Tomb Raider – Second Opinion
The gun feels heavy in her hand, smoke rising from the barrel, disappearing in the rainy night. The bullet tore a massive hole in the guy’s head, leaving a gruesome, ragged wound where his eye once was. He coughs once or twice, blood piping out of his mouth, and then finally dies. Lara stumbles to her knees, vomiting and crying. She can’t believe what she just did. She never thought she had it in her. A few hours ago everything was fine. What happened? Mostly she just wants to sit down and wish herself away. But she can’t. She knows she has to keep moving.
Tomb Raider is a game about overcoming weakness and guilt.
It’s just a shame it doesn’t capitalize on it.
“She feels guilty for leading them to their deaths, and every time another survivor dies it tears up that wound up again.”When we first meet Lara, she’s somewhat insecure, but steadfast. She lives in the shadow of her father, the patriarch of the famous Croft family. Her work as an archeology student has convinced her friend Sam’s family to fund an expedition to locate the legendary kingdom of Yamatai. Lara suggests that they sail to the Dragon’s Triangle, a place plagued by extreme storms. Predictably the ship is wrecked, stranding the survivors on a mysterious island. However, the nightmare doesn’t end there. The survivors are taken captive by the island’s inhabitants – who have gotten there by sailing into the Triangle as well – and most of the survivors are killed as they try to escape. This haunts Lara for the rest of the game, as she feels guilty for leading them to their deaths, and every time another survivor dies it tears up that wound up again.
The game’s opening sequences are its best in, as you experience Lara’s dread and confusion, as she’s tossed into a totally alien situation. She gets bruised and battered, impaled on pointy sticks, and nearly crushed by boulders. But after that first kill, it’s as if a downward spiral starts. Lara doesn’t experience a gradual development; she goes from being scared to a hardened killer in a matter of minutes. This feels dissonant, and it’s a problem not exclusive to Tomb Raider. Rhianna Pratchett, writer on the game, has later explained why and it’s true that the story and gameplay need to be balanced so some things that would have benefitted the narrative have been sacrificed.
“I think that the developers may have locked themselves into creating a third-person shooter, when they could have made something completely different.”However, I think that the developers may have locked themselves into creating a third-person shooter, when they could have made something completely different. Why not a survival game where ammunition is scarce and you have to make a choice between attacking head-on or trying to find a way around enemies? This would better suit it as ammo ought to be a rarity given that you’re on a storm-ravaged island in the middle of the ocean. And considering the franchise’s origins as an action-adventure, that would seem more befitting for an origin story.
It’s not all bad though. Early on in the game, the combat feels visceral and brutal. This brutality is best illustrated with Lara’s finishing move, which is essentially bashing a guy’s skull in with a rock. When you kill enemies it has a lot of weight, as you witness enemies bleeding to death after piercing their throat with an arrow. You feel bad about what you’re doing as you experience his dying moments, but that feeling dissipates as the number of enemies grows larger and larger. Later, there are several sections where you are forced to use your weapons, as dozens of mindless goons charge at you with no regard for their own lives.
You feel absolutely nothing for these people. They’re merely obstacles that need to be removed. Maybe it’s easier to not care about a group of people than an individual. On some occasions, you even encounter massive brute-like enemies that require some special technique to take them down, but they just seem out of place and completely non-human. Another problem is that you never really get a sense that these people are uniformly evil. They do horrible things, but at the same time they’re pretty much in the same situation as Lara is, but have simply made the terrible mistake of following Mathias, their maniacal self-imposed leader.
“When you acquire a new weapon you’re usually required or at least encouraged to use it in the following section, but besides that they don’t offer much variation in play style.”Lara starts out with only having a bow to defend herself with, but expands her arsenal over the course of the game. These can be upgraded as you gather scrap, to make them more powerful, get a higher capacity magazine, but ultimately feel a bit redundant. The bow is the only one that changes the player’s play style drastically. The other weapons are mostly used until you don’t have any ammo left, and are forced to change to a different firearm. When you acquire a new weapon you’re usually required or at least encouraged to use it in the following section, but besides that they don’t offer much variation in play style. The bow, on the other hand, has several functions, as it can shoot regular arrows, flaming arrows, and rope arrows – which make it easier to navigate your surroundings. It also seems more appropriate given how Lara has to improvise so much of the time.
Given the title of the game, one would expect tomb raiding to feature heavily in the game. The tombs are there, but they almost always exist in the form of side quests. Although this could be seen as a negative point since it’s an integral part of the franchise, their absence in the story doesn’t really detract from the game as there’s a sense of urgency to the plot. Lara can’t just go off and explore tombs. She has to stay on track and save her friends. The tombs that you do explore truly feel like side quests, as they have very little to do with the story. They feel a bit out of place, but if you must have tombs in the game you needn’t fret, just know that they aren’t the focal point of the game. Besides, there’s plenty of platforming in-between combat sections – and even during combat sections – to keep your need satiated.
The story hasn’t been mentioned to a great degree, and that’s because it’s largely secondary to Lara’s own story. It’s also mostly forgettable, and the twists can be spotted a mile away. There’s a bunch of caricatured evil men on an island, hell-bent on doing whatever is needed to get off the island, which is difficult as the spirit of an ancient queen is generating the storms.
In the end, Tomb Raider is an alright game. It’s a sub-par third-person shooter but could have compensated for this by delivering a good narrative. Unfortunately, it’s muddled and usually just involves Lara shooting up a bunch of men the player is supposed to dislike. Lara’s character arc is interesting, but feels too short to really fit in with the rest of the game. Ultimately, Tomb Raider isn’t a revelation, but Crystal Dynamics have managed to bring the franchise into the modern age, after going somewhat stale. Hopefully it’s not too late.