korolev's Tomb Raider (PC) review

I can't give this game 3.5 so I have to give it 4 out of 5

Tomb Raider is an alright game. In fact, in many ways, it's pretty good. But for everything it does right, it does something a little wrong, and the main impression the game leaves is one of "Imagine what it could have been".

STORY:

This is a reboot for the entire series, setting up Lara Croft as a recently graduated archaeologist on an expedition to find the ruins of a mystical island civilization off the coast of Japan. On approach to the mystical island located in the "Dragon's Triangle", the ship becomes hammered with a severe storm that breaks it in two, and leaves Lara, her friends, and the ship's crew stranded on the island. Very quickly, however, it is made apparent that they are not alone, with fierce and somewhat deranged island inhabitants kidnapping and killing crew members. Lara must survive the environment, fight off island baddies, find her friends and uncover the mysteries of the island.

The story is reasonably well written, for an action game. While it certainly won't win any prizes, it generally does the job of moving the action forward, giving the player a reason for doing what they are doing. It's told in a straight-forward manner, with few twists or surprises, but it does have a bit of character and drama. The dialog is reasonable, but nothing very special. The characters are mostly stereotypes - the grizzled Irishman, the wise-and-spiritual Maori, the sassy blackwoman, the nerdy IT guy and the arrogant and unpleasant rival archaeologist - but they're voiced reasonably well and none of their dialogue stands out as particularly bad (or good).

As for Lara herself, the new Lara's backstory shares some elements with the old Lara's - adventurer father, love of archaeology - but we are encouraged to think of this character as a fresh start, with this as her first adventure. Her character does develop over the course of the game's events, with Lara starting out as an inexperienced adventurer who has to come to grips with killing a deer, to becoming a capable killer and explorer.

Overall, a decent story, but one that sort of lacks emotion and pull. None of the characters are particularly interesting, none of the events terribly exciting.

GAMEPLAY:

This game combines a mixture of combat and environmental traversal, in a manner that is similar to the Uncharted games. However, unlike those games, Tomb Raider doesn't really incorporate elements of traversal with the combat. In Uncharted, how Nathan traversed the environment was essential to the way he handled enemies, having to scramble to higher ground, pulling enemies off cliffs and so forth. Tomb Raider has very clear combat sections, where Lara mostly hides behind crates while enemies shoot at her, and very clear exploration sections, where there is no combat at all and Lara climbs and jumps and rolls much in the same way as Nathan... except with less fluidity. But hey, it's her first adventure, so you can forgive her for not being quite as ludicrously dexterous as Drake. Like the uncharted games, combat involves regenerating health and cover mechanics, except that Lara will automatically go into cover whenever enemies are near as long as the player walks her up to a wall or a ledge - no button pushing needed, and this is actually a great change. Lara does not "stick" to cover - but her stance will indicate when she is in cover or not in cover, and this allows the player to rapidly move from cover to cover very quickly by simply moving Lara from side to side.

The Combat is, however, mostly quite dull. Lara starts off the game with the best weapon - the bow. Enemies never have very much health and will either stick behind cover and very slowly poke their heads out, or do a slow, suicidal "charge" towards Lara's position. The environments also give Lara a lot of room to merely retreat from the enemies if things are too hectic. The game also only sends very few enemies to fight you at any one time, and their accuracy is generally pretty terrible. As the game progresses, the enemies start to behave more aggressively, throwing grenades or bringing shields and body armor to the fight, but the game never really is difficult or even very challenging in any way. I suppose I should be grateful - if there is one thing I didn't like about Uncharted, it was how unforgiving that game could be.

There are a few forced stealth sections, but usually these are quite easy to get through and you can fight your way out of most of them. One huge issue with the gameplay however, is the QTEs. Tomb Raider is rife with QTEs - and they are terrible, especially if you are playing this game on the PC with an nVidia graphics card. For some reason, some nVidia cards will fail to display the proper symbols during the QTEs, resulting in the player not knowing which button to press. When the symbols are, on occasion, displayed, the game sometimes doesn't tell you which button goes with the symbol, leaving me to literally having to guess which button to press in order to survive. I died over 30 times on the first QTE, because it didn't display any symbol or prompt due to graphical errors. I was not happy. Even when the QTEs display properly, the timing required of the player varies. Some QTEs allow you to press the required button immediately - others require more precise timing and the game does not tell you which is which.

As the game progresses, Lara will unlock new abilities and weapons which can make killing enemies easier. It also gives incentive for the player to backtrack to earlier parts of the game in order to use new abilities to reach previous inaccessible areas. New Equipment and Traversal abilities are unlocked purely as the story progresses, but new combat and weapon upgrades are unlocked by scavenging the environment and the corpses of animals and enemies. The exploration mechanics generally work well, with Lara being able to explore quite wide and diverse environments that hold a wealth of secrets.

GRAPHICS AND AUDIO:

On the PC, this game looks good and sounds decent. While not having the stunningly diverse vistas of Uncharted, Tomb Raider does have a very well realized Island environment that is both beautiful and somber. There are more than a few sweeping panoramic shots and good uses of lighting in the game to keep the eyes pleased. Character models and animations are top-notch as well. The voice acting is decent, even if the lines are not quite up to snuff.

OVERALL:

Wow, looking back at what I just wrote, it seems that I've been pretty harsh on Tomb Raider. I suppose I was expecting more. But what is there isn't bad. The gameplay is functional, the environments are gorgeous, and the story is reasonable. It also lasts a decent amount of time, and has some clever backtracking mechanics and incentives. For a first game in what will no doubt be a long series, it's pretty good. I think the Tomb Raider franchise can develop into a spectacular series, as long as they apply a bit more polish next time around.

Remember, the first Uncharted Game wasn't that great either.

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