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SummaryRepresents its time, for some good and quite a bit of bad
The GoodThe new Tomb Raider was marketed as a "re-boot" of the legendary franchise. Frankly, I never cared too much for its countless installments, but the first game was a masterpiece I had some great times with. For some reason I trusted the hype and went into playing it as a believer in a brighter future and a radical overhaul that would invigorate the series.
Tomb Raider is a visually absorbing game. The initial impact is very strong. The beginning already contains some of the best the game has to offer: you are being guided through several dark, almost disturbing scenes, fully identifying yourself with the helpless, terrified protagonist. You fight for your life, you desperately use whatever is handy to get out, and then you emerge into a desolate, hostile environment, where you are told to rely on your instincts if you want to survive.
Tomb Raider looks great. The game immediately lures you in with ravishing vistas that take your breath away. It is also probably the best-animated game to date. The animations are incredibly smooth and life-like. Environments are very busy and filled with objects and details. In fact, there is so much happening at the screen at every moment that it quickly becomes overwhelming.
One of the game's main attractions are its setpieces. Once you've seen some of them you won't be able to forget them for a long time. Near the end of the game you feel over-satiated and wish there were fewer of them, but this over-abundance doesn't change the fact that many of them are absolutely spectacular. Some of these scenes genuinely make you shout your favorite expletive and just stare in disbelief. The first encounter with hostile humans; the fall into a destroyed plane with the floor cracking under Lara's feet; Lara falls down. tumbling and grasping at every object on her way; Lara climbs a seemingly endlessly tall tower with amazing views opening to her. This is the kind of stuff I wanted to share with everyone because it was simply so cool.
The shooting sections work well, and there is a good balance between various weapons. You won't dismiss your bow just because you've found a rifle, and you'll find yourself switching between weapons to suit your tactics most of the time. Confronting enemies can get quite challenging even on normal difficulty, but it's always possible; you are not forced to resort to stealth but often it makes things more satisfying. Weapons feel fairly realistic and firefights are very graphic and intense. Even regenerating health and automatic crouching didn't subtract from the enjoyment of fighting enemies in this game.
The BadThe new Tomb Raider tries really hard to be the next blockbuster in the world of video games. Production values are soaring and the developer took cues from many modern games, obviously intending to put it all into one ultimate hit. The result, however, is not very satisfying. The game doesn't excel in genre-merging and confines itself too often to overly scripted gameplay amidst irritating hand-holding.
Tomb Raider is much more of a shooter than it is a platformer, though it does try to incorporate platforming into its gameplay. One can argue that being a bad platformer betrays the legacy of the series, but let's first assume that the new Tomb Raider was not supposed to follow the classic formula. Taken simply as a stand-alone 3D platformer, Tomb Raider is below average. It is streamlined and automatized to the point of preventing the player from having any kind of meaningful control. Most of the time you don't even need to think: you will get where you are supposed to get simply because the game is tailored to the needs of players unfamiliar with platforming. There is no skill involved in the platforming sections: they consist simply of jumping and climbing where the developers send you. There is little trying, experimenting, or overcoming challenges: it's too easy, making even the most spectacular setpieces less exciting.
Some of the game's environments are unabashedly artificial, with objects clearly serving purely gameplay-related purposes. Many levels are full of conveniently placed ziplines, craggy walls, and other junk that is there only because the designers wanted to hold your hand and smoothly guide you through it. You don't need to figure out anything: everything has been already done for you. It is in line with the alarming tendency of modern games to cater way too much to the player, to be as casual as possible without regards to the damage done to credibility and involvement.
Survival game? There couldn't have been a bigger deception. After the short initial stretch Lara will dispatch of hundreds of enemies with basically unlimited supplies of ammo. After the first scripted dear-killing event you won't need to hunt ever again. There is no hunger meter or anything like that, so all you can do is kill animals for the game's omnipresent experience points. Everything is there in over-abundance because the developers wanted the player to suffer no inconvenience whatsoever, thus removing the joy from overcoming difficulties on your own, figuring out on your own how to deal with the game.
For a reason I cannot fathom almost every modern game needs to have quick-time events. I thought that ever since they were abused by Fahrenheit the developers would actually realize that they should be seen as what they are, a gimmick, rather than being elevated to a primary gameplay element. Instead of boss battles and challenging scripted events Tomb Raider makes yet another sacrifice to modern conventions with those QTEs. And don't let me get started on the "survival instinct" option, which highlights all important objects on the screen.
Tomb Raider was probably not supposed to be an open-world game. But for some reason it has many elements that would actually greatly benefit from free-roaming. Collecting stuff is much more fun when you know you can go anywhere to look for it, and it's the only case when such abundance of things scattered around makes sense. Tomb Raider is, on the contrary, a linear game at heart, and its linearity is often ill-disguised. The island looks like a beautiful place you'd just love to freely run around in, but you'll never be able to. There are optional areas, but they are always well within the confines of a larger one, and they can be easily accessed. The terrain is disappointingly misleading: you'll long for free acrobatics and dangerous jumps, but the game will never let you do that. Try to think outside of the box and the game will instant-kill you. Many times I jumped at cliffs that looked way less dangerous than a series of crazy contraptions Lara just overcame without any problem, but I was punished right away for my desire to do what I wanted. Even though the game takes place on an island, water is almost completely inaccessible, and Lara never swims.
There is also an obvious discrepancy in style here, discrepancy between the seemingly mature story of the game and its unapologetically "videogame-ish" nature. Actually, the story itself is not very good, with a cliche villain devoid of any charisma or personality, a rather underdeveloped character cast, and ill-placed plot "twists" you saw coming from the very beginning. But Tomb Raider games were never about the story anyway. The problem here is that this game tries to present itself as a mature experience, an insight into Lara's character, but it tries to add depth to the character without supporting it by anything gameplay-related. Lara is supposed to be an intellectual who has never held a weapon in her hands. The first scenes describe with graphical poignancy how hard it was for her to kill a deer and a few moments later a human being. Yet afterwards she literally goes on a rampage. Nothing survives in her way, and she kills by far more humans than she ever did in all the previous games combined. Looks like sometimes over-ambitious storytelling can damage a game's image more than an unpretentious plot without any character development if the gameplay fails to match it.