As you all know, I have a sickness, and that somewhat imaginary disease is downloading videogames–both free and paid for–and then not doing anything with them for a very long time. Actually, this also applies occasionally to retail products, seeing as I got both Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story back in October 2013 and have yet to even crack their cases. Sure, I’ll install a game on Steam and check to make sure it runs, but that’s as deep as I go sometimes. I mean, really…there are moments where I feel catastrophically overwhelmed with content to consume, considering I get a free game a week on PlayStation 3 thanks to PlayStation Plus, two games a month for being an Xbox 360 Gold member, and countless titles on the PC from bundles or cases of freeware.
Well, I’m happy to announce that I fought back this week and immediately began playing Tomb Raider after it finished downloading–and installing further after that–and boy howdy, I’m pleased with the results. It’s one of March’s free games, along with Thomas Was Alone and Lone Survivor: Director’s Cut, and it’s actually only the second “traditional” tomb raiding game starring Lara Croft that I’ve played. Yup, I’ve played the original 1996 release–and beat it multiple times–as well dabbled with the co-op-focused Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and now this 2013 reboot of the series. That’s it. A couple of the games in-between 1996 and 2013 did pique my interest, but many also seemed too unnecessary and too far from form, like when Lara was running around the Natural History Museum in London.
Strangely, while this new Tomb Raider is most definitely a reboot, it’s both close to form and far from it, as the focus is much more on QTE-lead action sequences and firefights than exploration, though some of that stuff is in there via optional tombs. The fact that the best aspect of an Indiana Jones-like videogame series is now partioned off to something secondary and missable is extremely depressing. But otherwise, I’m really enjoying it. My save slot says that I’m a wee bit past the halfway mark, and I’m focusing mostly on just moving from story beat to story beat, saving many of the collectibles for later after I’ve earned all the vital Metroidvania-inspired weapons which will give me access to hidden areas and such.
Well, here’s how a reworked Tomb Raider story takes shape in the current day and age: Lara Croft, an ambitious archaeology graduate with theories on where the location of the lost kingdom of Yamatai is, has convinced the Nishimura family—descendants from the Yamatai—to fund an expedition in search of the kingdom. The expedition eventually ventures into the Dragon’s Triangle, east of Japan, but the ship is suddenly struck by a violent storm and shipwrecked, leaving the survivors stranded all across an isolated island. Well, maybe not as isolated as initially expected, as Lara begins searching for her friends and stumbles across other inhabitants and a trend for nasty shipwrecks and plane crashes. No longer is Lara simply a rich archaeologist out for personal gain; she is young, naive, fragile, acting out of instinct rather than planned aggression, and it works…for the most part. That is, until it becomes a videogame again.
While billed as open-world gameplay, Tomb Raider is surprisingly linear, with sections of the map broken up by hidden loading sequences of Lara crawling under something or through a stretch of cave. Once in a section, there is some room to explore and find XP-giving collectibles, salvage, and crates of ammo, but the story path is always straightforward, from one place to another, and there’s usually no chance to tackle a scenario in a different manner. Much like in Mass Effect, you’ll arrive in areas where you’ll instantly know a shootout is about to go down, given the number of cover pieces and layout. Despite being all sad about killing a deer and reluctant to fire a weapon anymore, Lara Croft is a killing machine. An absolute sociopath when it comes to QTE kills and arrows to the head. Sadly, a lot of the gunfire moments force you to constantly keep Lara behind some kind of cover, so a lot of the melee moves and shotgun blasts are not utilized. But the bow is pretty awesome, especially once you can start lighting your arrows aflame.
I do have more to say about the distinct disconnect between Tomb Raider‘s story and its gameplay, but might save that for another post. I mean, you can’t watch Lara grimace at gutting a deer for food when she goes on in the next scene to choking a man out with her bow string, especially when you later realize that “food” is not a game concept and literally do not have to kill any other non-aggressive animals for the entire game. Ugh. Like I said, I got thoughts.
Oh, and there’s online multiplayer. Which I’ve not touched, and most likely won’t touch once I’m done with the story and finding the remainder of the trinkets, journal entries, and weapon-upgrading items left on the map. Looks uninteresting. No biggie, kids. That’s not what Tomb Raider is about, unless there’s a mode where you are each trying to grab a single item first before others get to it. No, no, not Capture the Flag. More like…Capture the Priceless Ancient Totem and Deliver it to the Museum for Zero Dollars but Some Career-pushing Recognition. Yeah, I’ll play that.