Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition – Impressions 2

            The more I play of Tomb Raider, the more I like it. Early on, a sort of foundation is laid for the player, orienting him to the world and informing him of the varied mechanics. Gradually, these core systems are logically built upon, increasing in difficulty in accordance with an increase in player skill. While the earlier sections should in no ways be considered basic, in comparison to some of these later, more intricate moments, they might be perceived that way. Alongside an increase in player skill, there is also the inclusion of additional tools, which further increase the level of complexity. At a decent point in these latest session, I obtained rope arrows. This one tool totally, fundamentally altered the gameplay, increasing the already impressive sense of movement and fluidity. Suddenly, ziplines can be made to clear chasms, or certain objects in the environment are now free to limited manipulation. The whole game seems like this steady march of progress. Beyond the rope arrows, I also obtained fire arrows, good for dispatching distant enemies when a headshot is made difficult, and also a flint of sorts, which allows the creation of fire at will. Alongside the climbing axe awarded earlier, these ways of interacting with the environment parallel Lara’s own growth as a character, which is quite considerable as the narrative develops; she is very dynamic, just as compelling as the satisfying gameplay on offer here.

            The ascension of a large, towering radio tower marks the ultimate convergence of gameplay and narrative. Positioned in a cold, desolate snowy region, the tower seems to extend all the way to the sky. Lara is tasked with scaling the tower to broadcast a distress signal, all in the hopes of receiving evac from the mysterious island. It is a very cinematic scene, the tower literally falling apart as Lara slowly ascends. The whole lasts a full two or three minutes, further conveying the immensity of the structure. Lara eventually reaches the top, fiddles around with the controls, and then promptly disperses the signal. After some hesitation, she receives a hopeful response. The camera then pulls back, and we really get a sense of Lara’s physical and spiritual journey. In these opening hours, a strong change is observable. Lara is no action hero; while gifted, she is grounded and human. She feels human emotions, emotions of guilt and uncertainty. In a brief cutscene following her climb, she is lectured by Roth in the nature of loss and sacrifice. Choosing to risk her life for the salvation of another, she shows her selflessness and complexity as a character. It really feels like the game is trying to communicate some kind of message. Lara, well-designed and believable, is the perfect conduit for that message.

            Still, it is the gameplay which matters most, and Tomb Raider is abounding in enjoyable gameplay. A certain cinematic quality pervades all aspects of the gameplay; there are many scripted sections, where movement is somewhat limited, the camera fixed for dramatic effect. One such moment sees Lara parachuting through a ravine, the player tasked with guiding her through heavily forested areas, which, given her great speed, could spell death if touched. It’s a simple scene, true, but the way it is presented brings about an air of intensity. Death in these sections is usually accompanied by some particularly visceral end; ramming into one of the mentioned trees might result in violent impalement. This violence, too, exerts a strong influence in the game; the developers pull no punches, and it can at times be difficult to stomach. It is a very mature game, with at times dark themes and imagery, but its unsettling nature is another one of its strengths. The hostility of this world brings about a sense of place and urgency; if Lara doesn’t act fast enough, if she meets a violent end, it is implied her friends will meet with a similar fate. The violence, though, is most notable in the combat sections.

            The cover system is done well enough, while the stealth sections are serviceable – there are no inherent flaws here. And yet, these engagements never really resonated with me, stood out as original. The enemies can be quite ruthless, machinegun wielding foes spewing out a perpetual stream of bullets, which can destroy or penetrate many instances of cover. There are also enemies which rush straight forwards to Lara, acting with little regard for their health. This action, this tactic, may sound stupid on their part, but the A.I. overall is very impressive. At these early stages, these aggressive enemies are the most frightening, frantic moments arising when they finally close the distance. A melee striking action is purchaseable from the skill system, while a shotgun is also obtained. These two things together mitigate the power of these enemies and do boost the enjoyment of the combat somewhat. Certain weapons I find almost worthless, like the machine gun introduced early on. The recoil is too high, so as to be nearly ineffective. More often than not, I consistently fell back on the bow. Easy to use, it is my favorite weapon, and the inclusion of fire arrows only increases the flexibility of the weapon. The constant sense of progression extends here, too, with differing enemy types making their way into the ranks of the enemy; there are lumbering men with riot shields, others who wear helmets, offering variety and posing a significant challenge. Leaving cover at just the wrong moment oftentimes results in swift death. While I do certainly prefer the calmer, more exploratory sections of the game, these tense moments certainly have their own sense of worth.

            With regards to the plot, much as happened in these latest sessions. We find out that this island is indeed the one Lara and her crewmates were looking for – Yamatai. Her Asian friend Sam is kidnapped, being prepared for some sacrificial ritual. The chances of leaving the island seem lower and lower, though Lara’s resolve persists, expands. Narratively, it is really starting to heat up; the mystery component of the place is also being developed and I am excited to see where things go from here. Still, my highlight is related to gameplay, to one specific area – the shantytown. This is a very dense area, with buildings sprawling all around. There are the expected collectables, something to search for, but the act of exploration, itself, is very rewarding. The area is designed perfectly, and Lara is given a great deal of freedom when it comes to climbable surfaces. Comparing this to Watch Dogs – which I recently completed – the massive disparity is soon apparent. Whereas that game was extremely limited in terms of movement, here there is grace and fluidity. Lara’s animations are incredible, and the very nature of this place is an example of the game’s greatest strengths – the mere joy of exploration. The optional challenge tombs also stand out, and there are a pair which exist just below the surface of this town. The puzzle component is expectantly prominent here, and these two tombs stand out because they are fusion of the traditional and the modern. Whereas a prior tomb was visibly ancient, with old architecture and a decidedly empty feeling, here the tombs seem to be recently lived in. Modern articles and items are strewn throughout the place, as if it was deliberately desecrated. Rather than manipulating shutters and altering the flow of wind (as in an earlier tomb), here you are tossing around gas cans, to raise and lower a certain platform. It makes brilliant sense, given the proximity of these tombs to the shantytown above. They, too, were highlights, and this variance of tombs furthers the idea of diversity which is another of the game’s strengths. Just a few hours earlier, I was in the blustery north, climbing that radio tower. Now, I am in a sprawling, abandoned village, steamy and bright. As with before, I’m totally immersed, curious to see where I shall end up next. Having a tangible fear that the adventure is nearing its end, wanting only to prolong its length – that is a wonderful thing to say about a video game.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: