Monday, January 26, 2015

Backseat Gamer: Tomb Raider

Back Seat Gamer: Tomb Raider (2013)

As a child I grew up with a PC and wasn't allowed to have a game console system.  I have fond memories of Jazz Jackrabbit, Lemmings, Carmen Sandiego and Catacombs, while other people became familiar with Mario and Sonic.  I remember I started to get out of playing video games as school became harder with more homework and I pretty much forgot about them, until I ran into Tomb Raider.  And really, I've been in love with the puzzle/first person shooter style ever since.  Heck, Tomb Raider even lead to my love/hate relationship with Resident Evil, but that's another article. 

Lara Croft is known as the kick ass tomb exploring female of the video game world.  Through various incarnations in video games, comic books and movies, pretty much everyone has heard of this double gun wielding explorer with the British accent and large chest.  This game decided to take a very different route and 'reboot' her beginnings to tell us how she became the Tomb Raider that we're all so familiar with.

Back when this game was announced, I was worried, to say the least.  At the time, the word 'reboot' was already getting tired and old thanks to a string of bad movies and a couple horrible video games with female leads (I'm looking at you Third Birthday and Metroid: Other M).  That coupled with the first few shots of Lara looking nothing like the Tomb Raider I knew and loved left me really unsure about the outcome.

The first few previews of Lara and her horrible 'Hostel' and 'Eli Roth' style deaths really didn't help matters at all.  

When I finally sat down to play the game, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was my worry not warranted, this would come to be my favorite Tomb Raider yet - and not just because I have a special place in my heart of the series, no matter how cheesy some of those incarnations are.

Lets get the deaths out of the way.  I compared them to Eli Roth and Hostel because well, if you've ever played the game you know!  They're brutal and gory and painful to watch, and the shock factor really doesn't wear off.  I found myself wincing even when I'd played a part numerous times and still couldn't get past it.  But I found that this actually creates an interesting dynamic in the game - I wanted to get through it without killing her.  In a world where automatic saves and check points are common, killing a character by accident and starting the level over is just a shrugging moment and you don't really feel it (unless you have to watch a long cut scene over and over).  Instead this game forced you to watch her die and see her lifeless body hanging there for a few long seconds, before restarting your game and it leaves an impression.  So that next time you really really don't want to see that again.

With that out of the way we can talk to my favorite part: the origin story.  From my previous knowledge of the series, I knew that Lara's parents had died under suspicious circumstances and she'd grown up into an impressive women who traveled the world and sought out artifacts that had a taste of the supernatural.  There was always a huge gap in there and it never really hit me until this game.  Here, instead of climbing hills and shooting tigers in the first scene, you're forced to live through a plane crash and watch innocent student Lara learn to be who you expect her to be.

The background story of Himiko and the cursed island seems a bit flimsy at first but the strangers controlling the island and the lack of anyone being able to leave heighten the story line quickly as you are forced to try and find your shipmates and find a way out without dying.  Here Lara doesn't have her guns - in fact guns are really only a bonus in this game.  Your best weapon - by far - is the bow and arrow you get in the very beginning.  Aside from being nearly silent, it allows you to snipe off enemies from the shadows and hunt food to restore your health.  Ammo is common and when you get the power-up to loot used arrows off of bodies you've killed, the guns are easily forgotten. I only realized toward the end of the game how much this forced me to learn to be stealthy, running into situations and just firing your guns everywhere always ended up in being killed.

The other characters in the game were fleshed out and interesting, the enemies were creepy and yet realistic and the supernatural elements at the end reminded me of a good Indiana Jones movie or X-files episode where it was crazy, but yet completely believable in that tingle up your spine way.

And - spoiler alert - I will say that the most satisfying thing about the game, other then beating it myself, was seeing Lara in that final cinematic fight with the iconic two guns.  That was the moment I had been waiting the whole game for and I wasn't disappointed.

How Much I Played:
The whole game!  While I love watching my partner play video games, Tomb Raider is one of the few that is all mine.  Yes, I did hand her the controller in a few parts that I just couldn't get past, but it was minimal and I'm proud to say that I played the whole game and beat it.  Yes, it does happen.

Now off to try some Uncharted while I wait for the next one to come out. 

Loved it more then I thought I would.  Why'd it take me so long to play?

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