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Tomb Raider is Crystal Dynamic’s new action adventure and a reboot of the Lara Croft series that span nine games over fifteen years. Lara Croft never made it very far past the box art for me, the closest I have been to playing Lara is when I quit Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light early on when a moving wall defeated my good spirit. I just could not climb it fast enough. I do not have any Lara baggage or fond memories and I started playing Tomb Raider with a pretty clean slate. It turned out to be a very good place to start.
Reasons to play it
Stylised, smooth, relaxed, easy game
Crystal Dynamics crafted a beautiful, exquisitely well-made game down to the finest details. I played until my recently dislocated finger was bright red and throbbing and it was not until I instinctively tried to use it that I even realised how much it hurt.
It is extraordinarily rare for a blockbuster title to be pitched, balanced and perfectly paced just for me. It did not matter that the story was predictable from the first cut scene, it did not matter to me much that Lara transformed rather quickly from prey to hunter, I could play it all and play it well.
Possibly for the first time I discovered what action games are like for my friends who always run in guns blazing, explosions at the ready, racking up head shots and expert kills in between dexterous climbing challenges, grabbing onto tiny ledges with strong fingertips and swinging across a gap to land against a rock wall with a pick axe in hand. It was amazing and Lara does have very pretty hair even on my older AMD graphics card.
Collectables are actually fun to find
The collectables add scope to the game and offer some of the best challenges. Figuring out how to reach a particularly difficult item gobbled up the hours.
There is a treasure trove of things to pick up – historical items, ammo caches, audio logs, scrap, weapon parts and XP boxes. Sign up for as much or as little as you please and if you later on regret skipping some, the fast travel system allows you to return to any base camp and fill in the gaps.
Experience (XP) opens a skill tree that I enjoyed adding points to and so gaining experience was important to me. XP is gained by killing and looting animals, picking fruit, finding collectables, completing tombs, discovering new areas and the usual mainstay, killing enemies. There was more than one “ooh shiny!” moment for me and it added to the experience.
The best part of collecting things were the stories hidden inside letters and the history of objects. I found myself hunting down pieces not because I had to collect ten, a motivation that rarely works for me, but because I wanted to know how the stories fit together. That is a rare and unexpected pleasure.
Room for Improvement
Stylised, smooth, relaxed, easy game
Everything happens on cue, just when it should, just like it should. Tomb Raider is scripted, scripted well, but still scripted to, at times, the firing of single bullets. If it was just that, I could have forgiven it, but it is frustrating that the scripting routinely tightened up each time a pivotal moment arose and wrested control from me.
There were great moments where I was actually allowed to play the game and given so much choice it was intoxicating. I could pick enemies off one by one from a stealth perch with a silent arrow to the skull or I could run in guns blazing and take out groups with huge explosions. But just when the action reaches its peak, my role was curbed to not only single button presses, but timed button presses. Press Y now or be punished. Mash X now or die. Few things are so frustrating as being given a great set of combat tools to use intelligently and then, when the best things that happen, they happen in quick time events or cut scenes. So disappointing.
Restricted controls separates the player from Lara
I often felt as if I was sharing control of Lara like a toddler shares a favourite doll.The heavily scripted plot allowed me very little room to identify with her and really get into both the story and the combat. Even when moving around in the world, I was constantly bumping into invisible walls. I did not make many decisions and neither did Lara. We were both pawns moved and controlled meticulously to create just the right effect every step of the way.
Photophobia (Light Sensitivity)
Tomb Raider is moderately accessible if you have photophobia, a common symptom of migraine, autistic spectrum disorders, cataracts, colour blindness, dyslexia or traumatic brain injury. It has bright sunshine at various points, fire and burning buildings scenes and the menu has some flash. These effects are particularly prominent in the last part set against a continuous bright palette that silhouette the action.
It is moderately accessible if you suffer from simulation sickness – motion sickness induced by video games. There are frequent triggers that cannot be avoided throughout. These include lavish use of extreme jitter cam, a bit of simulated travel and quite a bit of rope gliding, sliding and white water rafting without a raft. There is not much you can do to lessen the effect and for the unlucky migraineurs who have motion sickness as a trigger, I recommend extreme caution.
Low Vision and Visual Field Defects
Tome Raider is very accessible if you have blurred vision, visual distortion, tunnel vision (peripheral field loss) or blind spots in your visual field. The menu system and user interface (UI) is well designed with large text against a high contrast background. Lara’s survival instincts mode is very helpful and highlights interactive objects and enemies in the environment.
In-game elements are easy to discern on default settings, but there are rare moments particularly when jitter cam is active or Lara is moving very quickly, that objects become quite hard to see. This is intentional and as such, a small obstacle.
The frequent use of jitter cam is worth a mention. It is very hard on the eyes and eye strain and fatigue is inevitable if you have any vision issues.
Colour Blindness (Colour Vision Deficiency)
It is very accessible if playing with a colour vision deficiency and there is no reliance on colour alone.
The graphics options for the PC version of Lara Croft allows a high level of visual customization. It has two menus, a basic and advanced. The basic menu offers the usual: resolution, refresh rate, V-sync, fullscreen, display, monitor aspect ratio, quality, brightness and stereoscopic 3D. The advanced menu is for tinkering with details, most notable adjusting anti-aliasing, reflections, depth of field and the much talked about hair quality.
Subtitles & Closed captioning
Subtitles and partial closed captioning are available. Subtitles are in a clear font against a high contrast background and colour coded as well as prefaced with the name of the person speaking. Obviously a lot of hard work went into this. Subtitles are off by default and turned on in the Options menu. For those with tinnitus or a mild to moderate hearing impairment, audio is easy to follow with no excessive background noise during cut scenes or pivotal conversations.
Reliance on auditory cues
Audio cues are vital and almost always accompanied by a visual counterpart. Vital audio cues are also close captioned. Tomb Raider can easily be played without sound.
There is no Audio section in the Options menu, but there are a few audio settings in the Gameplay menu.
- Subtitles can be turned on or off
- Text language can be set from a selection of thirteen languages
- SFX and Dialogue volume are both controlled by the same slider
- Music volume is controlled by an independent slider
Tomb Raider does need relatively quick reflexes and fast reaction time and is no very accessible in this regard. There are extensive timed prompts that need a reasonably fast reaction. Quick time events, QTEs occur regularly throughout and cannot be avoided.
Precision (Manual Dexterity)
A moderate level of precision is needed to complete Tomb Raider. Combat as well as platforming sequences require some manual dexterity and an involuntary or missed button press can is the difference between success and falling to a gruesome death. Support options are available and include aim assist, a weapon zoom and an easy mode. Utilizing these it becomes reasonably accessible for anyone who lacks precise muscular control, a result of partial paralysis, tremors, spasms or other involuntary movement.
Tomb Raider offers a 15-18 hour long single player campaign as well as a multiplayer mode. It is most enjoyable when played in longer sessions for a few hours at time. For those with chronic fatigue or pain conditions who need frequent or unplanned breaks, the option to pause any time is very useful and can allow for longer sessions interspersed with many breaks.
The game autosaves and although there is no manual save, it saves so often that the next or last save is never more than a couple of minutes away, making it possible to play for however long you wish and to stop the moment you need to.
Complexity of Controls
The controls employed by Tomb Raider is straight forward and relatively easy to use. It can be played with a keyboard and mouse, controller, switch system, a mouse only or any other USB device. It is also easy to swap between devices at will as all devices are always active. I played with a controller, mouse and keyboard and switched back and forth without any issues, using macro’s on my keyboard for QTE’s, the mouse for finer aim and the controller for platforming and longer play sequences. It can be played with one hand if you own a mouse with at least 6-8 additional keys.
Tomb Raider uses dozens of keys, but they are all standard and laid out well. The controls are relatively easy and made up of single button presses, some multi-button presses (limited to 2 keys), button mashing and timed button presses. There is no autorun key, you have to hold W or push forward on the left analog to run.
- Windowed mode is supported and on-screen adaptive software works with the game
- Pause any time, even in combat
- Auto-save only, but it saves every few minutes and works well.
- Keyboard: Full key mapping is available for the keyboard.
- Mouse: There is the option to toggle button hints on/off, select walk mode with either a hold or toggle, invert Y axis, toggle mouse smoothing and two sliders set aim sensitivity and mouse sensitivity.
- Controller: The controller keys are set, but on PC it can easily be remapped yourself using a GlovePIE script. Vibration is enabled and automatically turned on. There is an option to invert Y axis and a slider to set aim sensitivity.
- A PC update was added on 10 March, build 1.0.718.4, and one of the fixes are “Added support for separate mouse/gamepad inversion for aiming, as well as support for x-axis inversion.”
The language used is secondary school level and provided as both audio and text. Text is in an easy to read font and format and on static display read at your own pace with a button press activating the next part. Writing is not required at any point.
A good memory is not a needed, everything is visible, easy to follow and button prompts flash up on the screen for the entirety of the game.
Calculations and Currency
Tomb Raider requires a basic level of math. Players have to manage their budget (scrap) and ammo for various weapons.
Complexity and Support
The game menu, mechanics, plot and game controls are easy to master. The story is predictable and easy to follow and combat mechanics are introduced slowly with simple tutorials that offer an opportunity to practice straight after. There are three difficulty levels, easy, normal and hard is available. Little navigational skills are needed to get around, but there is a direction marker that can be pulled up with a button press if you need it.
It is a scripted single player campaign with no dialogue choices involving NPCs. In addition, there is an optional multiplayer mode.
The thing that I loved the most about Tomb Raider is also what I disliked the most: it is a beautiful, polished, stylized, perfectly pitched action adventure. When that worked in my favour, it was a mad roller coaster ride and when it did not, it was where the game failed me the most. When it restricted my options and assumed control of Lara, it was that much more frustrating because I was having so much fun. This tug of war is a minor current that runs through, but although it is disappointing when pivotal moments happen either in cut scenes or heavily stylised quick time mini-dramas, Tomb Raider succeeds in rising above its distractions and delivers riveting game play complimented exquisitely with a pretty amazing Lara Croft.