Game: Tomb Raider
Platform: PS3, Xbox, PC
Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics
Describe This Game in Three Words: You'll barely survive.
Plot Synopsis: In this reboot of the long-running franchise, archeologist Lara Croft leads a team on an expedition into the Dragon's Triangle in order to investigate a legendary Japanese queen. Adventure turns to horror, though, as their ship wrecks and they are menaced by a sadistic cult.
Up Up: I can honestly say that I have never been so completely immersed in a video game experience. Any number of titles can draw you in with superb graphics and a good story, but how many actually make you feel like you and the main character are one and the same? Tomb Raider does the latter.
Croft has grown a great deal as she evolves with gaming technology. The game moves at a brisk pace, with a player being immediately drawn into high-speed chases, devastating accidents, and a series of triggers that you must hit with perfect timing or risk a bloody death. It's just spell-binding how intense the adventure gets.
Rhianna Pratchett's script is top notch as well, and she and voice actress Camilla Luddington make Croft as real as possible with good timing, not too much out of place exposition, and some truly humanizing lines. My personal favorite was having Croft on the run through a flooded underworld suddenly stopping to identify relics from World War II before remembering that she was fleeing for her life. It's the most nuanced the series has been in years.
Down, Down: It's entirely possible that the game is a bit too intense. In fact, the opening feels more like a torture porn film along the lines of Turistas than any sort of Tomb Raider game you may be familiar with. Within moments Croft is strung upside down in a scene lifted right from Hostel 2, forced to set herself on fire to escape, impaled on a spike that you then have to tap square rapidly to remove from your abdomen.
Then there's the attempted rape scene that's gotten the game so much controversy. During one of Croft's many near-escapes a man grabs her, rubbing his hands up and down her side in one of the most creepily awful ways possible. Your choices are to either hit the triggers fast enough to force the gun against the man's head and evacuate his brains, or you get strangled to unconsciousness after which presumably you're violated.
Pratchett has said in interviews that she was drawing inspiration from films like The Descent, and it shows. The calm, confident adventurer that we've known before is now a young woman caught in an endless, brutal nightmare. It's a masterpiece of storytelling and drama, but it's also extremely disturbing.
Left, Right, Left, Right: Moving Lara Croft hasn't changed all that much from the PS1 days, and all the normal options are still there. The "survival mode" that is stylistically identical to Batman's detective mode in the Arkham games allows you to pick out items of interest and guide you... very helpful without the constant mini-map we've all grown so accustomed to. Appropriately enough for the setting, it's easy to get lost and be ambushed in the game.
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The battle system could use some work, as fighting wolves with a bow and arrow with no auto-targeting is extremely difficult. Along those same lines, I have a Texan's complaint against the hunting mechanism. Guys? When you aim for a deer right over the heart from only 20 feet away that deer is going to drop. You really should fix that.
B, A: It's sort of strange to see Tomb Raider on the other end of a genre it helped pioneer so many changes in. There just weren't a lot of games like Tomb Raider when it first came out, and while it wasn't a trailblazing as Ocarina of Time was, but it was still a big deal. Now, we see changes added by successors like God of War and Batman being added back to the original. In a way, a reboot has never been timelier.
Also, not to be that guy, but despite the obvious effort at realism that has gone into rendering Lara Croft, you will absolutely still find yourself gazing at her chest, and a lot of shots used in the game are quite clearly focusing on that. She may be less of a buxom caricature, but you won't be overcoming the claims that she is an oversexualized creation any time soon.
Start?: I cannot stress how dark and real Tomb Raider is. The violence is not cartoonishly over the top or delivered with professional coldness like Hitman. It is as terrifying as Sally's race from Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The exploration takes a back seat to that. It's a fantastic game, but Requiem for a Dream is a fantastic movie. That doesn't make it easy to experience. Tread very carefully.