Friday, March 22, 2013

Tomb Raider 2013 or Lara Croft in Die Hard Island

Lara Croft on Nakatomi Plaza Island
So I  finished the recent addition to the Tomb Raider franchise this week, and I decided I should post my thoughts about the game and it'll probably turn into a discussion about my general ideas about things this game touched on. 

An enclosed but explorable environment, filled with hostiles and littered with treasure, and a powerful story about a young woman who becomes a hardened adventurer and discovers the world is not as innocent as she hoped. In fact the narrative is the strongest aspect of Tomb Raider 2013, during which we watch a girl become a woman who faces hardship, violence and loss. It's an intense story, and punctuated with violence, set-backs and moments of catharsis. It's great, except the problem is that verb. "Watch". Watching is a passive action, and for a video-game it's probably the biggest sin. There are too many occasions where the control is taken away from the player and we must watch Lara do something awesome (or worse, somethings stupid) in order to advance the plot. Whenever this happens what the game does is remind the player that you are not Lara Croft, you are watching Lara Croft. In a game punctuated by such vicious violence against our protagonist , loss of control is probably the most dangerous sin of all. A character you don't have control over is an object rather than a subject, and Lara Croft being a female makes this a sensitive and dangerous issue. That said, it's a great story but like any adventure it suffered from too much "narrative pull", would you really stop to look for hidden tombs and gewgaws when your friends and allies are constantly in danger of being captured, tortured and killed? Probably not, so again the game's immersion suffers for being so tied to a narrative. 

Okay, so I've talked about the negative but I'd like to move on to why I think Tomb Raider is an easy contender for Game of the Year despite these common mistakes. First - when you are in control it's an amazing experience. Every time you die, you know it was because of a stupid mistake you made rather than poor controls or impossible enemies. Cover matters, and Lara can only take a couple of hits before biting the big one (the death animations are a little too brutal for my tastes but whatever). The puzzles are intuitive and use the full range of Lara's movement abilities and the player's cerebrum. For an adventure gamer like me the puzzles may have been a bit light for my tastes, but in a game this focused on momentum and action I suppose it makes more sense to simplify the puzzles a little. 

The environment was a joy to traverse, and sublime to look upon. The environment is Lara's greatest antagonist, and I would often just stop to take a good look around before bursting into action leaping, climbing and swinging my way from one end of an area to another. I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed just running, exploring and finding hidden salvage boxes, relics and challenge bits. The "survival instincts" mode is a good addition because sometimes this could be reduced to pixel hunting.

Combat was pretty simple, and I pretty much only ever used the Bow and the Shotgun. The bow was pretty much always deadly, worked great from range and had the added advantages of rope arrows and fire arrows. The shotgun was fun because I am bad at shooting and shotguns have that wonderfully large reticle! Actually the evolution of the combat from nervous and distant kills to up close and personal climbing-axe finishers was one of the best aspects of the game. At no point did I feel like Stallone mowing down waves of enemies without a care (even if that was the reality). I mostly felt like McClane stuck in a bad situation and making the best of the tools I got. At one point you receive a grenade launcher, and I just wanted to yell at the antagonist over the radio: "Now I have a grenade launcher, ho ho ho." 

In fact Die Hard is the perfect analogy for this game. McClane and Croft have a lot in common but the biggest thing is that they are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances (which is my favorite kind of story). They aren't the impossible ideal of the action hero and that's why we root for them. They are post-modern but not entirely self-aware. They just know they have to "keep moving" or otherwise fall apart. The enclosed space, the better armed and prepared enemies and the use of wits over weapons is why this game is the best. 

There's been a lot of discussion on the nature of the violence in the new Tomb Raider, and I just want to speak my piece on it. This game has some serious brutality in it but it didn't seem any worse than what John McClane goes through in any Die Hard movie. Lara gets pierced, cut, shot and severely injured more than once in the game, but then so does McClane. Does it seem to happen more to Croft? Sure, but remember a game needs to fill at least 20 hours, a movie only needs 2. So the frequency is about the same considering the lengths of time. 

The other homages this game seems to make is the Descent and Apocalypse Now, which if you're going to reference, those are some strong references to make.

Tomb Raider is an experience that you really should give yourself a chance to enjoy. While this game is a little more action heavy and narrative directed than I would have liked, there is a pure and wonderful terror, curiosity and catharsis to be experienced here. So give it a go, and when you take down those truly monstrous bad-guys yell out: "Yippee Kiy Yay."

Note: I played the game on an Xbox 360. So I have no idea what TressFX does to the game experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment