Friday, March 29, 2013

Tomb Raider: A thorough review by someone who has not actually played it

Tomb Raider was the first game I’ve ever attended a midnight release for, accompanying a friend who was buying the game. It was a disappointingly sedate affair. No one trampled by angry mobs in a mad rush to the counter, no one arriving after they’d sold out and angrily telling the clerks that their refusal to magically conjure more copies of the game into existence has ruined Christmas, no burly die-hard fanboys cosplaying in tiny Lara Croft shorts, no GameStop employees using their hypnotic mind control powers to force people to trade in used games against their will.

(I have it on good authority that the latter does, in fact, happen on a regular basis. Otherwise I’d have to entertain the possibility that the comments section at Kotaku contains a significant number of reactionary hysterics who can’t grasp the idea of people whose preferred trade-offs between money, convenience, and time actually differ from theirs, and that couldn’t be. Perish the thought.)

I’ve not played the game, but I have been present for a playthrough of most of it where I prevented several player deaths with my Molotov cocktail-spotting skills, so I think I can speak with some authority on it. Some thoughts:

He learned almost too late that man is a feeling creature...

I liked the more humanized version of Lara Croft. She gets knocked around a lot and actually seems to feel it, she gets scared of things, she looks filthy for much of the game, she gets physically sick the first time she kills a man, and her chest size in combination with her extreme agility doesn’t require me to assume that she’s a cyborg whose original spinal column has been replaced with carbon nanotubes and titanium to preserve my suspension of disbelief. She has a more interesting personality than the original Lara Croft, though that’s admittedly not the highest of bars; the GameStop bag we carried the game out with and the bottle of Pepsi I drank later that night have won similar accolades.

Oh, the pain, William! The pain!

Croft soaks up a truly impressive amount of abuse in this game. She’s perpetually falling or being thrown off of high places, whacking into and/or being whacked by objects at high speeds, or sliding down near-vertical inclines at velocities that would probably leave a mere mortal needing months of intense physical therapy before they were able to sit in a normal chair again.

And I say this as someone whose standards for what constitutes an “impressive” amount of damage to inflict on a main character is pretty high. I spent quite a bit of time playing Spec Ops: The Line not long ago, a game where protagonist Martin Walker takes several very nasty spills involving damaged skyscrapers and a crashing helicopter and suffers burns that have him looking like an alternate-universe version of Two Face who joined the Army instead of going to law school by the final stages of the game, and I was still struck by how the game puts its heroine through the ringer. On the other hand, Lara Croft never had to walk down a barren desert version of the Sorrow’s river of the dead from Metal Gear Solid 3 (so really not at all like the Sorrow’s river, now that I think about it) while being berated by the Eye of Sauron.

There are some moments where it started to seem a little silly, particularly the part early on where one of her punishingly rapid descents is followed by her stepping into a freaking bear trap. At that point I half-expected anvils to start falling on her head. For the most part, though, it does a nice job of conveying how hellishly arduous the main character’s journey is.

Somebody get this man his own prequel series

Conrad Roth, the captain of the ship Lara Croft and company were on, is a badass and all-round awesome character. He’d be a shoe-in to be my favorite older mentor figure in a third-person action game about an adventurer killing lots of people in gunfights during archaeological investigations, if my heart didn’t already belong to Sully from Uncharted.

I can knock a hundred dollars off that Trucoat!

On the other end of the spectrum, the only thing saving Dr. Whitman from being far and away the most repellant character in the game is the fact that the competition includes a small army of murderous cultists. And unlike the latter, he doesn’t have the excuse of being driven insane by years trapped on an isolated island with nothing but other people who’ve also been driven insane by years trapped on an isolated island for a company. He’s whiny. He’s untrustworthy. He’s both cowardly and stupid, never a good combination. He’s smug and dismissive towards others when he thinks he can get get away with it, unctuous and servile when he doesn’t. The man practically leaves an oil slick in the air when he walks. The fact that he sort of looks like William H. Macy’s character in Fargo with a mustache doesn’t help.

Stormguard don’t surf

You eventually gain access not only to regular burning arrows, but to napalm arrows. This pleases me. It has the dual virtues of being both absurdly over-the-top and oddly realistic, since making homemade napalm isn’t terribly hard.

(Link is for educational purposes only. By clicking it, you agree to indemnify Pointless Side Quest against any damages that occur if you roast yourself alive and then come back as some sort of vengeful fiery ghost.)

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