Boy oh boy. So I’m writing this up after having just finished going through the game a second time on the hardest difficulty setting in order to get the platinum trophy. So that’s my head-space as I’m writing this.
My initial play through wasn’t that bad, which is a generic way of saying that it didn’t knock my socks off or really make a great impression on me. This is a new developer, Crystal Dynamics having worked on the first two games in the trilogy so perhaps that’s where the issues stem from. Some parts left me with questions as to why did they develop the game this way, what were they thinking or was it just because of their time and budgetary constraints that it ended up the way that it did. I’m looking at you Hidden City!
I’m a fan of the first two games, I really enjoyed just running around, getting in a bit of combat and doing what Lara does. The story was never the best quality this series had to offer. They always felt like they were trying to compete with the Uncharted series, even taking different aspects from that game and trying to do it in theirs. The story in this game starts out slightly interesting with Lara seemingly starting an apocalypse because she took an artifact, but everything about it is just so dumb that it renders it inconsequential.
None of the characters, besides Lara are really fleshed out so you don’t actually care what happens to any of them. Your partner in crime (think Sully from Uncharted) is Jonah, the blandest character they could have chosen. He’s a character from the other games and he just wanders around mumbling in a monotone voice, showing the least amount of emotion a digital character can produce. I don’t understand why they wrote and directed this character and his performance in this manner, nothing about him makes me as the protagonist want to move forward or change what I’m doing.
The guy stands for nothing, he just lazily follows along, sometimes chiming in on the radio how he found some numbers and then disappears into nothing. Perhaps the devs should have taken another look at the Uncharted games to see how an interesting sidekick could add another dimension to the game when you’re wandering around and doing some exploring.
In the Hidden City of Paititi you meet up with Unaratu and have to help her fight off Trinity being led by Pedro Dominguez. He want’s the box for the power, but the eclipse, and the world ending and you have to stop him but they kill Unaratu so the boy has to be the king… It’s not the great American novel or anything so don’t try to get all wrapped up in the plot. It’s a B- movie basically. A fun time having a bit of an adventure with the lovely Lara Croft.
This is the main part of the Tomb Raider games for me. I always enjoyed the running around collecting objects and exploration of the past games. I might even say that I enjoy a few of the battles and I certainly enjoyed the few that were in this game. I wished that there were more encounters actually.
This game is surprisingly short on combat encounters with only having around a dozen or so, it’s a bit lopsided and perhaps shows a bit of the constraint the developers were under. I do like the combat, with a caveat that is. It’s good if you play from afar, sneaking and using a bow and some of your poisons and things like that. That all works as it should. Where the issues arise are the gun-play and close combat with weapons. The guns just don’t ever feel satisfying, hitting a target doesn’t provide the response you look for in a game like this, it’s like shooting at a wet blanket most of the time. You only get the satisfaction when you break a piece of armor off of an enemy.
As enemies get closer to you the aim of the weapons get worse and worse, it just doesn’t feel good to play. There seems to be a disconnect between where your gun barrel is and the reticle in the center of the screen, as enemies get into that range it causes issues with your intuition and where the hits should be landing. However, taking out enemies with a head-shot from the bow is as entertaining as ever.
As I played through the game my first time I enjoyed the way Lara moved and most of everything I did with her, it was a good time exploring all the areas and being a Croft. I’ll speak about how that all changes the second time through down below.
This game really feels like two different products from the world design to me. It goes from having these beautiful graphics and wonderful environments, to not having enough variety and being to uninspired in parts.
The Hidden City is where the biggest issue’s for me arise. You enter this wonderful little village hidden in the mountains with so much to do, all of it pretty boring mind you, but it’s a new type of place for the franchise. There are an insane amount of collectibles scattered throughout this area that it’s actually a bit silly. Every room you go into there’s something to pick up and get a bit of dialogue about, people just have ancient documents on their table or on the floor for you to pick up, makes no sense in the world.
You then get these little side-quests that you can do and every single on of them are uninspired and boring. It’s like the made this huge map and wanted to pad out the time it takes to 100% the game to they made you do all these lame quests. They all turn out to be a go to this point and interact or fight something and that’s it. None of them are interesting, which made me start skipping all the dialogue because I just didn’t care at all what was going on with these people.
You get a playable flashback of Lara as a child at the mansion she grew up at and it turns out to be a nice little diversion. I actually did enjoy that section, even if it was just another ripoff of the Uncharted franchise. Again, copied but at a lesser quality.
Everything for the most part takes place on this one island, so most of the environment all look the same, you’re not really going to new and wonderful places which really takes the adventure spirit out of the game. I would have loved to see a bit more globe-trotting but that also might be a budgetary concern for the publisher of the game.
The graphics in this game are really well done overall. I love that they moved over to a PBR workflow for the shading system in this game. It really makes the environments feel like they’re a part of the world and takes the overall presentation to the next level. The environments for the most part have a really high poly count which keeps the eyes entertained all the time, just don’t look too far into the distance or you’ll see a lot of LOD but that’s not a bad trade off.
Lara’s model is really nicely detailed and animated for the most part. It’s not on the Naughty Dog level of facial animation and motion capture but it does get the job done. The fog and smoke effects were some of the standouts for me, having tossed a smoke bomb into a group of enemies, the lights in the environment lit up the smoke in a really nice volumetric way. Really impressive seeing it for the first time.
fuck this game
Now I’m going to get into the issues I had with this game and how it made me say “fuck this shit!” a lot more than I care to admit.
So I decided before booting up the game that I was going to go for the platinum since it didn’t seem like that much work. I followed a guide so that I wasn’t wasting my time and I could get every trophy with the least amount of work possible. As I went along I’d watch a collectibles video just so I wouldn’t have to backtrack and waste time picking up items all over the game. That wasn’t an issue, the issue started when I got to the hidden city and the collectibles video for that map was almost two hours long. Why did they need so many collectibles for this area? The mental decision to even want to do something like this is idiotic. It’s padding out an area of the game world so that what, it takes players longer to finish your game? Do they know what being concise even means and how it can be a net positive on the gaming experience? I doubt it. I seriously believe the developers wanted more content in the game so they just put a million collectibles all over the maps so that players would stop and pick as many up as they could.
So I do all that and even knock out all the combat challenges on my first play-through, all I have left now is the new game + on the hardest difficulty the game has to offer. I’m a pretty damn good gamer and I don’t see any real issue with completing this so I pop right back in to start. Having done all the boring challenge tombs and things like that my first time through, and maxing out most of my skill tree I was good to go.
One of the rules on this hard setting is that you’re only allowed to save at one of the limited base camps in the world. If you die you go back to the last time you were at a camp. Okay, cool, I’m sure the developers planned out an intelligent way to set this up so that the player doesn’t get frustrated too much for no good reason.
The combat sections I actually enjoyed at the higher difficulty, that’s not an issue. What happened was that I’d go to a camp, then do a bit of unskippable story, slowly walk around, solve a large puzzle, fight some enemies, watch another unskippable cut-scene, then go through a running on rails section where I have to make all these jumps and things like that. I wouldn’t think any of that would be an issue based on my first playthrough, most because if I ever fell I’d be right back where I fell from. So I started running, made a few jumps and then went in the air and tried to throw my hook so that I can swing from a beam onto the next platform, the hook shoots out and connects to the wrong thing, I hang there for a few seconds and then die…
Back to the campfire!
I do everything again and get to the running section. I’m stressed out because I don’t know if it’s a timing thing I fucked up on or did the game just glitch out a bit and it wasn’t really my fault. Should I try and do everything the same way I did last time or change it up to see if I have a different outcome? I have no clue at this point. But I do all that crap over again and jump! The hook attaches to the wrong thing again and I die…
Back to the campfire again!
I’m yelling and trying to motivate myself to keep going. I do everything again and this time I change my timing up a little bit and it works, I make it all the way through. This happens multiple other times for me on this run. It doesn’t take that long to complete the game on this difficulty the way that I did, you basically know where to go and the solutions to everything so it’s pretty short. With how the checkpoints are set up you just start to see all the cracks in the game and how poorly implemented the climbing and jumping sections are. It’s a crap shoot if things work out in your favor or not, there is absolutely no skill curve that you can master to guarantee a successful completion of these sections. If you have the choice, play on an easier difficulty with better check-pointing so you don’t get the urge to chuck this game in the bin.
final score – 7.2
It left a really bad taste in my mouth when I was done with it. Definitely not my favorite Tomb Raider game, I’d leave that up to the other two in the trilogy. For the most part, I do enjoy this version of Lara and her performance, I really wish that she had some interesting supporting characters to go on adventures with. If they need some help with the sequel I’m here for them. It’s a decent game marred by some poor design choices. I’m looking for more out of her next outing.