Friday, December 18, 2015

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider (2013) was bit of an odd purchase for me as I had not ever played any game from the franchise. I guess the decision to buy it had something to do with me having the assumption it was developed by Eidos Montreal. As it turned out, the game was made by Crystal Dynamics, and only the publisher, Square Enix, was the same as with the newer Deus Ex games. But I did play through the game, and I did not totally hate it.

It is a rather good place to get into the series, actually, as it is a reboot, an origin story. Lara Croft is not yet the bad-ass tomb raider she has been previously. Instead, she becomes one over the game. Sort of.

One of my issues with the game is how Lara's character development does not keep up with the gameplay. Lara being in shock and scared is very believable and makes sense for few hours into Tomb Raider. But she still keeps her innocent-like expressions and reactions nearly till the end, all the while you as Lara have already killed tens, even hundreds of people.

There is certainly a serious case of the so-called ludonarrative dissonance going on in Tomb Raider. How awesome it would be if Lara's reactions would change like Captain Walker's in Spec Ops: The Line, she becoming more psychotic over time. Also, apparently in the next game, Rise of the Tomb Raider (that is currently enjoying Xbox exclusivity), Lara is still going through the motions.

The game's lead writer was Rhianna Pratchett. I have played few titles she has worked previously on: Mirror's Edge (writer), BioShock Infinite (additional writer), and Thief (story and cinematics). None of those had particularly great stories. And it does not speak strongly of her skill as writer if being the lead person can cause such a dissonance between narrative and gameplay.

Lara's character would make sense if she did not just slaughter so many. If she just was not armed to the teeth, and the goal was fleeing instead of increasing the kill count. And Lara can kill in such brutal ways, too. There are all kinds of different gratuitous execution move upgrades as the game progresses. Lara's own death scenes are quite bloody as well, though I personally managed to avoid most of them, unlike Conan O'Brien and his helper. That episode of Clueless Gamer is my favorite one to this date.

Another problem I had with Tomb Raider were the QTEs and how the game cannot decide if it wants to control Lara in the action sequences or not. Never could I be completely certain if I had to jump or was the game doing it for me. At some points Lara goes on for a while, and then stops to wait for input. You then hold a button but secretly Lara has again started moving on her own. I am also glad I did not play on the hardest difficulty where the QTEs are randomized. They were a pain in the butt without being different on second attempts.

One memorable moment for me was when Roth gave Lara his pistol, laying down it next to hers. That was when I recalled dual pistols being Lara's signature weapons and thought this was how she started using two. I love such elements in origin stories. But then she gave the extra pistol to her friend and I was slightly disappointed. Luckily the dual pistols did happen eventually at the final boss, and that was very cool.

What is good in Tomb Raider is actually the combat, particularly shooting. Making headshots is fun, the guns handle nicely, and Lara even switches between them very quickly. I always rejoiced when I found enemies to shoot. At least after I got an actual gun. The bow is more suited for silent kills when you have not been detected yet. You tend to get shot while pulling the string and Lara does not react well to being hit by bullets.

I found the high number of special attacks quite unnecessary. It is much easier to simply shoot people from a distance. Probably for that reason shotgun was the only gun I did not get the certain amount of kills steam achievement with as it is not as effective from a long range.

You can play Tomb Raider as cover-based shooter but at some point I found that enemies -- at least on normal difficulty -- have hard time hitting you with guns if you keep moving around. It made the combat even more fun.

There are also some optional tombs to raid. They are short, involving only a single puzzle, though they may still take a few moments to figure out. I like that they did not get too complicated and just brought some nice variation to the game.

I ended up exploring every nook and cranny, and finished the game at 100% completion. I simply could not help myself. Even the most minor GPS cache gives experience, and I wanted to have all the advantage. For my efforts, I was rewarded by having all skills and weapon upgrades maxed early into the final section of the game.

The maximum amount of exp available is thus pretty well calculated. But with hindsight I probably should not have bothered with backtracking as having everything maxed is hardly required. And you can apparently continue playing the game after you have finished the story.

I do not like how they made backtracking a requirement for getting everything as there are always places that require tools that are only found further on. But at least quick-traveling is easy and the game is very clear at informing you of what you are still missing.

Graphics-wise Tomb Raider is fairly pretty. Some of the distant forest sceneries do not stand longer examination -- they started to remind of Dragon Age: Origins in that regard. But otherwise I have no complaints. The Foundation engine seemed stable and ran without issues. Although, the AMD-optimized TressFX used on Lara's hair tanked FPS down to 40s sometimes during cutscenes when the camera was zoomed close to her head. Also, no custom mouse cursor this time either. (Nixxes, what are you doing?)

The game has a whole bunch of DLC available on Steam. I bought them all with the game since everything was on sale. I got to say, however, that it was still a waste of money, even if not very significant. Especially the multiplayer DLC ended up being useless as I decided not to spend time in that. And having many different outfits for Lara is hardly a game changer.

I will probably buy the next game too once it is on PC. Though I hope it has fewer QTEs.

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