Here at Low Fat Gaming, we understand that we all like different things. One persons ‘Game of the Year’ might be another persons crushing disappointment. With that in mind, here is community man Sam Drower to explain why our Tomb Raider review (here) is wrong! Take it away, Sam…
I’m going to make myself very unpopular by saying this, but here goes…. The critically and commercially successful reboot of Tomb Raider is hugely overrated. There, I said it. I feel better.
During my time with Lara’s latest (Or should that be first?) adventure, I ran into a large number of problematic elements that severely strained my relationship with the game, and hindered my ability to enjoy it. Then I saw the metacritic scores, read the reviews, checked the fan communities for feedback… And began wonder if I have even been playing the same game as the majority of these people. Am I the only one noticing these things? Or perhaps I’m the only one bothered by them? Am I just a pedantic misery-guts? Either way, I’m seeing a lot of worrying features in this game that are being endorsed by critics and fans alike, and the pessimist in me worries that the endorsement of such features will inevitably see them becoming more common staples of similar games in the future. That is most definitely not what I want for gaming.
Don’t take me for a complete Tomb Raider hater, though – because that’s not entirely true. I certainly can’t belittle the effort put into making the game look absolutely gorgeous, and the mechanics are as solid and polished as the next AAA action game. However, there’s enough talk of the redeeming qualities out there, and the issues that confronted me on my first playthrough are the ones that I would like to address.
With all that said, here are some of my biggest problems with the reboot…
Lara Croft is a genocidal maniac.
As expected, the game has turned Lara Croft into a reluctant mass murderer, who kills relentlessly throughout the game whilst acting like a scared child. The original game had Lara primarily doing what the title implied – Raiding tombs. Ancient, unexplored catacombs devoid of humanity; civilizations long abandoned and left for the wolves. While she would often come face to face with aggressive and territorial wild animals, the main threat came in the form of the ancient and brutal traps these people had left behind. A painful, spiky death would befall Lara if she wasn’t careful, and this knowledge made traversing dangerous terrain as risky and rewarding as any confrontation with an enemy.
Now, I understand that the new game wants to not only reinvent the series, but also emphasize Lara as being a “survivor”. That makes total sense, given the circumstances. Of course she is going to kill those who want to kill her! But herein lies the other problem as I see it – The emphasis on Lara being a “survivor” simply doesn’t correlate with what the gameplay is throwing at you. As the wide-eyed, frightened and inexperienced Lara, you gun down every poor swine who happens to get in your way. The game plays to its strengths, and said strengths lie in the excellent combat mechanics. As such, there is a huge dissonance between the Lara presented to us by the narrative and the Lara we are forced to play as. Admittedly, this isn’t a problem unique to Tomb Raider, but it is jarring nonetheless. She snaps necks with bows, she indents axes into skulls and fires arrows into faces with ruthless efficiency and not an ounce of hesitation – And she does all of this mere minutes after crying over having killed someone for the first time.
In the original game, when you fought against (and inevitably killed) the likes of Larson, Pierre and the trio of murderous goons hired by your arch-rival Jaqueline Natla, it truly meant something. Each human casualty felt like an utter waste of life, but also a milestone in showing the lengths Lara would go to in order to survive. Tomb Raider 2 promptly threw this out of the window by turning her into a homicidal maniac. As she paraded through the streets of Venice with a pair of Uzis, any living thing that would have the misfortune to cross paths with her would die horribly in a hail of automatic gunfire. Tomb Raider 2 was still fascinating, as the novelty of the game’s clunky 3D engine still hadn’t worn off, but the shift in Lara’s direction from a heroic adventurer to a by-the-numbers killing machine was a severe letdown. I was hoping the new game could amend this, but I had already killed around 100 angry men by the 4 hour mark.
The soundtrack is poor.
The original Tomb Raider managed to create one of the most unique atmospheres in a videogame to date, and this was largely in part due to its effective use of music. Nathan Mcree and Martin Iveson understood the importance of themes and the relevance of tangible, focused music that represented what was happening on-screen. They created bright and profound orchestral pieces that mixed with dark, foreboding choirs. Together, these unique elements aided to create mysterious and sometimes sinister atmosphere that would set the blueprint for all Tomb Raider games to follow. No such luck this time around – The new OST, composed by the usually excellent Jason Graves, is barely present. The amalgamation of bland tribal drums and melancholic overtures are completely forgettable when they appear, making otherwise pivotal moments in the story pass without note.
By contrast, the original Tomb Raider theme remains fresh in my mind all these years later. Many moments such as discovering secrets, solving puzzles, encountering scary animals and monsters alike were not just heightened by the music, they were made by the music.
I don’t like to use the term “dumbing down”, but I can’t help but feel Tomb Raider has too many fail-safes in place for the sake of the casual gamer. The game is far more streamlined so that there is less for the player to learn or cope with, removing a large portion of the challenge and pushing the game towards a more linear, on rails experience that you are very unlikely to fail at. First of all, there’s “Survival instinct” – Groan. Do I really need to say any more? These kind of psychic vision modes are becoming increasingly prevalent in otherwise cognitive and adventurous games, including Hitman: Absolution and Arkham City. Players without patience can simply flick the mode on and see exactly what they need to be doing. Where’s the fun in that? Even if you insist on not using it due to not wanting to wound your hardcore gamer pride, you will eventually drift into complacency. It’s just far too convenient, and the pacing of the game doesn’t allow for any breathing room.
In addition to this, you can no longer fall off platforms as Lara will simply refuse to jump off, or automatically grab the ledge before dropping. Any attempt to jump to another platform will automatically angle you in the correct direction, making failure extremely unlikely – And then there’s an additional fail-safe in the form of a one-handed grab. There’s no risk involved in taking such leaps, which goes against everything that the original game achieved so well in regards to the environment being one of the biggest threats you’ll encounter. In this game, it is just something pretty for the player to gawk at. Sure, you can occasionally go off the beaten path and look into some “tombs”… But if these tiny crevices in the rocks are tombs, then I’m Jimmy Stewart. There’s simply nothing of worth in any of these small areas, just a basic physics puzzle in a murky, enclosed environment, with a box of salvage as your reward – The same random junk you obtain from all over the island and use for upgrading weapons.
Forced action scenes and QTEs
This is possibly one of the most depressing things about the new Tomb Raider experience – The utter reliance on quick timed events and twitch based reaction gameplay for any sequence of merit within the story. The opening introduction, which lasts a healthy 10 minutes or so, has around EIGHT separate moments in which you are forced to either mash buttons to perform an action, or press a button at a precise moment to avoid certain death. These actions range from anything from scrambling up walls to dodging boulders. They were also infuriatingly easy to fail on the PC version due to the game doing an awful job at presenting the QTE to the player. Want to push a wolf off of you before it rips out your throat? Press X. Want to avoid a nasty strangulation from a deranged islander? Press X. Want to not die by slamming into a wall from a rope? Press B. You get the picture.
There is no weaker form of gameplay than pressing a single button when prompted and then watching your character perform some death-defying feat. Non contextual quick time events are lazy, forced, uncreative and monotonous. They only exist to push “cinematic” action on the player with minimal interactivity. It’s akin to buying a nice juicy steak and then watching someone else eat it. Tomb Raider is the latest victim of this trend. I get the impression that the game is having more fun than I am, since it gets to indulge in all the cool action while I am reduced to pressing X duties. I feel like Tomb Raider’s wing-man more than anything else a lot of the time.
In addition to the QTE events, the game will frequently force you into huge, ridiculously over the top action set pieces which value spectacle over substance. You have limited control over Lara during these moments, and your interaction with the game is usually limited to running in a straight line and jumping at the right time, or perhaps pressing left or right at the right moment. This makes the game feel suspiciously like a third-rate adventure film such as The Mummy 3, in which the hero is thrown from one perilous scenario right into the next by a series of ridiculous coincidences. The amount of times an action sequence in this game would either start or end with Lara falling and then sliding down steep terrain or hanging off of a ledge over a sheer drop became something of a joke. I’d laugh every time it happened, because it was so painfully cliché and predictable. And yet it continued to happen, over and over again…
These days, throwing a whole bunch of challenges and collectible objects into games seems to be a quick-fire way for developers to add some kind of lifespan to games that would otherwise be a chore to replay. Tomb Raider is no stranger to this. The game is full to breaking point with little trinkets you can collect (Such as GPS Caches) and each section of the map has a number of objects you can burn/smash/look inside to start challenges – Which usually end up lumping you with the thankless task of repeating the same action several more times. What’s the point in doing this? Isn’t Lara supposed to be in a hurry? As far as I can tell, there is no real reward for achieving the challenges, and you’ll merely be doing it to strike it off of a list and say you’ve done it.
If you want to increase the replay value of the game, make the core experience deeper. Don’t make me run around looking for trinkets.
Lara’s backstory in the 1996 original was explained in a simple paragraph inside the manual. The daughter of Lord Henshingley Croft, Lara abandoned her suffocating aristocratic life after a near death experience in a plane crash, of which she was the only survivor. She survived on her own in the Himalayan mountains for over two weeks before finally making it to the nearest village. The experience changed her life and made her realize she only truly found inner peace when traveling alone. Simple, but effective. We knew all we needed to know about the character in order to understand how she became the person she was. Lara didn’t have any other motivations for doing what she did, and was purely inspired by her acquired passion for adventure after her experience. No daddy issues, no father figures or mentors to guide her in the right direction. She learned everything herself, with no outside help, through her impossible situation and came out on top, despite the odds against her. We claim the rebooted Lara is a better character due to being less sexualized and showing a larger breadth of emotions, but she is still very weak. She needs Roth, her father figure and mentor, to save her. She relies on him to teach her, train her, and prepare her mentally and physically for what she will have to endure in the future. She is still just as objectified, but this time as the “fairer sex” rather than a sex symbol. The game makes us want to protect Lara, shelter her and cradle her from harm. She is a considerably weaker character this time around.
So, those are my main gripes with Tomb Raider. It’s undoubtedly a decent action game, but the almost universal praise and obscenely high ratings (9.4 Mr Reynolds? Seriously!?) gave me a sincere desire to call the game out for what it is – Which is a one shot action experience with little replay value and otherwise shallow gameplay.