Tomb Raider seems to suffer the opposite problems of a typical reboot. So many others go through the mechanical motions of their predecessors while harboring affections for a different style of gameplay. Crystal Dynamics, on the other hand, has conviction – they’re committed to the fresh start. But the new gameplay implements aren’t listening, even if their heart is in the right place.
There is a palpable effort here to keep the entire universe firmly grounded in reality, hoping to create dramatic gravity through authentic personal moments between characters. The journals found along the way do a suitable job fleshing out this commitment. But once control over Laura commences all of that flies out the window.
In the opening act Laura is forced to kill a mercenary while defending her own life, and subsequently reflects on the event with conflicted guilt. It’s a great scene…until the next 10 minutes where she slaughters over a dozen soldiers with an effortless finesse. She’ll go on to kill hundreds of these anonymous dudes, although she’s in the woods where hiding and conflict avoidance is presumably encouraged.
Déjà vu on her first animal kill – she approaches the slain deer and makes peace with its spirit, or some shit. Lost in this exchange is the fact that she’s not actually doing anything with the meat. Although she’s ostensibly hungry in this first cut scene, there’s no eating mechanic to create an instinctive need to hunt. There are no survival mechanics at all actually, just an all-too-familiar timed health recharge.
The local fauna’s moronic AI further detracts from the experience, often dictating that they run back and forth in a line, idly stare at Laura aiming an arrow, maybe disappear into a rock, and then re-spawn willy nilly. Riddle rats with a machine gun – it certainly won’t render their ‘salvage’ less recoverable or scare away other animals.
A handful of miscellaneous, easily implementable additions like this would have really rounded out the experience. Marking notes on the map would also be nice, especially when backtracking with new tools is required to uncover secret areas. A more robust weapon upgrade system wouldn’t hurt either.
Tomb Raider would have benefitted from a nice montage scene – something to help us swallow the vaulting arc from helpless scholar to badass animal flayer and stone cold killer. No game can perform the hopeless balancing act of oscillating between staunchly earnest storytelling and Wild West gameplay.
The whole package remains engrossing, but Tomb Raider doesn’t have the faintest clue for how to blend its heterogeneous elements. Hopefully Crystal Dynamics considers this a rough draft, with more polish to come in the sequel.