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A Survivor Is Born

Regrettably, due to some very dubious ways of measuring progress in the game I’ve finished Tomb Raider. The short answer is it’s a great game. Buy it. Play it. If you like Uncharted you should certainly play it. In my view it’s equal to the juggernaut that is Uncharted 2 in its own, unique ways.

The game was a joy to play with minimal frustrations. The only annoyances being the odd combat sequence that just pushed things too much. It happened twice. The two scenes being similar. Lots of enemies. Confined, but open, spaces. Too intense. Uncharted does these scenes occasionally and they’re just as annoying but they seem even less appropriate for Tomb Raider. I like the combat in Tomb Raider, but I think the more extremes examples of it should be toned down and replaced with exploration, wonder and the odd puzzle. When they happen it always seems like the easy option rather than having to think up something more subtle.

Drop the sandbox approach to the series. Why do all games have to be a sandbox these days? Everyone else seems to look forward to sandboxes like they’re some sort of gaming nirvana while I see it as a blight on gaming. The Arkham Batman games had the same problem: Arkham Asylum a great story, excellent set-pieces and a very focused, gorgeous setting, then we get Arkham City with a diluted experience full of distractions, lots of travel and the inane minutia of pointless exploration and collecting.

The sandbox is the source of ‘finishing’ the game at 62%. The core narrative is finished, the remaining 38% consists of finding the widgets that are left around the island, possibly the odd mini-tomb (not that exciting) I missed and caches of equipment. The only reasons to get to that hundred percent being an obsessive compulsion to reach 100% and to give Lara more skills she has no reason any longer to possess. I can’t help but think this: if all those sandbox elements, largely collectable elements, weren’t present could the narrative have had an extra layer or sequence added to it. Creating those elements of the game has an opportunity cost.

You could also say that about the multi-player, but then I am one of those people who laments the slow erosion of the exquisitely delivered single-player, non-sandbox experience with each passing year.

In truth, the island location worked for this game, delivering a brilliant mix of Lost and Rambo: First Blood which worked for the type of story they were telling. The journey of Lara Croft into a leader, survivor and adventurer extraordinaire. Like a lot of sandbox games these days though what actually happens is a conflict between a focused narrative and the sandbox. Do one or do the other, stop trying to do both. A Tomb Raider game should be a narrative driven game of high adventure, fantastical locations, diabolic enemies and globe-trotting. The next game should not be a sandbox. Ironically, the Uncharted games aren’t sandboxes and they are fantastic for it. I want that with the much more interesting Lara Croft character.

The Lara Croft character is brilliant. This seemed to be the case before but in truth this was largely because of what the player brought to the completed product, not so much what was actually in the game. The potential for the character to evolve into a great Nolan-ised, action hero along the lines of the new Bond is very interesting. This is especially true if they keep the games rating an 18. Lara comes across as substantially more real, in an action hero sense, and it works really well.

How they handle the character moving forward is going to be something to watch as the series progresses. The game has grit, how will this play out with a character in her twenties rather than teens? What will happen when she can have relationships and how deep will these be? While I realise they’re not going to drift back to the ludicrous shorts and boots to what degree are they going to play up the bond angle of sequences taking place in exotic gowns, wetsuits and the various other ‘uniforms’ of the globe-trotting adventurer? Also, to what degree, once off the island, will they pull us into her exotic life-style? I hope they address these areas and don’t isolate us away from them like they did (quite rightly for this one) in this game.

The game is full of cool moments, but three moments stand out: the climb up the radio tower, when Lara persuades the survivors to go up river rather than try and leave and the signature moment in the final conflict. The climbing of the tower is brilliantly filmed with great music and represents a point when Lara achieves something significant and believes she’s about to get rescued. It’s a great moment that gets an emotional reaction. When she persuades the remaining survivors to go up river it’s the point she matures, as she becomes the expert and the leader. You feel she has grown. The cool bit at the end: she pulls the pistol from the holster of her enemy and, for one brief scene, you get to two-gun blaze the guy to death. An echo of the potential Lara to be. It just felt right.

It’s a pity they can’t make these games faster. It’s also quite possible the next game might be on the next generation of consoles.

About Ian O'Rourke

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