Number One with a Bullet-point: Final Thoughts on Tomb Raider Reboot

Square Enix’s rebirth of Lara Croft mostly successful, except for one nagging bullet-point

Three years ago, if you told me that one of the best late-generation games to grace my aging Xbox would be a Tomb Raider title I would have called you crazy. Two months after Crystal Dynamic’s reboot hit shelves, I can honestly say that Tomb Raider is one of the most enjoyable single-player experiences I’ve had in years. It’s not perfect, but it kept a smile on my face from start to finish. That’s all I ask for in a game.

Unfortunately there’s more to the game than its stellar single-player adventure. It’s a bullet-pointed feature that forces me to reconsider my stance on an old argument, and one that’s been nagging me ever since the story’s credits rolled off my screen. Tomb Raider has a multiplayer mode.

The game’s multiplayer component has forced a theoretical conundrum upon my inner critic.

I’ve often argued that the mere existence of a multiplayer mode doesn’t inherently detract from the single-player experience. In this regard, Tomb Raider could serve as a banner for me to rally behind. Sure, the single-player campaign isn’t perfect – few if any games are – but the issues I had with it were born from the game’s overall design direction and not from a lack of polish.

Allocating multiplayer development resources to the single player experience likely would not have changed the decision to completely diverge from the the game’s wondrous sense of exploration by including enemy-wave based combat set pieces. It’s possible that one of the multiplayer designers would have looked at the game and said, “You know what? Maybe a series of quick-timed events and a stealth segment isn’t the best way to begin this epic tale,” but not likely. Regardless, it makes for a weak argument that the multiplayer development actually hurt the single-player experience.

Still, something about Tomb Raider’s multiplayer component has left a nagging question in my mind. If I had written a review for the game, wouldn’t I have had to detract points for the game’s unquestionably terrible multiplayer offering? Ignoring the debate on how we arrive at a numerical score and what those scores mean, somewhere in the article I would be expected to mention that the game’s additional component is an unimaginative, mediocre slog and a thing that should be actively avoided at all costs.

To put it another way, while I’m perfectly comfortable ignoring Tomb Raider’s multiplayer as a gamer, as a writer I’d be obligated to discuss the blight taking up space on the game’s main menu. In this regard, the multiplayer undeniably detracts from the experience.

Any time a traditionally single-player title gets a multiplayer component, a subset of fans will alleged that the decision was made purely thanks to bureaucratic stiffs trying to copy some magic formula for retail success. It’s there to be a bullet point on the back of the box and nothing more.

From the game’s launch on March 5 to the latest update on May 7, three additional content packs (DLC) have been released for the game. Along with additional downloadable “skin packs,” all of the current DLC offerings have been additions for the multiplayer mode.

9935MP_Lobby
The Pre-game Lobby: The excitement leading up to the match is palpable.

Even if three expansions in the first two months seems excessive — and it does — using DLC to prolong the retail life of a title is hardly unique to Tomb Raider. However, the quick turnaround and strong focus on an underwhelming multiplayer mode by offering least-possible content for an additional premium drives home the feeling that the mode exists solely to milk money from fans.

Completionists — a term that most definitely does not apply to me — have one final gripe: Nearly a quarter of the game’s achievements come from the multiplayer side of the gameplay. This includes an achievement for leveling up your profile to the highest rank, a feat that requires a much steeper investment than I am willing to put in.

Debate surrounding the addition of multiplayer to traditionally single-player titles has been a hot-button issue for a very long time.

Until now, my opinion has been firm that simply adding the mode is not inherently bad. Interestingly, it’s not an apparent drain on the single-player quality that has me questioning my stance on the topic. Rather, it’s the stark contrast between the Game of the Year contending campaign and the uninspired, functional-at-best, cookie-cutter multiplayer Tomb Raider has to offer.

While its mere existence has not kept me from recommending the title to anyone and everyone who loves great videogames, I cannot deny the bitter taste it leaves behind every time I see the “Multiplayer” text floating atop the game’s main menu. Does the multiplayer hurt the singleplayer experience? I’m not convinced. But does it hurt the game’s reputation or at least sap an otherwise glowing review? Yes, it does. And in an environment where developer bonuses and success are often measured in Metacritic scores, that matters.

What are your thoughts on multiplayer in “single-player” games? Does the same apply to single player campaigns in games obviously designed to sell around their multiplayer components? Did you actually enjoy Tomb Raider’s multiplayer mode, or have another reason to call me an idiot? Fell free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Posted in by Steve R Gibson on May 10, 2013