I was going to write a review of the new Tomb Raider, talk about AMD's Tress FX system, and discuss the game's merits. Not anymore. Not only is the game utterly destroyed by a reliance on Quick Time Events at every single juncture, the developers decided early on to refuse to tell you which buttons you actually need to push to complete them successfully.
This original screenshot from Kotaku illustrates the problem nicely. First, you have to hit the "Left" and "Right" keys in quick succession. Then you have to press a button.
Which button? I don't know.
And when I say "I don't know," I'm not kidding. This is apparently a PC-only bug. If every QTE used the same button sequence, it wouldn't be a problem -- but they don't.
In the first part of the game, there's a section of forest Lara must traverse to reach her archaeologist friend. You end up walking back and forth between a puzzle (locked gate) and your campsite several times. There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, lots of interesting bits of lore to find, and regular encounters with wolves. The pair of wolves (always a pair) spawns and charges you.
Once they grab you, you have to whack L&R again. Then you quickly hit another button. But since the game won't TELL me which button, I'm left frantically mashing the keyboard trying to find the right choice. I've tried the keys that map to "Interact" and "Melee" (E & F) -- no good. I typically use EDSF for movement instead of WASD, but I switched back to the game's default mapping to make certain this wasn't the problem. Didn't work. Mouse 1 isn't the necessary key. Neither is Mouse 2, Ctrl, or Alt.
Then it turned out that the problem can happen if A&D are hit too rapidly. The game will detect the "struggle" occurring, but then fail to recognize the follow-up input, possibly because the keyboard queue isn't cleared. I did eventually make it past these wolf encounters, but repeated user complaints make it clear that this isn't an isolated problem -- it comes up again and again in the game.
Every time I die, I'm treated to the sound of Lara's neck being snapped by a wolf after some cries of pain and tearing flesh. And the reason this is happening is because a developer couldn't be bothered to implement an actual combat system as opposed to a button-mashing crapfest.
I thought this game looked like fun. The first few bits are fun, despite the total reliance on QTE's for every single action. Need to climb a rocky cliff? QTE. Need to make a challenging jump? QTE. Tussling with an enemy? QTE. I was willing to program my mouse for QTE macros because I thought hey, this might just be worth it.
But no. As the Reddit thread above indicates, the entire system is completely broken. In a number of cases, users with lower-end video cards have to turn settings down in order to perform the QTE's appropriately (low frame rates can apparently de-synch the video from the action sequences). Watching Lara die is like watching a damn snuff film (I've included a handy YouTube video of one of the sequences below, so you can share the experience.
Now imagine watching that 15 times in a row.
Tress FX: Pretty Nice
In deference to AMD's nifty hair technology, I'll include the following -- Tress FX, the Radeon rendering technology that makes Lara Croft's hair break into strands instead of presenting as a solid mass, is really pretty. It's nicely done. The GPU impact of using it is significant (frame rates on a Radeon 7950 would halve depending on whether or not a scene included Lara's hair or not) but it's really well done.