Tomb Raider gave me the worst kind of quiet at first.
The game's silences were ones filled with tension and dread, interludes where my worries about getting Lara through the experience would fester. All throughout Crystal Dynamics' reboot of the archeological adventure series, players are left to wonder how the awful mythology of its fictional island was going to chew them up and spit them out. What terrible injury or revelation would Lara have to endure next? The relief I felt after finishing the game was replaced by something unexpected: a hush filled with possibilities to uncover.
I went back into Yamatai to just fool around a bit before logging in some multiplayer. I was expecting to be bored, since all of the combat sequences had been cleared. But I wasn't stifling yawns. Instead, I was awestruck by how quietly beautiful the new Tomb Raider became after all the surviving was over and done.
The realization hit me hard when I went back to the Summit Forest area, where one of the game's tensest sequences happened. On my first go-round, this was the part of the game where Lara was forced into stealth. I remember clenching the Xbox 360 controller nervously, trying to quietly pick off the Solarii thugs stalking me. But now, after the storyline's end, the same wooded expanse where enemies stalked me in the darkness felt full of stark beauty. Deer gambolled around me and I could climb trees unhurriedly, gathering salvage and enjoying the vantage points with no threat. One nook I'd never ventured into held the wolves that the Solarii sicced on me after I failed at staying hidden. They were still there, growling at me from inside their cages. I nocked an arrow and killed one. I immediately felt bad. These animals weren't threats anymore. The men that made them into monsters were all dead. And their whispered hate and noise went with them, replaced by bullfrog croaks and leaf rustling. Things could be different now.
The same new perspective held true for the wintry peaks of the Mountain Base or the ramshackle structures of the high-altitude Gondola Transport. I'd almost died in most of these places but now I had a weird nostalgia about them. And even more counter-intuitively, I admired the ingenuity of the messed-up cultists who were trying to kill me. And not just the modern-day Solarii, either.
Without bad guys firing machine guns at me, I could marvel at the tenacity of all the people throughout the centuries who were stuck on Yamatai before Lara's shipwreck. They made the island a little less cursed, planting the melancholy seeds that brings Lara into her new destiny. In the absence of violence, you could really feel how this place shaped Lara into something tougher.
Now, some of the island's locales would never feel pretty. Places like the Geothermal Caverns (where crazy prisoners still chattered at a returning Lara; I killed these guys, too but didn't feel quite as bad about that) or the Chasm Shrine seethed with the fatalist lore that gives the game its urgency. There wasn't any awe in combing over these locales. I felt only a distant sadness wading through the moats of blood, mixed with new appreciation as to how well the game's visuals were executed.
The most important takeaway might be how raiding a tomb doesn't feel like a mood-breaking indulgence, after the game's narrative resolves. It feels like Lara's true calling, like what she's supposed to be doing. It's not just modern game design busywork, like, say, hunting down Riddler trophies in Batman: Arkham City. Every tomb I figured out felt like another step toward moving Lara away from horror and towards the derring-do of her previous incarnation. Granted, she'll probably wind up somewhere between the extremes of her past and present. For now, it's nice to imagine that this quiet post-game cocoon is where the next step in Lara Croft's re-evolution is happening.
After about seven hours with Tomb Raider, I'm on board with Evan's endorsement. It's a very good game, and a strong example of the whole "game that's like a movie" thing that Uncharted laid out a few years back. But what of the PC version?
I've been putting it through its paces, and can happily report that it's a strong port, albeit with some stray rough edges that will hopefully be ironed out in the near future. The PC port was handled by Nixxes, the same people responsible for the great PC versions of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Sleeping Dogs, among others. Like those games, the PC version of Tomb Raider comes with all manner of expected PC customization options, and it runs well.
I'm using a rig with an Intel i5 2.8GHz CPU, 8GB of RAM and a GeForce 660Ti graphics card, and have been able to get the game running pretty smoothly on "Ultra" settings. That means the framerate hits 60FPS a lot of the time, but slows to 45-50 when I'm in some of the bigger outdoor areas.
The game carries the AMD brand, and it seems like it's got some issues with Nvidia cards. That's mostly manifested itself in the constant crashing I experienced, which I fixed by toggling off tessellation, but which can apparently also be fixed by rolling back your drivers. I've also had a strange visual freak-out happen during a rainstorm shootout where suddenly, I was subjected to kaleidoscopic visual glitching. Restarting the game fixed it, but even the main menu was totally glitched and unviewable, meaning I had to use the arrow keys and some guesswork to get myself to the "Quit game" option.
There are other bugs as well, and at least one Kotaku reader has reported the game being entirely unplayable on his 660Ti. There's also this video that Patricia found, which shows one of the game's most harrowing sequences playing out with a weird invisible-woman Lara. Eep.
But really, those kinds of bugs have been the exception, not the rule. The PC version also has a helpful benchmarking feature that lets you test out your various settings and get a feel for the FPS range you'll see. It seems a bit conservative with its verdict, but that's ok.
Another (very small) thing that nonetheless bugged me: It's too difficult to quit the game, largely because the in-game "quit to menu" option isn't at the bottom of the list as usual, but the middle:
Kinda weird. A small thing, but one I noticed. Mostly because, of course, it breaks one of the ten commandments of video game menus. In fact, there are three steps between the game and your desktop—the quit to menu click, an "are you sure" pop-up, and an additional quit game command in the menu. Yes, these are the tiny things that bug me. (Note: It turns out you can hit Alt+F4 and get a quit-to-desktop prompt. That's a nice option to have, though it doesn't make the menu placement any less strange and doesn't help you out if you're playing on a TV with a controller.)
Enough about menus. Let's talk about hair! One of the features exclusive to the PC is the humorously named "TressFX" which AMD describes as "a new frontier of realism in PC gaming" and which I describe as "kind of weird-looking."
Here's a video of TressFX in action on my computer:
AMD is responsible for TressFX, and I'm running an Nvidia card, so I can't say whether it looks better on an AMD card. Though the official demo video looks about the same as it looks on my PC. Really, it just kind of looks like the Apachii Sky Hair mod for Skyrim. The hair is weird, and I vastly prefer Lara's ordinary ponytail. Plus, it causes my performance to take about a 10FPS hit, so it's not really worth it.
(And actually, when I think about it... does the way Lara's TressFX hair looks make any sense? It kinda doesn't. After all, she clearly has a hair thingy (official term), so why on earth doesn't she fix that mess at every campsite to keep it out of her face? This seems like an example of putting tech over realism, in a game that makes its bones on verisimilitude. Again, tiny thing. I digress.)
Last point to mention: Controls. I've been playing the game on my TV with a controller for the most part. I tested out the mouse/keyboard controls and find that while they're fine, the game feels like it was designed with a controller in mind.
The cinematic Quicktime events in particular just don't work all that well on the keyboard—for example, an early one has Lara scrambling up an incline to escape a cave. On a controller, players use the triggers, which feels like an approximation of the act of scrambling. On PC, it's the left and right keys, which don't feel as good and also make it confusing when players have to dodge left and right to avoid oncoming rocks.
There's also the problem Patricia pointed out where the game shows you the quicktime prompt in one place but tells you which button to press in another. That's confusing, and I've seen a ton of people getting stuck on the various QTEs. Which is also a drag because often, if you fail a QTE, you're rewarded with a grisly, graphic death sequence. Not the kind of thing you want to watch 15 times while you try to figure out which button to press.
But those (mostly small) shortcomings aside, the PC version of Tomb Raider is a strong port. And Nvidia is working on a fix for the issues with their cards, so it's likely that it'll get more stable for Nvidia users sometime soon. Even as it stands, despite a few stray hairs, Tomb Raider's PC version matches the quality of the game itself.
At some point early in the game, Tomb Raider tells you what to press during QTEs: the "F" key. Then, it might never tell you again. Maybe you missed it. So then when you see this type of screen:
You might feel confused—what the hell are you supposed to press? Now you know. F.
Not everyone sees that, though. It may be a bug, though it is not one I am alone in experiencing. Kirk Hamilton, on the other hand, sees this:
Which does tell you what to press—but even so, in the heat of the moment, we're trained to look at the QTE itself. In this case, the white circle. Why does the prompt on the circle not tell you the button to press?
Hopefully this helps you see fewer of the gruesome death scenes in Tomb Raider. If nothing else, it's really just further proof that quicktime events kind of suck. Or, excuse me. I meant quick timer events.