Back in 2013 Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics rebooted Tomb Raider to very mixed results. The game’s Metroidvania elements and exploration were fine, but the story was bland, the characters were all un-developed stereotypes and in place of an arc Lara herself was just an attractive, young white woman who got the shit knocked out of her but kept getting up afterwards. Then they announced a sequel that seemed to place emphasis on Lara surviving in the bleak, desolate wilds of Siberia; an experienced survivor that the game wouldn’t try to convince me is a frightened kitten while she guns down hordes of goons. So I picked it up cheap, and while it has problems, it’s definitely an improvement.
The story’s still rather bland, all told. Lara goes to Siberia to search for what is basically the holy grail but in glowing rock form to prove it’s real and repair the reputation of her dead father. But oh no, here comes a shady religious organisation and their hired mercenaries! Also there are a load of white people who live in the area and attack the mercenaries with bows and arrows, and the samurai zombies from the first ones are now crusader knight-type zombies. The cast isn’t as horribly cliched as it was last time around, but none of them stand out at all. Lara herself is the only one of any interest; she’s a lot more confident and her skills feel more natural now. There’s none of that shit from the first game where she yells “Run you bastards!” and sounds like an amateur dramatics coach, nor does the game try and convince you she’s anything other than a competent survivor and explorer. She’s still got her camp fire monologues though, but you can’t have everything. The game has a pretty consistent main villain this time around, his motivations make sense and are clearly outlined, and the ending is fine, albeit completely generic.
Gameplay wise, nothing’s changed. It’s a mixture of exploration platforming with the aforementioned Metroidvania elements, combat and stealth. The exploration and platforming are its best aspects: the environment has a good sense of scale (it’s a lot less linear than Uncharted), the platforming controls well and is tight for the most part (jumping is occasionally floaty) and finding your way through environments feels satisfying. Unfortunately the time you spend isolated in an unending, “Hateful Eight”-style white hell is minimal, and you soon swap snow for old Soviet installations (good) and bland ancient towns (not so good). It goes from open to quite linear rather swiftly, with only the optional challenge tombs offering a break from the beaten path. The combat can be satisfying but is hampered by the guns having very little weight to them. They’re no fun to fire, particularly the AK47, there’s no melee system, just one move where you swing an ice axe and shooting lacks any kind of feedback. The only real enjoyment I gleaned from it was killing people, which is of course its own reward. Stealth fares slightly better. Dedicated stealth kills including context sensitive ones, a silent bow and arrow and enemies that are relatively easy to sneak up on make it a viable option, but again there’s nothing that makes it memorable.
There’s not much more I can say, really. I’ve beaten the game and I can only remember bits of it; its story is bland, its combat unexciting and lacks anything that makes it stand out. The platforming is good; during stretches in which I had to, say, climb a tower or navigate cliffs I found myself getting sucked in, only to be pulled out again by a gunfight. Its villain is an angry white man, its heroine is a posh woman going after artifacts against the insistence of protective natives for purely personal reasons and it ends with a whimper and some sequel bait. To sum it up; it’s alright. Nothing special, but not bad.
By James Lambert