Reboots seem to be all the rage these days, though some of them just make people angry. You always have to be mindful of the difference in how a possessive fan boy approaches the situation, and the meaning behind the series needing a fresh start. Tomb Raider created an iconic game, and dominated the mid to late 90’s with it’s stylish approach to combat and exploration. Many years passed, and due to mismanagement, Lara Croft became more of an outdated relic of bad stereotypes than a positive female protagonist. Her series followed suit, and went through some dangerously low times in terms of meaningful quality. You can imagine gamers surprise when Tomb Raider was front and center with a live demo at E3 2o11, and how enthralling the new take on Lara’s adventure would be.
After a long wait, the game has finally launched. I now provide a lengthy preview of Tomb Raider (PS3), and the hell that follows.
From the get go, the developer Crystal Dynamics, makes short work of setting the stage. The intro of the game helps create a sense of foreboding and paints the grim tale, of what young Lara is going to have to do to survive. The direction the devs (CD) want to take Lara in is apparent from the start, with a concerted effort in making Lara far more human, and weak because of this reality. This reboot represents a coming of age story, and in being so, robs Miss Croft of her unrelenting icon status that made her untouchable. Lara is no longer a super star, now, she is just a survivor.
The intro of the game wastes no time in throwing you to the wolves. Lara is aboard a ship that hits a terrible storm, and is quickly ship wrecked soon after. With Lara stranded in the middle of a storm on an unknown island, she spot her friends and yells for help. The cries go unnoticed, and no sooner than Lara’s spirits are crushed, her skull follows suit, as an unknown figure bashes her over the head. You’re than treated to the in-coherency of being dragged to your doom, armed with nothing but a sense of helplessness and sympathy for Lara. Anyone familiar with the now famous live demo reveal, will be relieved. The beginning portions of gameplay represent a familiar scene, and one that helps to flip Lara’s world upside down.
Upon being imprisoned, Lara’s captor suspend her upside down, till she withers away into nothing. Normally, this is the part in the game where the female is horribly under written as victim, helpless and without means until saved and given purpose as reward. The Tomb Raider reboot, on the other hand, pulls a rugged 180, and reminds you Lara is no Damsel in Distress. With you in control, and Lara not wanting to take this shit hanging upside down, she escapes her imprisonment by lighting herself on fucking fire, which leads to a rather painful fall of freedom.
After making a hard landing, Lara refuses to rest on her laurels, and takes care of her newly discovered impalement on a metal rod, by ripping her body up and away from the destructive piece of metal. What entails is her mad dash in escaping this gritty cave. She does so with bravado, sometimes on her hands and knees, covered in her own blood, and claws her way through the grime that represents the cave’s brutal nature.
Crystal Dynamics puts on an impressive show of standing behind Lara’s new essence of struggle. The opening sequence, from the first moment Lara realizes trouble for her endangered crew mates, to her desperate escape from the cave. The games hones in on this concise pacing, and never stopped doing so. This timeliness does well to remind both you and Lara, enjoyment will hinge upon your ability to survive, and this message is reinforced unapologetically throughout the experience. Lara will be threatened, crushed, stabbed, and assaulted at every turn. The impressive resiliency comes with Lara’s inability to handle these situations from a basic gaming heroics stand point, as she lacks all but her wits and her will to survive. She may be robbed of resource and power, but she’s never robbed of a strong sense of survival. This makes her a more engaging character than most.
The Game looks gorgeous, with the combination of weather effects perfectly complimenting the grit and grime of the experience. This ideal mixture. and sense of disheveled beauty, really helps to sell the dirty shit Lara has to drudge through to keep her heart beating. I believe Tomb Raider marks the beginning of the end of current gen games, what with the Wii U already out, and the PS4 promised for by yearsend. Not that this is a bad thing, some of the best looking and playing titles come at the end of their respective console cycle. This reality comes from the devs having the lower costs on their side of making games, as well as the intimate knowledge of working with the hardware for as long as they have. This truth is shown in full force, as the game has a hot streak of playing Filthy Gorgeous, and plays just as well.
Part of what helps to keep the games suspense hanging in the air is the seamless nature of the clutter-less HUD. No real invisible weapon schematics, stats, or information bars hanging over your head at all times. Save for tiny glimpses of interaction icons and combat ques, your line of sight is unfettered, with only the gloriously bloody scene unfolding as your source of entertainment. The inventory exists within the same vein, as the game has a very need to own basis about it, what you can carry on Lara’s physical body, is what you get.
This helps focus the player in Lara’s dire circumstances, with more time for exploring and general progress towards a possible tomorrow.
While the game doesn’t let up in challenging your will to survive, it’s not without some reason .
Pressing L2 (PS3) taps into Lara’s “Survival Instinct” This will give you a sense of direction when you become completely lost, or a little bit of a push when you think you might be stranded. Earlier on in her escape from the cave, you help Lara make her way through some tricky spots with the cunning use of fire. Lara’s legs will also be of major importance, as she desperately finds ways to out maneuver falling debris, dangerous drops, and collapsing cave crevasses.
You’ll find yourself altering and destroying your own environment to break free to the other side, through whatever means necessary. This basic tool (of fire), helps re identify the rather simple approach to the smooth mission design, and helps give insight to the savvy nuance Tomb Raider has conveyed since first showing. The full title embraces these desperate dashes for your life, to overcoming the unknown dangers of forgotten cave systems with nothing but the basics. The blend of action and exploration, at least in the first hour, sets a good precedent for a well rounded adventure, one keeping you throwing yourself forward with painful anticipation.
Cyrstal Dynamics does more than provide an impressive amount of graphic fidelity, their constant use of well framed cinematography also gives way to a more interactive experience. For example, they don’t show a lengthy twenty minute video of Lara’s boat crashing at the beginning, and than have a plot device tutorial drone explain it to you a moment after, as if you possessed some form of intense amnesia. You get a small glimpse of the catastrophe, and the boat simply crashes. Lara finds out through pain, exploration, and observation that this event has occurred. The game performs favor to gamers in this regard, by assuming we want to play the game, rather than just watch it.
The exposition beyond the event is minimal and to the point, maintaining an abbreviated sense of pacing, in order to get you back to the dying.
The simple mission design, escape from imprisonment , obtain the ability to make fire, eat to avoid starving to death, fills me with joy on the back to basics approach the game maintains. This straight forwardness declutters your mind with needless information, to keep you focused on the action at hand. Whether that be through finding hidden journals, tracking animals for sustenance, or keeping quiet while foes approach.
This isn’t to say the game is so far up it’s own ass in terms of simplicity, that it abandons basic tenets of gaming experiences. Auto saves exist, regenerative health is par for the course, and you have the ability to upgrade Lara’s basic actions through light RPG elements. Once you create your first fire, you effectively make a hub area to return to, which you can use to customize Lara, fill out her journal, and save any progress you don’t want burned alive.
After Lara’s hardcore cave escape, and the discovery of her missing friends as a result of the ship wreck, she sets out to continue what she does best; survive. Lara makes her way through some brush, and makes good use of her climbing abilities via a downed airplane. You’ll help her scurry, barely so, up and over the damaged craft, all the while tensing your grip as to not fall to an untimely death. While I was photo capturing for this piece, I was reminded the game wasn’t automatic, as so many action endeavors are now a days. A second too long, and Lara went plummeting to her death. I was almost relieved at the sense of dark repercussion, knowing my efforts thus far haven’t been needlessly guided.
Once again finding her baring, She finds a walkie-talkie, and some clues to her friends where abouts. The supplies come in handy, to make the aforementioned fire “hub”. From here, the over bearing truth of hunger rears it’s ugly head. Lara sets out to find a way to fetch some grub, and does so upon discovering the almighty bow and arrow.
I was delighted to find out I’d be doing a bit of stalking in the jungle, and helped remind me of my days playing as Naked Snake in MGS3. The Bow and Arrow quickly become your best friend, as does the detailed flora and fauna you’ll be slithering through. Once the food is obtained, and the Bow and Arrow has been given a test run, you are once again challenged with your fear of the dark, as Lara stands hesitantly above the unknown.
As we go from bad to worse through out the early stage of the game, Lara struggles deeper and deeper into the jungle, from dank holes, to deep jungle intrigue. At the end of my preview run, the going got tougher, and Lara finds her self stumbling into a bear trap. As the rain crashes down and her screams for help went unanswered, the angry growl of a bestial kind came from just beyond the bushes.
With her leg caught in a snare, and no one to rely on, Lara nervously readies her bow in anticipation for what lies in hungry wait.
I’m astounded from early (full retail build) impressions, the game has managed to meet and beat my excited expectations. From the drastic moments of despair, to the calming sound of the wild, the Tomb Raider reboot is a fantastic start to a re-defined character. The title looks greats, feels good, and has a great sense of direction.
Even beyond the game play, which I would describe for easy digestion as Resident Evil 4 meets Snake Eater, I have this renewed sense of who Lara is, and will likely intrigue any gamer looking for a fresh twist on the somewhat stale action cliches of the past several years.
The game is very mindful of the direction Lara is being taken in. It’s not as if she puts on this farcical frail facade from moment one, and than instantly re-embodies a sense of video game impossible. You won’t find her shoving 100’s of guns into an invisible bag, and withstanding 10000 bullets worth of death. Every little encounter feels like its means something to both you and Lara, helping to create something real. Even with a simple a task as walking over a log feels genuine, as Lara approaches the situation just as you do, hesitantly for the first time.
Her contextualized nature of the struggling is a drastic and powerful divide from her once familiarly unstoppable avatar, instantly endearing her to me as a character. Lara is a surrealistic kind of bad ass in this reboot, as opposed to someone who exists only in the hyper fictionalized, making Nathan Drake look like Bugs Bunny in comparison.
I had to rip myself away from playing the game long enough to inform you, that this game effortlessly impresses.
It looks as if survival has a new name…
…and it’s Lara Croft.