Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tomb Raider (Playstation 3, 2013)

THIS GAME concludes the Three Decade Project with a bang. It's a reboot / origin story, modernized and better-ified from the old games in every possible way. Here's Lara Croft, our protagonist, looking sexier than she has ever looked before. This is probably because, for once, the developers weren't going over the top. to speak.

This wasn't going to be the 2013 game, but it was recommended to me so I decided to give it a whirl. It was a good call. As the most visually impressive game on the list, it was a good choice to end the Project; you can really see how graphics have evolved since 1983.

I wasn't too big on the old Tomb Raider games; their gunplay and platforming just lacked appeal in a world that also contained Mario 64. The protagonist wasn't particularly compelling either, with her comical boobs. However, this reboot has little in common with the old games, reinventing the protagonist as well as the style of the gameplay. Join me as I play through, mostly avoiding spoilers (except for the early-game, which I'll cover), and giving my thoughts on this franchise-resurrecting game.

The title screen is a stormy portent of things to come, with a shot of the island where the game takes place. Lara is a (novice, from the looks of things) treasure hunter, and she's on a trip with a group of fellow explorers. Of course, if you know anything about this game from the media, you know that things fall apart quickly. This is the story of Lara going from "novice treasure hunter" to "hardened badass".

This new Lara Croft is hip to the max, listening to an iPod and rocking out. No word on what she was listening to here. Probably Flo Rida or something.

Her chill-time is short lived, as catastrophe strikes in the first five seconds of the game. From here on out, it's going to be rough for her.

Lara tries to reunite with her ship-mates, to no avail. They're scattered to the four winds on an island in the middle of nowhere.

Before the game can get underway, Lara is captured by unseen assailants. Lara wakes up in some kind of cocoon, hanging upside down. Was she kidnapped by cultists, or giant spiders? And what happened to everyone else?

This game features Assassin's Creed 2 eagle-vision. Same button press and everything. It points out objects of interest in the environment by lighting them up. Actually, this game in general has a lot in common with AC2 as far as controls and objectives go. It's less open-world and the combat is entirely different, but there are many similarities outside of combat.

Lara stumbles around in this creepy lair after making her escape. The fact that it is devoid of enemies makes it even more menacing than it would be otherwise. It's the very definition of "too quiet". Great first area.

Lara spends a lot of time setting things on fire. She's a PYROMANIAC~!

As if the creep factor isn't high enough already, you find "altars" like this one with strung-up bodies.

Are you claustrophobic? You might want to avoid this game. So far, it looks like a horror game - but rest assured, this is an action/adventure all the way.

An increasingly dirty and blood-encrusted Lara crawls out into the daylight, eventually.

There's the wreckage of her plane. From here on out, it's a matter of finding your allies and whatever else you can make use of on this island.

I like it when games have a second title screen that appears after the intro segment. They're often much nicer than the first, main title screen.

Lara crosses a balance beam. People with vertigo might want to steer clear of this game too; if you have vertigo AND claustrophobia, then good luck making it out of this one alive.

There's a lot of climbing in this game, another similarity with Assassin's Creed. The climbing here is more linear, with little control over how you go about ascending any given wall. If there's no ladder-esque contraption handy, you're not going anywhere.

The scenery is absolutely breathtaking at times. It really shows off the full power of the PS3 at this late point in the system's lifespan. Still, even with the high quality on display here, the PS3's graphical limitations are showing a bit these days. Looking forward to seeing what the PS4 can pull off.

A big part of the early game - and a selling point in general - is hunting to survive. Unfortunately, this interesting gameplay device is a very minor part of the game. It isn't actually crucial after the first few areas. Still, it gets you used to firing the bow, which is one of the coolest weapons I have seen in a while. It's great to have a bow in an action game; not since Bioshock have I gotten to snipe enemies with arrows, then run in and retrieve my ammo.

Bioshock had a crossbow, and this game has the substantially cooler longbow. This game scores huge points just for the inclusion of a bow as a weapon, and wouldn't have been anywhere near as good if it had only utilized the standard shooter repertoire of "pistol, rifle, shotgun". Those weapons are here too, but the bow is the signature weapon of the game and one you can stick with throughout.

Lara snipes at wildlife for food. Damn, that woman has The 'Bod.

She feels remorse about it, but it was necessary. This is the last time it'll be any kind of big deal in the story, though. From here on out, sniping wildlife only gives you EXP. So rather than being faced with a true moral dilemma of whether or not to do what needs to be done to survive, you're faced with the "moral dilemma" of whether to be a pacifist or get extra EXP. It isn't too big of a dilemma, and I wish the game had made food more important. Something along the lines of Metal Gear Solid 3.

The first skill I learned in this game was Arrow Retrieval, simply because that skill served me so well in Bioshock. Love the crossbow in that game, and if you can retrieve your bolts, it goes a lot further. I wasn't sure how scarce the ammo would be in this game, so I decided to prepare in case. As it turns out, ammo is pretty common.

An old phonograph? What is this, Bioshock Infinite? No Tears for Fears here.

One of the cool things about this game is that you collect treasures as you go. While most games represent their collectibles with icons (at the most), this game goes all-out. You can look at them, rotate them, find out what they are / what they're used for, and so forth. Like most aspects of this game, it indicates that the developers made a real effort. No word on if collecting enough treasures will allow Lara to buy a castle.

Or a birdhouse, in the case of my Wario Land playthrough...

Avoiding spoilers, so I won't go into the story much. Suffice to say that this game has a sense of menace that never really goes away for the first half or so. The second half devolves a bit into nonstop shootouts, unfortunately.

Much of the game consists of Lara trying to rescue her friend here.

Lara is somewhat bewildered by everything that happens to her, which makes sense since this is an origin story. Looking forward to her being more battle-hardened and confident if this gets a sequel.

The supporting cast of the game is pretty feckless and incapable of rescuing themselves for the most part, leaving everything to Lara. Why do I feel like Joss Whedon wrote this? Past that, it rains a lot.

There are also fires. Lots of fires. Wait, why is there a Japanese shrine in the middle of the woods on this island? The plot thickens...

Here's a shot of the map screen. Once again, it's similar to Assassin's Creed 2 in that you can set your own waypoints. Another similarity?

...Tombs. Much like in AC2, these are the "optional dungeons" of the game. They're full of puzzles and are generally difficult to figure out. Personally, I'm glad that both games relegated most of the puzzles and dungeon-type gameplay to optional areas. People who enjoy those things can run these areas, while people like me who want to keep the momentum going can skip them. I had enough puzzles and dungeons with Prince of Persia, which was basically one big puzzle-dungeon.

I only played through one Tomb during my time with the game. It was fun, but not really my bag. I played this right after Assassin's Creed 2, where I had to run the Tombs in order to get 100%. At that point I was tombed out, and had no real desire to get 100% in this game. I don't platinum very many games, so when I do, you know it's off the charts. AC2 and the Bioshock series are examples of this. Tomb Raider is good, but it falls a bit short. I also don't particularly like when a game has online trophies; makes me not as likely to 100% it. I like online gameplay additions but when they're a requirement to finish 100%ing a single-player game, it's a bit off-putting.

I really do enjoy the graphics and the general look of this game. It has cinematic qualities, but those qualities don't entirely overwhelm the gameplay. Even during cutscenes, you're active. Quick time events are abundant. They're not my favorite gameplay mechanic (hell, they're pretty far down the list) but they're better than being a passive observer. Usually.

Also noteworthy: the game does a good job keeping Lara's physical condition realistic and consistent. For instance, if she's covered in dirt, a rainstorm will clean her off.

The game drags a bit during some of the later areas. You go through several WW2-era bunkers where everything looks like this. It's dull and mechanical, especially compared to the lush outdoor environments of most of the game up to this point.

Much of the game has Lara communicating with her compatriots via walkie-talkie.

Here's the rifle; it's basically the machine gun of the game. It's better at long range than the shotgun, as is tradition. She also gets a standard handgun - it's basically just the weapon you use when all of your other weapons are out of ammo, as is also tradition. I stuck with the bow as much as I could.

One of my favorite parts of this entire game was when Lara had to climb a radio tower to get reception on a short-wave radio. Besides being vertigo-inducing, this scene was amazing and really drew me into the game. A lot of people say that this is "Uncharted with a girl", and I can see that argument due to the abundance of set pieces like this. However, this game has a style of its own.

One of the most fun features of this game? The zip-lines. Here's Lara climbing one, but the fun part comes when you're descending at high speed.

I've heard that next-gen systems are going to be all about lighting effects; this game almost seems like practice for the developers in that regard. Lens flares, fire, and rays of light abound.

Let's take a quick moment to appreciate Lara's ridiculous sexiness.


When hang-gliding, you're supposed to stay ABOVE the trees.

Another way the game drags a bit later on: the constant, lengthy firefights. One of the things I didn't like about Uncharted (well, the first one, which is the only one I've played as of yet) was the constant, redundant shootout. It got pretty tiring, and just wasn't interesting. This game fares a little better since the bow is so awesome, and being able to shoot fire arrows at enemy cover to flush them out adds a new dimension to the shootouts. Still, all of the fighting can get a bit tiring in the last third of the game when you want to get back to exploring and being awed.

While most of the creep factor strikes early on in the game, there's a fair amount throughout.

Our hero runs through burning buildings...

...wades through what may or may not be menstrual pits...

...and has shootouts on burning rooftops. This game REALLY LIKES FIRE.

Into the fire, indeed. If you're a fire-thusiast, this is your game. I haven't seen this much fire in a game since ever.


One of my favorite areas in this game is this dusty shantytown. It looks like something out of Fallout 3. Given how much more mobile you are in this game, an environment like this can be a playground.

Lens flares! Three things this game has in abundance that I think we'll see a lot more of in the next console generation: Lens flares, spectacular indoor lighting, and weather effects like rain and snow.

That's some serious draw distance right there. But more importantly, Lara's idle animations are both realistic and vulnerable.

There's also something really sexy about the way Lara wields a shotgun. If it isn't obvious, this character is a visual treat to look at for an entire game.

Sunset. Good stuff, even if your immediate surroundings are usually post-apocalyptic looking wreckage.

The one time I ever needed to refer to a guide while playing this game? This room. It's an elevator puzzle where you need to break four gears to get the elevator moving. For whatever reason, this took me a while to figure out, and I needed to refer to guides and youtube videos to finish the puzzle.

Going to take this moment to mention one thing I don't like about this game: the lack of hotpants. Lara wears tight shorts in every other Tomb Raider game, but now that she's finally an attractive normal woman, she wears full-on pants! Well, it's understandable, she was under a lot of duress in this game and not expecting to be thrown into this situation. Perhaps the next game will have her put on the signature short-shorts.

A line of armored samurai march by in a scene straight out of Big Trouble in Little China. This is a good time to take cover...and stay there.

You can visibly see Lara get tougher as the game goes on. It's good stuff.

Nice floor artwork. The game has a lot of stuff like this.

This room in particular is one of the more memorable ones in the game. That'll probably do it for this post, since I don't want to go into the endgame. Except...

...GIANT SAMURAI BOSS~! This reminds me of the best scene in Sucker Punch:

Which is actually something I wanted to touch on while discussing this game. It seems like the media idea of "female empowerment" is usually more along the lines of Sucker Punch: have a woman dress sexy while being all badass and as masculine and unrealistically non-vulnerable as possible. Well, it isn't exactly female empowerment when it's designed to appeal to men.

I vastly prefer the Tomb Raider way of doing it: have a woman wear regular clothes while demonstrating her toughness in the face of adversity, actually being feminine and vulnerable (like those things aren't epithets) in the process.

Well, the Three Decade Project came a long way since Mario Bros. It was a fun idea, but I wouldn't do it again. I did it primarily to see the evolution of game graphics year-by-year. Thing is, it turns out that games generally didn't evolve year-by-year, they evolve era-by-era.

Looking forward to doing some new, non-Project posts this week.

Other noteworthy posts from around the site:



  2. This was such a beautiful mail. Greatness throughout.
    You're right, looking back at the beginning again it's clear how much tougher Lara got over time.
    It makes total sense she wore pants. If you're out in the wilderness in shorters you're gonna get torn up. Pants protect you!
    I must say the cult aspect of this game seems plausible. And Lara's friends being feckless puts her own development into sharp relief.
    Beautiful mail and you're making me excited for the PS4 era too.

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