Friday, April 14, 2017

REVIEW: "Rise of the Tomb Raider" Demo ~ Loving the Action Game

Straight-up, action games are hard for me to play for extended periods of time. Given my seizure issues and how prone I am to eyestrain because of them, I have maybe half an hour before I start getting vertigo and tunnel vision and my thumbs won't do the thing on the analog sticks. But I fight that (by which I mean I play in half hour chunks where I can) because damn it there's some beauties coming out.

Rob recently sat me in front of the demo for Rise of the Tomb Raider, and he generally sits me in front of games for one of two reasons: either they're super spoopy, or there's something about it that's deeply rooted in one of my Big Interests and ten minutes in I'm going to be leaning over the coffee table yelling about the Holy Roman Empire or some shit. This was definitely and solidly in the realm of the second.

Point the first, I was really happy to see that Rhianna Pratchett was back for this one. My absolute devotion to the works of her late father aside, Pratchett herself is a damned talented game player. I never finished her first Tomb Raider game, but I played enough to know it was solid and I heard from people who would know -- and would speak up -- if Lara Croft wasn't written realistically. So when I knew her name was attached, I wasn't concerned about the scenario at all. I knew it would be good.

Point the second, the gameplay itself... and it's something I noticed in Resident Evil 7. (Which I haven't played for jumpscare reasons but I've watched several playthroughs of it and I did play the demo.) Night Mind did a great video on what makes RE7 successful as horror, and one was something I noticed in this game: you're not sure what's a game and what's a cut scene.

Now, yeah. If you press a button during a cut scene, you'll get a little pop-up at the button that says you're cool and don't need to do anything. But in the moment, as Lara is scrambling to land her picks in an icy cliff face, it could go either way -- and you learn that quickly when something that looks distinctly like a cut scene... isn't. And you plummet to your death.

Like RE7, Rise of the Tomb Raider takes away your trust in camera angles and other typical game tropes to tell you when you can rest. For the former, that heightens the horror; for the latter, it heightens the tension and action. Even when the story takes over, you can't sit back and watch because maybe at the end of this cinematic you'll have to grab on to that cliff that's hurtling toward you.

That's another plus of improved gameplay graphics: you can pull that on a player.

The story itself is a piece of work, too. And that's the real reason I was sat down in front of it: religious imagery, cults, the Middle East, analysis of iconography... holy crow. For someone into the history of religion, especially in that part of the world, it's like catnip. The use of Orthodox icons in the puzzle was especially pleasing to me, given my background.

And speaking of backgrounds. If you can spare even a second as you play, just stop and pan around. Everything is so beautiful and detailed. A lot went into this. And this is just the demo.

Incidentally, the demo cuts off at the most irritating place. Props to them for the most insane cliffhanger I've ever seen on a video game demo, but also how dare they.

I definitely want to play the rest of this. Even though it's exactly the kind of game that screws with my vertigo, I feel like it'll end up being worth it. That, and it's stepping into a whole new level of immersiveness I never foresaw: destroying the divide between gameplay and cutscene to a point that it causes a visceral reaction in the player. That's genius.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a good two years old, so you can get it for cheap on your platform of choice.