Tomb Raider Multiplayer Hands-On Preview - The Problem With Change
Written Monday, January 21, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Gamers don’t like change. Dante’s haircut, Final Fantasy XIII’s platform exclusivity, motion controls - whether it’s justified of not, we tend to react badly to breaks from tradition.
Yet on the other hand we’re always calling out for something a bit different. We gripe at Call of Duty for its lack of bravery, we lament the industry’s constant stream of sequels and we cry out for something, anything with a bit of invention. We don’t like change, but it’s what we want.
It’s into this schizophrenic mindset that Crystal Dynamics thrust the announcement of Tomb Raider multiplayer last month, catching many of us off-guard. For the entirety of its 17-year lifespan the core Tomb Raider series has been single-player only. Now it’ll feature a multiplayer suite complete with boring old Team Deathmatch.
Following the initial announcement many in our community responded with incredulity. The second comment on the news story summed up the feeling pretty well, saying, “Why do developers think we want multiplayer? Tomb Raider has always been a single player game and should stay that way.” It was thumbed up 91 times.
So when we went to play a few rounds of Tomb Raider multiplayer at an event in London recently, it was these kinds of thoughts that filled our minds. Does Tomb Raider need multiplayer? Is it just an attempt to shift a few extra copies or to sell a few online passes*? Or has Eidos Montreal - for it’s the Deus Ex: Human Revolution studio that’s developing the multiplayer - got something more interesting up its sleeve?
Well, I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to discuss the business reasoning behind Tomb Raiders’ multiplayer, but after a few rounds of the game’s Rescue mode, I can tell you one thing: In it’s current state Tomb Raider’s multiplayer is throwaway at best.
Here’s how Rescue works. You play a best of three rounds match, alternating between Scavengers and Survivors, with individuals voting for the side they want to be on in the third round, should it come down to sudden death. The Survivors are charged with moving medkits from one part of the map to another, while the Scavengers have to stop them.
Each round ends when either the Survivors transport five medkits to the pre-arranged position, or the Scavengers rack up 20 kills - bought about by first downing and then finishing Survivors up close a’la Gears of War. It is, in essence, a Capture the Flag variant.
The twist comes with the addition of a variety of traps that you can activate around the environment; like giant sharpened log vices that clamp together, eviscerating those that stumble across its trip wire, and nooses which scoop you up into the air by the feet and make you a dangling target until such time as you shoot yourself down.
On the Chasm map that we played it was also possible to activate a sandstorm, rendering the other team virtually blind while you gain the ability to identify their outlines through the beige murk. It’s a bit like that bit in Gears of War 3‘s Trenches map, but with a distinct advantage offered to the team that triggers it.
Throw in some zipline action and a nice bit of verticality to enable jumping and climbing, and you can see that Eidos Montreal has attempted to honour some of the spirit of Tomb Raider. But it’s all just a little bit... inconsequential.
We played two matches of Rescue, each of which went to a decider that was eventually won by the Scavengers. Indeed, every single round we played was won by the Scavengers - and remember both sides take it in turns to control the factions. It’s just easier and more immediate to hang around the delivery point and shoot the crap out of anyone that comes near, than it is to co-ordinate moving the medkits around.
There is time to iron out this balancing kink. Survivors do have certain advantages like a better range of load-outs and the ability to shoot while downed, so the scope is there. There’s also time to hit the game’s target of 30 frames-per-second, as at the moment it falls a long way short. The problem is that even with those tweaks Rescue is unlikely to become a must-play mode.
Ultimately this is because it falls between both of the camps outlined earlier. This isn’t innovation, invention, or even progress; it’s just a rather bland and predictable me-too mode that fails to separate itself from the pack. Yet neither is it familiar or reassuring, as it bears little or no relation to the series to which it belongs.
If you’re being kind then you could say that when tidied up a bit, if you get the right people together at the right time, there may be some short-term fun to be had with Rescue. If you were being unkind you would say that many of the community’s fears had grounding. This is little more than a bolted on extra.
Unfortunately however it appears that Square Enix feels differently, as 25% of the game’s achievements are weighted towards multiplayer. To rack up 1000G you’re going to have to pump a considerable amount of time into it, reaching level 60. It may be bolted on, but in this case Tomb Raider’s multiplayer is being given inflated significance.
There’s still plenty more to be seen, of course. A bunch of multiplayer modes that have yet to be detailed or shown off. Maybe they’ll be great, maybe not. But regardless, our anticipation is almost exclusively focused on the main campaign. Tomb Raider’s single-player remains one of this year’s most interesting new releases. Its multiplayer considerably less so.
Tomb Raider is out on March 5th, 2013.
*Square Enix has since confirmed that Tomb Raider will not have a season pass.