By Joseph Trotter, October 2, 2012
When people talk about stripping back a character, Lara Croft is often a name on people's lips for a very different reason. The intention with the new revision to the Tomb Raider franchise is to discover what made Lara Croft the heroine she became, and thus bring the game back to its roots. The indication originally was masculine superiority, but that's an argument that has been debated more in the media than I care to mention. Here, the player picks up the pieces of Miss Croft as she recovers from an apparently devastating experience, alone on a deserted island. The onus is primarily on survival.
The result then, surprisingly, is rather dull. Although I believe this is a game which will rely on emotional attachment if done properly, something impossible to relate in a demo, the resultant 'climb this, pick this up, shoot this, eat this, shiver longingly' was done in a way to suggest vulnerability and innocence but actually just manifested as very, very slow gameplay.
The areas she inhabits - small pockets of woodland and cliff vistas - are startlingly artificial, bricked in areas lacking any kind of eco-system or nature; it was clearly designed around her, rather than vice-versa. Sharp graphics cannot mask the sparseness of the landscape (not an intentional sparseness either). The survival aspect is thus unconvincing and poorly implemented, with everything too scripted and inevitable for any kind of spontaneity.
More bizarre is the futuristic visual HUD and maps. If Lara is lost, and you are embodying Lara, why the hell can you move her around upon a high res map screen with clear locations? She is either lost in the wilderness with no equipment or not – there is no halfway house. It feels like a hangover from a previous development process they have declined to remove. A hand-drawn map, or even better a rough charcoal and paper device which fills in as you go forward, and something that could have been narratively implemented, would surely have been far more appropriate.
Likewise, when Lara is sat at her camp, a futuristic HUD flashes up (think a Splinter Cell/Heavy Rain hybrid) which deals with levelling and spending experience points. This is all well and good, but surely there could have been a more convincing aesthetic than a screen taken from Mass Effect. The result, of course, is one of befuddlement and contradiction, like a student claiming poverty in a post on Facebook from his iPad in an internet café in Covent Garden. These appear to have been one of several bemusing development decisions which, along with the dull gameplay, make Tomb Raider a bit of a mess. A lot of work needs doing to this, and I'm not convinced they have the time to do it.