Tomb Raider was expected to be one of the best games of the year, and to the broader gaming public the game has succeeded in revitalizing one of the seminal franchises in gaming. The story is compelling, the gameplay is tight and polished, and the game features an incredibly diverse range of approaches sure to please any gamer—unless they have a disability.
In the interest of public discloser, because of the massive barriers in this game, I was only able to experience a fraction of the storyline before writing this review. But thankfully, my experience is not true for every disabled player, and some people may still be able to enjoy Tomb Raider.
To begin with, players with visual disabilities will have mixed success with this game. Certain levels are dark and gloomy, while others have plenty of light to see by. The problem becomes that in the dark areas, sometimes players will miss the opportunity to collect useful items or interact with hidden areas of the map. Probably the area where this becomes most visible is the hunting and collection of herbs in the forest. In the normal mode of view, it’s hard even for players without a visual disability to see which plants are simply part of the background and which plants you can harvest. Thankfully the game features an “instinct mode” that highlights usable items in the world. The only problem is that the way it does this is by making the rest of the world go grey and highlights the important objects in yellow. As a result, if a player has difficulty seeing the subtle tones that this mode uses, there may be no use in activating “instinct mode,” especially because it cannot be left on for extended periods of time, and automatically turns off when the player begins moving.
But the reason this game really struggles is because of the design choices that Crystal Dynamics made, which make the game completely inaccessible for anyone who does not have perfectly normal hand function. To begin with, the game is rife with quick time events. I was only able to get through the first three hours of the campaign and had to continually hand off the controller to an undisabled friend, in order to get past the dozen or so quick time events that I ran into. It seems like every significant action has a time component. Granted, some of these QTEs are more forgiving than others. For example, in order to perform a stealth kill, Lara sneaks up behind a guard and (by pressing Y on the Xbox controller) initiates a quick time event which players only have to tap once or twice, and the time limit is relatively open. But this is the exception rather than the rule in Tomb Raider. Everything from cranking open temple doors to scrambling up a rock face requires rapid button presses. Even worse, in the rock face example, it required players to tap both trigger buttons in a certain order.
The reliance on quick time events alone would be a serious barrier to the enjoyment of Tomb Raider, but there are even bigger problems. Players will have to be able to use both hands at the same time in order to make it through this game. This is because of the quick time events that require you to wiggle the joysticks in tandem in order to progress through them. But using both hands is also required if a players ever hopes to kill a single enemy because the player has to pull out the weapon with one trigger, aim the weapon with the joystick, and then fire the weapon with the other trigger, all while still holding down the first trigger. All of this means that not only will players have to be able to use two hands, they will have to be able to use multiple fingers on both hands as well, which is a tall order for anyone with fine motor disabilities.
The final nail in the coffin for this game as far as fine motor accessibility is concerned is the complete lack of controller customization. As a result, in addition to putting up with the two-handed shooting mechanic, because there is only one controller layout, players will also have to be able to reach and use the triggers effectively, which can be hard if you are playing on a lap tray or desk, and is nearly impossible for most players with fine motor disabilities if they have to focus on holding the controller as well.
As for players with auditory disabilities, unfortunately because of the limited amount of progress I was able to make through the game, all I can say for certain is that it seems at least partially accessible. It’s got a full set of subtitles that are color coded to let you know who is talking. These go so far as to let players read guards’ reactions as Lara is stealthily moving around behind their backs. Beyond that, though it seems unfair, because of the fine motor barriers in this game, that’s all I can say for sure about this game’s auditory accessibility, although it seems a safe assumption that there will probably be some audio cues which are important that are not sub-titled, since the game doesn’t subtitle sound effects and relies heavily on Lara’s interaction with the environment.
I don’t often get mad when playing a game that turns out to be inaccessible, but Tomb Raider made me mad, because it was an absolutely stellar game that had so many barriers that it was unplayable. But the really unforgivable thing is that these barriers are not to be expected in a game like this. There are simply design choices made by Crystal Dynamics that exclude large portions of the gaming community.
Overall Rating: Partially Accessible
Visual Rating: Partially Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Inaccessible
Auditory Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
GameInformer Score: 9.25
The Bottom Line for Disabled Gamers: Tomb Raider
– Indicators for what players can interact with are large.
– Journal entries that the player collects throughout the game are narrated in addition to being presented in text.
– Game uses very faint highlighting system to highlight important objects, huntable animals, etc.
– Lots of quick time events.
– No controller customization.
-Subtitles system is extremely complete and color coded.
-When using stealth, there is no way to be certain that an enemy will not hear you.
This article has been transferred from DAGERSystem (now AbilityPoints). Scores, formatting, and writing style may differ from original CIPT content.