Customer Review

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Farewell 'Tomb Raider', hello 'Corpse Looter', 15 Mar. 2013
= Fun:2.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: Tomb Raider (PC DVD) (DVD-ROM)
Firstly, let's get the unquestionably good points out the way. This game is beautiful to look at, especially if your PC can run DirectX 11 games. Lighting and environmental effects add mood and atmosphere, though be warned that you will need a seriously powerful PC to run all the settings on high - the TressFX hair simulation is especially demanding, and knocked 30fps off my framerate just in the benchmark (which itself is not representative of the most hardware-strenuous parts of the game) - and when things get especially busy, framerates can drop severely.

The controls work well with a mouse and keyboard, though the camera tends to suffer from the feeling it's on rubber bands and pulling against you: this is a result of being initially created for use with console gamepads. There are some broad vistas that are breathtaking to look upon, the character models and animation are very impressive, and overall it's largely bug-free: all credit to Nixxes, a company who also ported Sleeping Dogs to the PC (which had similar camera 'issues', but I digress).

There are some lovingly crafted areas, especially in the decaying Japanese houses, temples and tombs. Screenshots taken in these parts can be so achingly gorgeous you could mistake them for concept art.

I so wanted to love this game, but when I finished it I couldn't lie to myself. Visuals can only hide so much. There will be spoilers ahead. So firstly read this piece from the Telegraph:

*****

As the latest version of Tomb Raider hits the shelves, the man behind video games giant Eidos says keeping Lara Croft appealing for today's gamers was behind the decision to make the latest version of Tomb Raider 'a reboot'.

"We had to ensure the character was still relevant with today's audiences.

"A lot of the fans had said "tell us more about the young Lara Croft", so the time was right I think," said Eidos CEO Ian Livingstone.

Speaking to The Telegraph's Matt Warman, Mr Livingstone also said the newly released 'Tomb Raider Day One' had an 18 certificate owing to the "gritty realism" of the content.

*****

Do alarm bells go off with all the talk about "today's audiences" and "gritty realism"? No? Then buy and enjoy, as you're obviously the target market - a late teens to early 20's male who grew up babysat by the Xbox, and whose idea of a 'game' is a movie that periodically checks to see if its audience has working fingers. Later you can watch 'Saw 8' or 'Hostel 5', 'read' Nuts or Zoo, and download some porn on your smartphone.

If you loved the Legend/Anniversary/Underworld trilogy, or just the Lara Croft who featured in those games, you'd be best served replaying them. That character was well written, had charm, and was believably smart, confident and capable. The story running through that trilogy concerned Lara's search for answers to her mother's disappearance and gave her a depth of character that her previous outings in the Playstation 1 years never did. We saw the young Lara Croft both as a child and a young adult, and she was vulnerable yet resourceful.

You won't see anyone like that in 'Tomb Raider' 2013 (hereafter 'TR'). What you'll see is a young girl of 19-21 crying, shivering, moaning, screaming, beating herself up, being beaten up, wrestling with father issues, being drenched in blood and filth, and dying violently. A lot. Character-wise, new-Lara starts off a naive student and supposedly turns into a legendary "survivor", as much of the game's marketing emphasises. A loaded word, that: often used in reference to cancer or rape (the prior controversy over some irresponsible marketing still leaves a whiff in the air when 'that scene' occurs - suffice to say that neither the 'oh it's nothing get over it' nor the 'ban this sick sexual assault game' crowd are right), but since when did anyone word-associate 'Lara Croft' with 'Survivor'? So forget the world-class gymnast, aristocrat archaeologist who can mix sardonic quips and backflips: what you're getting here is a queasy mixture of Jon Voight's character from 'Deliverance', the protagonist from 'The Descent', and the girl from 'The Hunger Games'. What you don't get is the progressive dehumanisation through brutality and trauma of the first two (the former plagued by nightmares, the latter relinquishing their sanity): what you do get is more redolent of 'The Hunger Games', an under-developed heroine who alternates wildly between smart and stupid, wily and clumsy mostly to move forward the story. Oh, and almost no tombs.

A note on the story: the lead writer is credited as Rhianna Pratchett, who I am informed is the daughter of author Terry Pratchett. All this seems to show is that talent is not hereditary (see Julian Lennon, Jason Connery et al). The plot is full of holes one could fit the Sphinx through, and cops out by promising that any sequel might tie up some of the many loose ends, which is lazy storytelling and presumptuous to boot (what if the game had sold badly?). Secondary characters are all cardboard stereotypes so two-dimensional they should have been modelled with flat sprites rather than polygons: they do stupid things because the plot requires them, and they're never fleshed out enough for you to care about their fates or feelings. They're Lara's friends or shipmates and that's supposed to suffice, but you'll be hard put to even remember their names. They're a pick'n'mix of ethnicities (burly Maori cook, Japanese-American student girl, tough African-American woman) and cliches (nerdy white boy with glasses with a crush on Lara, gruff violent Scotsman, grizzled ex-soldier). But because they have no discernible personality it carries no weight when they're put in peril, and Lara herself isn't even particularly likeable, spending half her time moaning or crying. The baby has gone out with the bathwater: Lara may no longer have her oversized boobs, but nor does she have any personality nor capability. Other than with weapons, where she could give Rambo a run for his money - but we're never told nor shown how this martial prowess arises.

A mysterious character turning out bad and a betrayal from within are blindingly predictable to anyone non-Amish who's not been comatose for the past 30 years. The dialogue is cliched and often falls with an audible clunk: the voice actors do their best with what they're given, but it's poor stuff, and Camilla Luddington (the voice of the young Lara) is no Keeley Hawes (Legend/Anniversary/Underworld's Lara). A mentor-cum-father figure exhorts Lara that she can overcome her doubts & fears with the words "You're a Croft": but what this is supposed to mean is never explained - is she destined to make sherry? Is she a small Scottish farm? No clarification is forthcoming. Lara is also beset with very Hollywood 'daddy issues', though the supposedly inspiring deceased father is similarly never fleshed out; a reference in a found document merely makes him sound like a homicidal maniac rather than an inspiring parent. Lara's mother is completely airbrushed out (much like Clarice Starling's mother in the book of 'Silence of the Lambs' was replaced by a father in the film), undermining the weak arguments that this is somehow a vaguely feminist tale of empowerment. Unless 'girl power' involves multiple homicide. Lara is constantly looking to male figures for help and guidance, and the only other female figures in the landscape are her ditzy best friend who manages to get kidnapped TWICE, and a mechanic who displays sustained hostility to Lara but no grief for the death of the man who was her lover and her child's father.

As far as absurdity goes, there's more. Before you scream "It's only a videogame!" one more time, I'll direct you back to the quote at the start about 'gritty realism'. You promise that, you've got to deliver it. Got to put your money where your mouth is, if you expect busy consumers to put their money in your pocket.
Everywhere Lara goes, she's pretty much knee-deep (sometimes deeper) in blood, corpses, body parts and skeletons. Many look fresh. Where are all these stiffs coming from? We are told the ancient civilisation of Yamatai once ruled the island, which may explain the skeletons, but there'd have to be an ocean liner running aground every year to provide this much carrion. At the start of the game Lara sustains a deep penetrating wound to her abdomen. She then runs around, falls, jumps etc without noticing it... until the plot requires that she not be able to jump. Lo, she's holding her side and gasping. Of course she wades neck-deep through stagnant water, blood, sewage and never gets this gaping gash infected. Realism doesn't get grittier than this!

Now, if Eidos/Square Enix had decided to go grindhouse and make this game the equivalent of 'I Spit On Your Grave', there would at least have been some exploitation thrills to be had from TR - now you'll suffer, creepy cultists! In fact, a spark of psychosis would have made the new Lara much more fun and a great deal more credible. But the painfully po-faced tone and misguided stabs at pathos mean there is very little actual pleasure and precisely no joy in this game: for one, it's grimly sadistic (Lara's many deaths are frequently horrific) but lacks the kind of irony or wit than can make something like 'The Devil's Rejects' into something more than just gory schlock. For another, the titular tombs are few in number and consist of exactly one puzzle each which when solved will give you access to a treasure box. The tombs are all festooned with corrugated iron and assorted modern detritus due to the presence of the island inhabitants, so the feeling of discovering a long-sealed mystery is absent. Even the appearance of the supernatural element in the final 20% of the game is squandered in a protracted gunfight that owes more to 'Gears Of War' than 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'.

Gameplay-wise, you're going to watch a *lot* of cutscenes, and they're going to go on a *long* time. When you're not watching those, you'll be doing Quick Time Events (QTE) where a cinematic sequence requires you to press the right button at the right time or see Lara perish horribly. And there's a lot of them too. Helpfully, the prompt will not be the key you need to press, but a symbol representing the action that key triggers, and it's not always easy to make out which symbol, so prepare to see Lara die a lot (a sequence involving a parachute is particularly notable for this problem). You'll also be frantically mashing buttons quite a bit, both in QTE and to spin pulleys, break open doors etc: should you unwisely map the necessary action to a mouse button, e.g. on a 5-button mouse, then your camera will oscillate madly when you're clicking away trying to open a door, so keep some paracetamol or a sick bag handy. And if you're prone to motion sickness, don't play this game after a meal if your monitor isn't easily wiped clean and highly resistant to stomach acid, as the camera bobs and weaves when Lara runs much as if she's being followed by a drunken film crew with Parkinson's Disease.

When you're not doing those, the game resembles the Tomb Raider of old much more, except that Lara's gymastic virtuosity has now gone, replaced with something resembling parkour. Oh and she can't swim now - if you fall in water too deep to wade in, it's adios Ms. Croft. The camera will also snatch itself out of your control to point you at what it thinks you should be doing: sometimes only one control direction will work, such as when Lara is squeezing between some pipes in a duct - if you want to back out, forget it, you're moving forward whether you like it or not. The game is essentially handholding you all the way through, when it's not being a backseat driver throwing comments from Lara out about what you should be doing next. If you're really dim or attention-deprived you can activate the 'Survival Instinct' which turns the screen monochrome and highlights usable things and creatures in colour. Remember trial and error in prior Tomb Raider games, how satisfying it was to finally twig how to get to that high ledge? Forget it. Open areas are quite small and littered with collectible items, most of which serve no purpose other than to increase your experience points in order to 'level up' Lara, buying her new abilities or perks, generally combat-based. Though they do pop up an achievement message every time you find one, removing any chance of immersing yourself in the game by constantly high-fiving you. It's like having an excitable young cousin in the room, out of his mind on sugar and orange food colouring, shouting "woo! Yeah!" whenever you find a GPS beacon or fruit bush. The documents lying around are obviously there to try to provide some backstory, but they're badly written, erratically voiced, and where you find them bears no relevance to the contents. What you learn from them makes no odds to the game either. The relics are quite nice, 3d models of historical artefacts you can zoom on and rotate, but their haphazard scattering throughout the game and Lara's off-camera commenting on them produces some jarring tonal shifts - her friend is in mortal danger, she's just been in a frenzied gunfight during which she stabbed men in the throat with arrows and set others on fire, but then she opens a box and quite placidly informs you that this is a jade statue from 500BC China or somesuch.

Your weapons, which you will acquire as the game proceeds, feel like strange throwbacks to the very first Tomb Raider games: pistol, shotgun, automatic weapon. You can upgrade them by collecting 'salvage' found in boxes left lying around even in the most remote parts of the island, or by killing enemies and looting their carcasses, though quite what a wolf is doing with these things is anyone's guess. When you collect enough 'weapon parts' the weapon upgrades by the campfire (these act as quick travel points) so you'll bizarrely see a WW2 Japanese submachine gun transform into a Kalashnikov just because you found 3 items. Lara's bow is the standout: the first thing you'll have to do is kill a deer with it, and watch a scene as Lara apologises to her kill before gutting it (she's not so worried about putting arrows through peoples' eyes), but she also gets a climber's axe that can be used on rockfaces, environmental objects such as doors and pulleys, and buried in people's skulls. However it can't be used on barbed-wire wrapped planks, which require a shotgun blast to remove. Similarly a door wrapped in rope must be pulled with a rope-arrow, but rope nets must be set on fire with a fire arrow: some of the game design is so arbitrary as to wonder how this was thought of as somehow better than pulling levers or pushing blocks. Areas can be revisited to deploy any newly acquired tools to open previously closed areas, but the reward is usually small such as a collectible item or salvage box, rather than a tomb.

Stealth seems to be put forward as a method of making progress should you not feel particularly homicidal, but in reality it's extremely difficult to make progress undetected and enemies will often be situated in groups where sneaking past is impossible. Even the silent kill option on one guard will cause the others to become aware of you, and gunshots cause pretty much every enemy in the area to immediately home in on your location. Escaping on a zipline is often unfeasible as getting shot will cause you to fall off, and the enemies display prodigiously good aim no matter how fast Lara is moving. Health packs are no more as she has regenerating health, so hide behind a box for a few seconds and she's ready for more punishment, but the cover mechanism isn't always reliable, and as Lara no longer has her gymnastic skills rolling and jumping to present a harder target is out of the question (though she does have a rather ungainly new 'scramble' move which looks rather like she's frantically searching for a lost contact lens).

So, buyer beware. Probably a good acid test is that if you have fond memories of Tomb Raider 2, you'll find this an empty and shallow experience, all pretty light show and no substance behind it. Bearing in mind how much controversy the supposed 'rapeyness' of the game generated (hype springs eternal; there's no such thing as bad publicity) there's remarkably little here to provoke anything more than a feeling of growing dismay. It's only mature in the most adolescent of senses, mistaking gore for horror, suffering for ennoblement, and angst for character, and it's only a Tomb Raider game because it features a character called Lara Croft, and that character is only called Lara Croft because someone's too lazy to come up with anything new, and too cynical not to cash in on fond memories. When the credits roll, a message from the developers tells you they spent the last 5 years making the best game they could. I wonder if that counts as an apology?

Now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to load up Tomb Raider:Legend again. "I've been looking for certain artefacts..."
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Apr 2013 12:30:53 BDT
J. Watson says:
And lo, the sales figures did reveal that the buying public didn't buy into the 'bold new direction' of a once beloved series. Guess maybe those plot holes won't get filled after all?

As for Ms. Luddington who did Lara's voice, she turns out to have been the 'star' of a TV movie about Kate Middleton's engagement. Solid A-list talent there! I could make uncharitable comparisons of her acting abilities to, ahem, 'adult entertainment', but I couldn't put it better than the excellent 'Zero Punctuation' - "when she's supposed to be yelling defiantly at her foes the voice actress sounds more like the head girl giving the half-time pep talk at the county netball finals".

Posted on 14 Feb 2014 23:43:43 GMT
nsr says:
"is she destined to make sherry?"

Worth reading just for that alone :)

Posted on 13 Oct 2014 02:16:06 BDT
Seafireliv says:
Good review. i might still get it just for old days sake since I have a free voucher. just need to think...
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J. Watson
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Location: UK

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