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#NotRetroBut: Tomb Raider

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I recently sat down and played through the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider. The game was released in 2013, published by Square Enix after the purchase of Eidos Montreal (think Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the recent Thief…abomination), and designed by Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider: Legends, Gex, Pandemonium!, Soul Reaver, etc.). The word reboot put me off a great deal as I hear that particular word and instantly think “seemingly lazy money grab”. This game, however, cost me zero dollars as I simply downloaded it through my Playstation Plus membership via the PS3. “What’s to lose?” I thought. I spent roughly 15 hours with Tomb Raider 2013, and here are my thoughts.

Tomb Raider 2013 (TR) takes place prior (to my knowledge) to any other entry in the TR timeline. Laura Croft is more than likely in her early to mid-twenties (not specifically detailed), is setting off in the hopes of discovering a lost civilization, is on a ship in Asia, there’s a storm, etc., etc., etc. Things basically go from happy-go-lucky to devastating within the first five-minutes. In the off chance that you can’t figure out what happens, I wont ruin it. Again…first adventure, ship, middle of the ocean, storm. Let’s just say that survival is a driving factor in the plot.

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The story aspect is what kept me playing to be honest. I need a good story to get through most games. The whole survival aspect, unraveling a mystery, and faint desire to keep my shipmates from dying served as just enough incentive to keep pushing on. Is this the deepest or most involved storyline I’ve seen in a game? Absolutely not. Is it intriguing enough to keep you playing? Sure. I mean, it’s TR, you get the drill.

The gameplay in TR is pretty strait forward if you’ve played any other third-person action/adventure game in recent history (specifically Uncharted). Over the shoulder view, guns, bows, arrows, knives, sneak attacks, stealth, etc. You fight against other humans fairly regularly, and I never felt like I was running low on ammo (even though it’s “limited”).  You can upgrade your weapons as you level up and collect things within the environment. It’s pretty standard action/adventure fare here. That being said, everything worked as it should and I was rarely distracted by anything related to the gameplay. On occasion character movements felt a bit stiff, but it’s totally playable. I was completely unconcerned with any quirks related to controlling Laura after the first few minutes of gameplay.

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A staple of previous TR offerings has always involved some mixture of platforming and puzzle solving. Jumping, swinging, hanging on for dear life – it’s all there, and it’s all executed at an acceptable level. Sure, I missed a few jumps by not timing my actions with perfect precision, but most of my deaths felt very fair. I don’t mind falling to my death if it’s my fault.

If you love the TR series because of puzzles, you’ll likely be disappointed. There are puzzles, and one of them proved fairly frustrating – but it had nothing to do with the difficulty of said puzzle. It did have quite a lot to do with being 3AM and my choice of beverage that particular evening. While not a complete waste of time, the puzzles do feel a bit like an afterthought.

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There is one caveat to the gameplay. It is absolutely worth mentioning and could likely turn some away from the game entirely. The utterly dreadful QTE (quick time event for those of you who only play hardcore solitaire against the computer until 4AM every morning). QTEs require you to hit a prompted button within a certain amount of time to “tell” your character to do certain actions. Some games, such as Dragon’s Lair, are essentially movies that you can “play” by reacting to screen prompts. TR has plenty. You use them to dodge certain objects, finish off enemies, and make the impossible possible…yeah. I’ve never been a huge fan of the QTE, and I’m not a huge fan of it in TR. There were a few WTF moments when I know I hit the #$2!#$@ button, but I digress. It can and likely will take you out of the experience from time to time, but the shooting, jumping, exploring, people/treasure/animal hunting will pull you back fast enough to get over it. The final outcome of several of the QTEs were quite satisfying – I’ll give them that, and only that, much credit.

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Presentation is where TR truly shines. Taking into account the fact that this game was released ahead of the PS4 and Xbox One, it’s freaking beautiful. I’ve played some really visually sexy games in the past year (The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite come to mind), and this game is on par with some of the best, visually speaking. Granted, it should be as its release fell towards the “end” of the last generation – but it’s really something special. I would put it up against a few of the current cross-generational offerings. Sure, the textures can’t possibly be as crisp, and the draw distance might not be quite as far, but for a PS3 game? It’s pretty impressive. I did run into a small bit of trouble when I wandered into the most open area of the game (a beach), but I’m unsure if this is something I could replicate. It only happened once, so possibly not.  Other than that single instance, everything seemed to chug along smoothly.

One thing I really can’t get over is the gore. TR has always showcased interesting situations surrounding death (spikes, pits, etc.), but some deaths in TR are down right terrifying. Sure, if you fall down a pit, you just fall. If you get shot to death, you die. However, there are several occasions that making a misstep will greet you with a very detailed depiction of the pain and agony under which Laura is going through –  thanks to you. While I enjoyed it (it really made me feel for her, and really made me want to do a better job so she didn’t have to go through a similar experience), I could see how it could be a little bit of a turnoff to the squeamish. It actually surprised me when it happened the first time – and I’m about as desensitized as you can get.

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In conclusion, Laura Croft’s latest (and earliest) adventure is absolutely worth your 15 hours. While I didn’t 100% the game, I did complete the story and likely 50% of the extra content.  Completionists could easily spend 20 hours or more exploring the environment, turning over every rock, and seeking out every bit of extra treasure, but I would expect most to keep it around the 15-hour mark. There is some form of multi-player that I didn’t bother with at all. I know nothing about it, but I typically don’t enjoy multiplayer unless a game is built around it. TR is not one of those games.

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If I had to rate it on a 1-10 scale, I would give it an 8, with my higher rated games released in 2013 going to The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite. Twenty-thirteen was a solid year for console games, and Tomb Raider 2013 deserves a bit of the spotlight. I can easily recommend a playthough – especially if you can get it for a reasonable price! There has been a remastering of the game for the PS4 and Xbox One titled Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. If you haven’t played it, I would suggest trying it on one of the aforementioned platforms. I’ve seen a bit of gameplay and the visuals appear slightly polished. You also get the DLC, some costumes, a digital mini art book, and a digital comic.

Have fun, play games, and be good to one another!

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Announcing: SUPER! Bitcon

 

The Retro Gamers Society is proud to announce: SUPER! Bitcon, a sprawling convention for video game enthusiasts of all generations—current and classic!  SUPER! Bitcon is Oklahoma City’s answer to the call for a video game convention with a home close to ours.  Oklahoma has a rich convention and expo environment that extends back decades – and now the Retro Gamers Society is proud to join the ranks of our peers to offer a local venue to host exhibitors, vendors, guests, and cosplayers.  Join us March 29th, 2014 as we hold our inaugural event in the heartland of America.  Stay tuned to the SUPER! Bitcon website for more information and please email info[at]superbitcon.com to get involved!