Let me start by saying that I was actually thinking about talking up another game this week, but initial reviews on Tomb Raider Reloaded grabbed my attention because it was being compared to Vampire Survivors, which I very much liked. I liked it enough that I got the DLC just to send more money to the developers, so having another game with the same flavor sounds really good. As an added bonus, Netflix has the game available with some of the live service bits neutered, and I’m a Netflix junkie, so I already have access to this library of games.
I wish I could share some of the enthusiasm for the game’s take on the newly emerging reverse bullet hell genre, but the problem is, no amount of neutering can change the inherently grindy nature of this beast. With Vampire Survivors, it’s okay to keep going back to the first level, because each run is with a new unlocked character, or a new weapon, or even with a new build in mind. With Tomb Raider Reloaded, the first level is a mandatory grind to collect enough resources to level up Lara Croft’s weapons, outfit, accessories, and ammunition. All of these have to be ground for a couple of days just to make it to the end of the third level. I cannot stress how dull the process became even after just a few hours, let alone days.
Let’s start with the gameplay when it still feels good. Lara is controlled with a single virtual direction pad. When she moves, she can’t shoot, and when she’s stationary, she decides what to target. Killing enemies gives her XP, and with each level up, Lara is given a choice of three power upgrades. A lot of these options are really nice, like bouncing bullets that bound off walls or other enemies, one power that makes defeated enemies explode in a shower of bullets, or just pure damage and attack speed boosts. In the first two levels you might be forgiven for thinking, “Hey, this is kinda fun,” because it really is scratching that same power creep itch that makes Vampire Survivors so satisfying.
But then there’s the third level, where every enemy needs a ridiculous number of shots to kill, easily overrunning Lara and wrecking her health. Even the smallest rat becomes a problem, which is frankly…well, it’s ridiculous. It’s a rat. Not a Dark Souls giant rat, or some kind of armored cyborg rat. It’s just a tiny garden variety rat, which should take one bullet to kill. Eventually if you grind in the first two levels to upgrade your guns and bullets, and once you upgrade Lara’s outfit and backpacks for more health and armor, it’s possible to reach the last room and open up tomb levels and level four. It’s at this point that the game says, “Oooh, level four is going to be tough. You better go grind some more.” Like that isn’t what I was already doing over the last three god-awful days because the game simply refused to drop enough weapon manuals to upgrade my chosen weapon. So maybe like me, you’ll try the shorter Tomb Levels, only to discover that the game shifts from reverse bullet hell into just bullet hell.
It doesn’t help that from level two onward, enemies begin teleporting into the room, and many of the newly spawned enemies off-screen have ranged attacks with no warning given that they’re coming in. Adding to this confusion is Lara’s own showers of bullets making the screen awash in visual vomit. In many rooms, it’s possible to lose half Lara’s health because you move her to dodge an attack, only to stop right in front of another attack you didn’t see coming. This kind of crap is already annoying in level two, but in the Tombs and level four, it becomes downright unbearable.
This brings me back to the biggest problem: the grind. To upgrade every part requires manuals. There are gun manuals, ammunition manuals, backpack manuals, bracelet manuals, and mask manuals. In any given run, you might only get a handful of each type, which isn’t so bad when you only need four to upgrade an item. But obviously that number climbs quickly, and getting any weapon up to level 5 alone is so tedious and tiring.
Then the game unlocks crafting, where collecting three of the same guns of the same quality level makes a new gun one class higher. So you can then make a rare gun with three uncommon guns of the same type, which means you need nine guns of the common type. Even with generic blueprints helping to make the process less grindy, there’s no escaping the hamster wheel of the first levels all in the name of “getting ready for level three.”
But this is what the game is built for. It’s a hamster wheel meant to frustrate and eventually drive players to desperation. Then they will buy the purple crystal premium currency to buy crates of guns, ammo, and manuals. In that case, let me save you from wasting some money. You see, the version on Netflix is very slightly more generous with that premium currency, so I saved up a whole bunch to simulate paying for a crystal pack, and those loot boxes are full of garbage. Even the most expensive loot crates are worthless.
You pay for nothing, and still get pushed back into the hamster wheel. It’s like the developers think you’re a pet, and they’re patting their thighs and saying, “Yes, get in that wheel! Oh, this is fun isn’t it? Gosh, you didn’t get enough manuals to upgrade yet. Come on girl, get back in that wheel for another run. Or, you know, give us money to skip the run. Oh darn, you STILL didn’t get what you needed. So, which is it now, girl? Wallet or wheel?”
This isn’t fun, and the real tragedy is, there’s a great game buried inside this live service nightmare. Without the power creep of the levels, I can imagine a game telling a new Tomb Raider story revolving around main dungeons and smaller Tomb side quests. That game would be brilliant, and I would even happily pay for that experience. Instead, what could have been a really great game is burdened by attempts to exploit gamers and force them to spend money. It’s even worse because there’s no benefit to spending money. Even a “best value” collection of gems can’t hide the greed inspired grind-fest that poisons a truly great idea.
In conclusion, I’m giving Tomb Raider Reloaded two stars, and I’m issuing a warning to avoid it at all costs unless you get the “free” version to experience the early gameplay for yourself. Even then, I’d advised dropping it quickly and finding anything else to spend your time and attention on. It’s a sad, pathetic attempt to exploit you, and it doesn’t deserve one slim dime from anyone.
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