I finally got around to booting up tomb raider yesterday and wow what a game. I don’t know why I had put it off as there has been numerous good reviews circulating not to mention that here is a wonderful Female protagonist. I played for the entire day, I just didn’t wasn’t to put it away or play something else, it was amazingly holding my attention throughout. Awesome, and while i do want to write about it this one isn’t going to be my typical word spam… hopefully
Firstly I just want to say I’m in love with Lara as a character here.. like serious crush happening right now. The character is not that stereotypical vapant empty soul design where all they have is the fantasy appeal, no Lara is a product of a more realistic vision. To me, it has made her feel more human and approachable. The structure of her face, body, style and general body language denotes something more natural then I have seen in so so long. She is a remarkably memorable character because she is designed to be more unremarkable, just another person.. a young woman put in a position she has to deal with.
During her trials I empathise with her pain and heartache, and applauded her triumphs for this reason. Someone overcoming the odds and facing their own demons. By the (near) end it feels as though she has transcended from being just another character, I hated every time she died in those gruesome ways, hated.. I don’t know whether it was there aim to disgust me or not but that’s what i felt. I had actual emotional reactions to many events and that is not only excellent writing and scripting but brilliant character design.
I get that she is still a pretty character but it isn’t that stupid over exaggerated stereotypical big boobed. small waisted fantastical appeal, it is the girl next door appeal for most and I’m much more comfortable with that being a thing then the other. At times I didn’t even think she looked attractive, who would after undergoing such trials, it was gritty at times and the camera angles don’t hide any faults.
I have heard the criticism regarding the acts she has to endure as belying the misogynistic themes the industry often perpetuates…hmm yes and no. I guess it does pop up more then it should but it seems to me more a reflection of the environment and characters that inhabit this strange world.. she is not the exception here, the others don’t just suddenly come down with the rapies upon seeing her. Many of the visuals are utterly grotesque and the actions done seem a product of this macabre world. Even when she was being beating I thought it wasn’t out of place, it was horrible yes but it was a good touch since in many games that is an action only done to men wherin woman are bound.. and .. you know. Here she is an equal.
It did make me entirely uncomfortable during many scenes though but I think, this time that that was the aim, make people reflect on such things and feel.. not just feel something akin to wanting to protect her but just enabling us to empathise with Lara and with everyone who is stuck in this horrible horrible place.
Many of the events that unfold are to humainse her further in that they highlight her inherent human weaknesses but also her ability to exercise control. At times she is subject to the whims of others but even then she exudes that feeling she is strong, assertive and capable. I even liked how, during a few cutscenes with her comrades she was able to speak up, explain her thoughts and ideas, and be the person in charge over others with what seems more authority then her.
Also I really like all the other charters as well, there has been a great effort done to craft a rather diverse collection of people from varying backgrounds. Nothing about them is stereotypical and as a result they each fell very real to me as they have their own individual personalities, strengths and weaknesses. I enjoy their chatter and the way they have banded together and look out for each other and just how well the represent their own ethnicity and individual demographic. I even like the professor Dr Whitman in that he is rather stereotypical. It is all just nice to see and makes me far more invested in the characters and the game.
Overall though the general vibe and themes of the game was a little bit too much for me. Just so much gore.. EVERYWHERE. Most of the time the piled up body parts, pools of squelching rotting meat and hanging bodies feel contrived and more like intentional shock factor then building an aesthetic and environment. Yes you definitely want some of these places as this island is a gigantic graveyard, they add to the macabre horror vibe the game has going for it and I wouldn’t want to lose that but when you overuse such themes they lose meaning. For instance I enjoyed seeing the WWII graves and skeletons.. well done, but not the piles of bodies in the room before.. been there, done that, got the emotional postcard.
Controls and Combat
The minimalistic ui and cinematic feel to the screen felt far more natural then what I felt on my first impression. I missed my mini-map functions, ammo counters, gun inventories and such but after I began playing the lack of these mechanics suited the gameplay a lot more. With nothing blocking the screen and taking up your attention the game feels really really intense at times, combat is amazing because of this and the big splodey spectacles feel even more epic.
Without the constant gun and ammo pop -up I was more in the moment of combat, and suprisingly it felt more adult as I had to be aware of a lot more things. I was taking not of how much I’d fired, switching weapons for the right moment and being more active. Without a mini-map I felt the world was more open then it was, admittingly it is very open at times with multiple paths to traverse but this way I was an explorer rather then point hopping. It made me want to search the environments, looking for hidden objects, and climbing random parts. It made the stealth parts even better as you had to find and remember mob pathing and be more aware of your surroundings. It just generally made me feel like a bad ass, yet intelligent tomb raider.
I even like the menu system which is a change too, it isn’t in your face, is easy to use, and has lots of great upgrades to work for and enjoy.
Quicktime and Concerns
The disconcerting part though is how control of the character will be randomly taken away from you at some points, you can never really know when and feel like a jackass after you thought you were moving but realise you never where. It happens rather often and every time it is annoying as the camera and screen never changes enough for you to notice it. Taking control of crouching I’m ok with, it feels a little buggy at times with the character movement but it nice not having to worry about it. It’s not a hard thing to accomplish anyway and really is an unneeded mechanic.
Oh and I haaaaaaaaaaaate all the stupid quick time events, sometimes they’re great, i like them, it’s fun to be involved but when I’m constantly having to button mash, switch controls and pay attention when I just want to sit back and enjoy the spectacle makes me think you have the utmost contempt for your player and thinking more like a movie director then a game producer. And when your STUPID game tells me to do one in the beginning without actual saying which button like I’m psychic or something and Lara dies in some horrible unsettling way makes me angry.. Hulk smash angry.
The main bad point right now for me is that tomb raider seems like an unoptimised piece of crap. At first it performed admirable and I was enjoying myself immensely, then the fps drops happened, occasionally at first then constantly. It made many action points very unenjoyable as I was fighting with the controls more then I was the Ai. It is weird though as you can be experiencing perfect gameplay one minute, turn a corner and boom. I did the suggestions of turning off tesselation and I never had Lara’s pretty hair option in the first place. Turned down the overall graphics and it will still happen.
When I stopped playing it wasn’t because I had gotten bored and tired of the gameplay, no I actually wanted to continue and this may be one game where I game back and do some achievement hunting. What did it was an unusual but pervasive bug which turned the world into some sort of thing that had been redecorated by the bad lads gang. At first I thought it was pretty cool and one of their design choices for a different faction of enemies but it was not. It wasn’t going to work from then on as it wasn’t fun and ruined the lovely environments as it was very pervasive. I’m in the process of patching again, as well as updating drivers so hopefully it will work out.
*EDIT* after the patch everything has been working fine without nay issues. No more FPS drops or graphical bugs
Regardless of that though this is absolutely my favourite game of the year so far, and I think for a while to come. It isn’t your average Lara game, there isn’t the expansive tombs where you could spend hours thinking over. There are some, which while fun are a pale imitation. But it is still excellent at times.
Much of the puzzling is more your open world parts, figuring out how to traverse to certain places, shiny thing hunting and such. The stealth areas are magnificent in this regards as some are rather complex in how you want to achieve that section. The ai are masters of mathematical calculations apparently, and can calculate trajectory in their heads whih means one wrong move an have you with tons of enemies beating down on you and quite possibly a check point restart.
The visuals are an absolute marvel. Briliant yet diverse locations that really do fill you with awe at times. LOOOOOOOOOOTS of photos here on flickr too for you to enjoy. I loved every area, and it is great how with the checkpoint system you can go back and explore previous areas easily.
I read a comment once that this is more of an uncharted like game, and it really is.. but you know what, it is an engaging yet fun ride that I would actually recommend.