Tomb Raider

Posted on August 10, 2013 by richardgoulter
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So. I finally had the chance of playing Crystal Dynamics’ latest Tomb Raider game.
My impressions of what the game would be like were somewhat pessimistic when early details were announced. Then I kindof stopped paying attention after that. - The re-reboot just looked so .. un-Tomb-Raider-ish.

On the whole, it seems this fear was misplaced.
This new Lara isn’t exactly what Lara Croft was; and the story tries to be hip and cool and gritty, when Tomb Raider’s story has always been .. quite lame.
The action is very shooter-ish, and there’re RPG-elements to the game.

Crystal Dynamics did a fantastic job at making a Tomb Raider game.

The peak of Tomb Raider, in my humble opinion, was Tomb Raider II; and I’d reckon the best bits about CD’s Tomb Raider: Underworld were good because it was so TRII-ish. (Yes, I’m a fan of Tomb Raider. Shut up, I’m allowed to be a fan of something..).
This latest Tomb Raider has a few gimmicks about it in terms of gameplay; for example some sequences the camera is fixed, and player interaction limited. This manages to create an almost cinematic narrative for the player; and it’s pretty much as if you get to play as Lara in all the cool action cinematics you could only watch with technology 15 years ago.

The action .. was very third-person shooter-ish.
I found TR:U was best played with a gamepad. Indeed, Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider have been very console-focused in design. And so I tried playing Tomb Raider with a gamepad; but had to revert to keyboard + mouse when the fights involved more than 3 people.
This makes for a stark contrast to how the TR series has previously addressed combat. In Core Design’s games, the combat was all about huge jumps and flips, about weaving about the enemy, not hiding behind cover; and you could always use a healthpack if you got too injured. This change is probably due to the change in the way that the games handled character movement. Crystal’s TR:L I think did try to mimick the style, and did a decent job of it; but the fighting in TR:U was indeed rather awkward.
While there are a few wolves to fend off in Tomb Raider, the majority of the combat is against humans (and mostly those with firearms). And the combat is oh-so-modern with stealth-kills, and cover-based shooting. No more auto-aim either.
(I suppose that it was fighting against creatures which was most awkward in TR:U; rather, it is hard to have a combat system in a game which is elegant for fighting both creatures and humans, so it seems CD have opted to fight only the latter. On the other hand, in their Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, the control/combat scheme lead to some brilliantly fun combat against creatures).
– I recall I once had a discussion with a fellow forum-member about this, and he argued that combat in this style would be way cooler. I’m not sure I agree.

In tandem with the new combat is a more open-world style of gameplay, and RPG-elements of character.

As a brief note, TR’s open-world most closely compares to that of Far Cry 3 (from the games I earlier discussed). But by no means is Tomb Raider anywhere near as “open-world”-y as those games.
At best, if one wanted to say there were fighting factions on the island, one would say it is Team Lara vs Team Mr-Bad-Guy; where Team Lara consists of a folk who do nothing useful except get caught or die. (Early on in Tomb Raider, you’ll decide that it’s the kind of narrative where you wouldn’t be surprised if the only living character at the end was Lara).
But there’s certainly no notion of “conquest” of a territory; no vehicles, no money to buy guns/ammo with; no mini-games to fill idle time.
What you have is more about exploring so as to get the various items/relics scattered about the map; and there is a quick-travel between certain “camp sites” which helps with this a lot.
Essentially, this means that you get the access to go back and explore earlier “levels” once you have completed them, although the story/objectives themselves will run in a very linear fashion.
To credit the level designers; the environment is much, much more non-linear than previous Tomb Raider games have been.

The RPG elements are somewhat interesting.
Ironically, in Core Designs’ last (and worst TR game) Angel of Darkness, there were RPG elements involved, too. - Perhaps a big difference is that the RPG aspects of the latest Tomb Raider are never exactly lock-and-key like AoD had. Lara is as athletically strong at the start as at the end. (TR does feature lock-and-key in terms of requiring possession of a certain, e.g. a shotgun, to access certain areas).
The loop of “upgrade to get better skills”, “use better skills to get more upgrade points” is there, I feel; though perhaps not quite as elegant as how XCOM handled it. (There’s not a huge amount of freedom in terms of customising a character as compared to managing a base). And while the skills do heavily link to combat, several fundamental skills (e.g. looting of bodies) need to be unlocked, too.
– I wonder in general whether more games will include RPG-elements such as these in them.

The weapons themselves - bow + arrow, pistol, shotgun, assault-rifle - were upgradable, but not customisable beyond silencer (or not), or the type of ammunition.
– Also, “bow and arrow”. Far Cry 3 had a bow + arrow. Crysis 3 had a bow + arrow, too. I’d think this is due to Hunger Games’ popularity.. but I’m not sure how the timelines allow for that conclusion.

There is certainly a cool sense of adventure; of grand/epic locations.
The Tomb-Raiding gameplay gimmick did feel somewhat adventurish compared to the cover-based combat.

We also don’t get to see Lara’s mansion from previous Tomb Raiders.
Nor can you play dress-up with Lara if you wanted to do that. Nawh.

Oh, and one final remark regarding comparison to Far Cry 3; both games involve the character starting out as a whiny-wimp and ending up a genocidal powerhouse.
Both games also have kindof annoying side-characters.

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