Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tech: Tomb Raider review

A video game reboot is, in many ways, even harder to pull off than a film reboot. After all, a game reboot doesn't just have to tell the same story in a different way; it usually has to play differently, too, while still remaining faithful enough to the original that it's recognizable. Some games succeed in this effort ("Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," "Metroid Prime"), but many do not. This year's "Tomb Raider" is one of the good ones, and it provides a lavishly produced re-imagining of Lara Croft, gaming's answer to Indiana Jones.

Lara's been in need of a makeover for awhile now; her cold bravado felt out of place among today's more lighthearted adventure gaming heroes (cf. Nathan Drake), and adventure games themselves have come a long way since her debut in the late '90s. So how did Crystal Dynamics fare in rebooting her story?


Exquisite controls - Lara runs, jumps, and climbs as well as any of the protagonists in the "Uncharted" or "Assassin's Creed" games. Lara also automatically takes cover behind obstacles when you move close to them, no awkward button presses needed.

Triple-A production values - The whole game takes place on one mysterious island, but somehow there's a huge range of beautiful environments on display here. You'll traverse everything from dense forests to frozen mountaintops to grimy shantytowns, and each level is littered with fun stuff to see and collect.


Ludonarrative Dissonance - Believe it or not, this is one of the most common gripes with the game. Crystal Dynamics does a great job of presenting Lara as a vulnerable, unsure young woman in the cutscenes and backstory, so it's pretty jarring when Lara starts slashing dudes in the face with a climbing axe or casually mowing them down with an assault rifle.

Too much fighting, not enough platforming - Sort of the same problem, I guess. The game's third-person combat is generally pretty good, and exceptional at times (in one memorable level, Lara stalks a team of flashlight-wielding baddies in a dark forest, Rambo-style). There's way too much of it, though, and the focus on fighting means the platforming and puzzle-solving elements are undercooked.

Rating: 88/100


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