Tomb Raider (2013)

I’d Finally Set Out to Make my Mark, to Find Adventure

Tomb Raider (2013)From the moment I first saw the video for this game, I was on board.  A super realistic reboot of an already solid franchise is alright by me, but I knew there was a chance that it could be disappointing because several of the games in the franchise had been already.  But I’ve always had a certain spot in my heart for Lara Croft and her bodacious breasts.  I didn’t buy the game when it first came out, but seeing about it and reading about it made my passion boil to the point where it had to be purchased.  Then, for some stupid reason, I started playing Darksiders while Lara sat next to my TV, staring at me confused as I played something far inferior while I owned this game.  Well, it’s time had come.  Let’s review Tomb Raider, developed by Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal, published by Square Enix, and including the voices of Camilla Luddington, Robin Atkin Downes, Chieko Hidaka, Arden Cho, Robert Craighead, Cooper Thornton, Tanya Alexander, Earl Baylon, Andy Hoff, and James Walsh.

Lara Croft (Camilla Luddington) sets out on a ship called the Endurance to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai with friend Samantha (Arden Cho), mentor Conrad Roth (Robin Atkin Downes), archaeologist Dr. James Whitman (Cooper Thornton), and crew Joslin Reyes (Tanya Alexander), Jonah Maiava (Earl Baylon), Alex Weiss (Andy Hoff) and Angus Grimaldi (James Walsh).  Lara suggests a change in course, to venture into the Dragon’s Triangle, east of Japan, and the crew agrees with her against the contrary opinion of more seasoned archaeologist Whitman.  A freak storm attacks the ship, splitting it in twain, and leaving few survivors stranded on the island.  Lara is separated from the rest of the group and gets knocked unconscious by a strange man, who strings her up in a cave surrounded by corpses.  Lara must make her way out of the cave, battling the crazy stranded people, led by a man called Mathias (Robert Craighead), and get her people off of the island.  But it seems that Samantha’s ancestor, Himiko, is somehow controlling the storms that surround the island posthumously, and no one will be allowed to leave.

This is perhaps a controversial opinion, but one that I feel very secure in making: this is hands down the best Tomb Raider game ever made.  After I played this game, I started to wonder why I ever liked the other Tomb Raider games in the first place.  It’s so superior in every way possible.  The story especially.  I honestly don’t remember much about any of the stories in the other Tomb Raider games, but my recollection is that they were fairly weak.  Perhaps they met the standard of the day a little better as the greater majority of games didn’t have much by way of story, but this new game sets the bar way high.  The story is great here, and it has some real moments of emotion and resonance that I wouldn’t really have expected out of a Tomb Raider game.  People that are important to Lara die within the story, and the characters are given enough time to be important to the player to actually feel something when they die.  Sadly, one of the characters that didn’t die was Reyes.  The emotional response that lady elicited was hatred.  She blames Lara for every death on the team, even though she’s also the only one that ever saves anyone’s life.  I understand that it was Lara’s idea that turned the group towards the island that started this shit, but what was the alternative?  Continue following Whitman and never find what everyone on the crew signed on to find?  I found all the collectables in the game, and I never read any journals talking about how Lara twisted any arms or held anyone at gunpoint to sign on for this expedition.  And everyone that survived at the end of the game did so by the grace of Lara, so shut the fuck up.  And thank God SOME of the people on my team survived, because I was getting to think that I’d make it off the island alone with how quickly the game was killing everyone.  I was also happy that the greater majority of the game was rooted in reality and then it’s unveiled that there’s actually something supernatural going on as well.  That’s kind of a staple of the Tomb Raider games.  Also a staple is Lara’s sense of humor, which they maintained in this game to some extent.  This was Lara’s first outing, so she was a little over her head, but she had time to throw a funny comment in now and then.  I thought it was a fine joke when you’d examine a relic only to find out that it was fake, but they went to that joke a few times as well.  I also liked that there was a fast travel system in the game, but I found it difficult to use because of how the story was paced.  You rarely reached a site where you could fast travel from without having something in the story that seemed time sensitive, and the game had immersed me so much that I didn’t feel like I could go running around looking for hidden tombs and relics when my friends were in peril, but that’s really more a compliment to their story than anything else.  At least one of those frenzied situations could’ve been Lara’s fault, because how is she going to respond to her friend saying she has to hide her Walkie Talkie by yelling into the Walkie Talkie?  Your options are either the other girl turned it off and hid it like a smart person, or the people she’s hiding it from now know she has it because you’re yelling into it.

Another thing I wanted to talk about briefly was this alleged “rape scene” that I had heard so much about before going into this game.  What happens in the game is that Lara gets captured by the crazy people and one of them starts running his hand down her side towards her ass before you get a quick time event to stop him.  I thought this was really overblown.  First, he almost touched her ass.  He didn’t really try to rape her.  And if you fail the quick time event, he strangles you to death.  He doesn’t rape you.  I couldn’t promise that he didn’t then try to rape you AFTER strangling you to death, though.  My point is that it was not nearly as overt as they made it out to be.  I had heard some people refer to it as the “rape scene,” but if I had not, I don’t even know if I would’ve assumed it was going there.  This is something that I imagine would actually happen if a pretty girl was captured by a group of guys that had not seen a girl they weren’t going to kill in decades, and movies get away with this stuff all the time.  Why don’t we just get off the game’s nuts for this?  If we’re going to make a big deal out of something, I’d take more issue with Whitman telling Lara to just do what the guys said.  How are you going to tell an attractive woman to do whatever the crazy dudes that haven’t seen a woman in decades say to do?

This game also improves on the series visually.  The thing that was on my mind throughout the game was that my friend Phil was complaining that everyone was lauding the visuals of Bioshock Infinite when this game looked so good.  This game does indeed look fantastic, but I can’t really speak on the comparison yet as I’ve only just started Bioshock.  But this game benefits from an ultra-realism to its visual style.  It was so realistic that I actually started to get vertigo while climbing a radio tower in the game.  Lara also improved drastically in look.  Lara was always considered a sex symbol, but she’s much better now with realistic boobs and looking much more like a normal girl.  Plus, power is sexy.  And I would not mind dating a chick that much more badass than me.  And she is indeed badass, as the visual style helps to remind us by keeping the damage she’s taken visible through the entire game like how Batman’s suit gets beaten up as you progress through Arkham City.  And, like Batman, Lara just keeps pushing forward.  As I would with her in the bedroom.  I’m not sure that that makes sense…

The gameplay was also phenomenal in this game.  It’s pretty reminiscent of Uncharted in a lot of ways, but that’s far from a bad thing.  I love the Uncharted games!  It uses cover a lot and it’s a third person shooter, so the comparison is not a drastic jump to make, but they made it their own by making the guns somewhat secondary to the bow and arrow.  It was just more fun to put an arrow right between someone’s eyes.  And there was a lot of climbing as well.  But, technically, most of this stuff was done in Tomb Raider before, so maybe the comparison isn’t that apt as Uncharted probably got more from Tomb Raider than they did from it.  But there was one part where Lara climbed over the wreckage of a plane that was very similar to Nathan Drake climbing over a wrecked train car.  The puzzles that Lara can solve are often interesting, but none were entirely challenging.  I’m still okay with that.  Also, this game is put out by Square Enix, so of course there’s going to be experience in it, which seems to not fit, but it also works well enough that I don’t take issue with it.

In my opinion, this isn’t the greatest game for achievements for one specific reason: the multiplayer.  The single player achievements weren’t insurmountable, and were generally a pleasure to get as the game was so enjoyable, but I found the multiplayer to be a bit of a trudge and not really worth investing the time into.  And they want you to invest quite a bit of time into that multiplayer to get up to the level necessary to complete the achievements, so it just wasn’t worth it to me.  I’ll feel content with the single player achievements.

It’s probably too early in the year to make this prediction, but I could easily see Tomb Raider making it onto my list of the best games of 2013.  Well-written, visually photo realistic, and a damned joy to play.  Lara Croft is back in a big way if these guys keep it up, and I’ll be in line next time they make an attempt.  You should all be playing this game already.  You probably shouldn’t have been able to read my words without the persuasive power compelling you to make a run to the closest store to buy one, even if that store deals exclusively in linens.  Tomb Raider gets “The extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are” out of “Go buy this now!!”

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)

Finally I get to review a game that has been out for less than a couple months. I just beat Deus Ex: Human Revolution, brought to you the fantastic companies of Eidos Montreal and Square-Enix, arguably two of my favorite video game publishers. Lets see how they did.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (and no, it’s not Deuce Ex, so stop pronouncing it that way like almost everyone that’s asked me about it) is a prequel to the original Deus Ex from back in 2000. The game follows the story of Adam Jensen, the head of security at a company known as Sarif Industries, located in Detroit. Sarif specializes in a very popular trend among humans in this year (2027) known as augmentation. Augmentation is the practice of adding robotics (either in complete limbs or simple neurochips) to a person to make them better. Sarif, and Jensen’s ex-girlfriend Megan Reed, are preparing for a speech about a new discovery known as “Patient X” that will revolutionize the augmentation industry. While Jensen talks to his boss, CEO David Sarif, an alarm goes off that is initially written off as a minor lab accident. Jensen goes to investigate to find that the labs are on fire and most of the scientists are dead. He soon finds the culprits, 3 heavily augmented mercenaries (one of which looks just like UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell), and is quickly grabbed by Chuck Liddell-bot and thrown through a window before Liddell-bot kidnaps his girlfriend. Jensen is badly injured, nearly fatally, but worry not. They can rebuild him. They have the technology. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster! So Jensen becomes the new 6 billion dollar man (adjusted for inflation). 6 months later, Jensen is back on his brand new metal feet. He returns to Sarif Industries because of a hostage situation at the hands of an anti-augmentation group called Purity First. The rest of the story follows Jensen as he gets caught up in the corruption of business, politics, and humanity and he must find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

This game is hard to give people a review about, as I have struggled with when people have asked me while I was playing it. And it’s the gameplay that causes that conflict. This game, similar to Fallout or Borderlands, mixes the first-person shooter and the role-playing game, two of the most popular and most segregated of acronyms. Typically the FPS genre is more fast-paced and action oriented, and the RPG is more slow and methodical, so generally speaking, a hardcore FPS (Call of Duty) fan would have nothing to do with a hardcore RPG (Final Fantasy). Mixing these two together, surprisingly, can yield results that many people find very appealing. I, for one, am a great fan of Fallout, Borderlands, and now Deus Ex (though technically I was a fan of the first one as well, but I can’t remember back 11 years ago). This game also takes this mixture and adds another mixture for the player to choose from: stealth (like a Metal Gear Solid) or a cover-based shooter (Gears of War). The problem comes with recommending it to people. People tend to only ask “How is it?” and not stop to think whether or not I like the same games as you. So, based on the gameplay, I would say, if you liked Fallout and Borderlands, and can tolerate a slower pace, then you’ll probably like this game. If you thought those games are boring, you will probably not make it through this game, at least not in the stealth fashion that I did my first playthrough with.

The graphics are pretty well fantastic. Everything has a uber-futuristic look to it, and there’s a very grimy side to the cities as well. But everything looks fantastic. The only thing I got to thinking about is the performances of the characters outside of the movies. And I think L.A. Noire is to blame. I think I’ve been spoiled by the facial capture technology used in LA Noire because that game basically took an actor’s performance and pasted it onto the face of their characters. So, in comparisson, the regular game technology is hurt for me. But they weren’t abysmal or anything.

Most reviews talk about sound quality as well as the other stuff, but I don’t pay attention to sound in a game. I think, if you’re paying attention to sound, that means it’s bad. It should be heard, not noticed. Whereas this game is concerned, the music has a real techno theme that seems appropriate for the game, and every other sound goes without notice by me. The voice acting caused no complaints save for the main character, Adam Jensen, who is so horribly raspy, even before nearly dying, that it grates on my nerves a bit.

The story is a little convoluted, but still enjoyable. There is a lot going on here between being betrayed by everyone who is striving for their own agendas that it’s hard to find out who the bad guys are. Of course, this is probably a choice by the writers of the game, because otherwise there would be no justification of having 4 endings, depending on your choices. Some games take the choice to be as good and evil and it’s as simple as this. And most of the time you know what you’re doing throughout the game. When it comes down to decisions like “Help the old lady across the street” or “Stab that baby”, you know what you’re doing. This games choices are more vague, depending on whether you agree with the people that think people should be pure and without augmentations, or the people who think it’s natural evolution for humanity, and the extremists in both.

As is typical with open world games, this game can take some time to finish. I think my save file at the end of the game said it took me just over 20 hours to complete this game, so it’s certainly not a game to be picked up and messed around with for a few minutes at the time. But with the gameplay being so engrossing and fun, you might not want to do that. So, I give this game a “If you like the game type, you’ll like the game” out of “Spatula”.

And, as always, please rate, comment, and/or like this post and others. It may help me get better.