBL spin off game Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light).

Now we are witnessing Lara's fourth revitalization, and all I can say is - wow. This is, simply put, the best Tomb Raider ever. Lara, a character known for agility and grace, moves silky smooth. Maneuvering the environment is genuinely exciting. Everything feels intuitive. From switching weapons, to changing ammo (from regular arrows to flaming arrows) all feels seamless. Combat controls always feel smooth, and as you upgrade Lara's abilities, she becomes even more fluid. If there are any problems is sometimes you are not in control of Lara's direct actions. This comes during the seemingly random quick time events. None of the quick time events feel necessary, and they could easily have been replaced by direct control. Worse, the first hour of the game is plagued with them, which makes the player feel he or she will never be in direct control; however, the game quickly drops them in favor of scripted events where you are still in control of Lara. The only other minor complain comes in the lack of an X axis inversion. I always played X axis inverted, so over the course of the first two hours I had to adapt. It was tough, and it may be a hurtle that some gamers never get over.

Graphically, the game runs mostly silky smooth. I played the PS3 version, and I rarely noticed a drop in frame rate and load times are hidden well enough. If there are any complaints, it is with Lara's hair. Something about it doesn't seem as fluid as the rest of everything around her. A minor complaint. Otherwise, anytime I paused the game, it truly looked like a wall paper that I could hang up. Every moment is a gorgeous screen shot. The HUD is also sparse and never clutters up your screen.

Story wise, the game works. The story of an ancient island inhabited by an unknown tribe is exciting enough. It has the usual pitfalls of these kind of stories, but I was always curious about what was going to happen next. Bigger problems happen with character development. Lara is a fully realized character. In fact, Lara may be one of the most developed characters of this generation. From unsure to guns blazing, the transformative behavior of Lara is a slow one. Some may compare it to the protagonist of FarCry 3, but the development here is far more nuanced. So what's the problem? Lara is so developed that she makes everyone around her seem flat. Angry girl, shiesty doctor, and lovable teddy bear are just some of the generics you meet; mostly you won't mind because Lara is such an exciting character, and you really go through her suffering and turmoil with her.

Speaking of suffering, I have never seen such suffering happen to a character. It truly is an adventure full of turmoil and you'll go through every moment with Lara. It is painful to watch. Also, this is one heck of an M rated adventure. Some of Lara's deaths feel like torture porn. It seems almost like the developers enjoyed torturing her, especially early on. It made me uncomfortable, but this all seems intentional and was excellent for plot and character development.

The game is truly exciting. It reminded me of Uncharted 2 levels of excitement. In fact, Nathan Drake could learn something from Lara Croft. The emphasis on exploration is superior to that of Drake's. You will want to explore every nook and cranny of the island; something I have never desired in an Uncharted game. Also, Tomb Raider is continually exciting and every area ups the ante. Uncharted 3 seemed to be set around set-pieces. In Uncharted, you would be excited to play the one area and then have to toil through a lull. Worse, Uncharted 3 felt like set pieces and there was a certain amount of eye-rolling during scripted events. Because Tomb Raider never stops the adventure, the game continues to surprise and amaze.

Optional tombs exist, and they're quiet and nuanced. You might think this could potentially ruin such an exciting adventure, but it is in these quiet moments that are full of as much suspense (if not more so) than the other areas. It is an excellent diversion, and when you are finished with the game, you can explore and find any of the tombs you may have missed. Collecting items is genuinely exciting, and you'll want to burn every banner and destroy every spider totem you find on your way.

A tacked on multiplayer exists. Whether it is worthwhile, I cannot say as I haven't sinked my teeth into as much as I would have liked. But it seems entirely functional and appears to have depth.

Lara's adventure is unparallel  One of the best of the generation. I absolutely adore everything about this new Tomb Raider and I am genuinely excited about the possibility of new tombs and new adventures that will soon come. Potentially: game of the year.

Verdict: A

Overall: Despite some minor quibbles over a supporting cast, Tomb Raider is one of the best adventures money can buy. A defining moment for Lara Croft and adventure games.

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