Tomb Raider (Multi-Platform) Review
Posted by Stephen Randle on 03.07.2013
Lara Croft is back but not like you remember in the new Tomb Raider reboot! Is the new take on the popular franchise worth your time? 411's Stephen Randle checks in with his full review of the game!
Title: Tomb Raider
Publisher: Square Enix, Eidos Interactive
Developer: Crystal Dynamics Inc, Eidos Studios Montreal, Nixxes Software BV
Players: 1, Online competitive multiplayer available
Rated: Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language. Online features not rated.
Available for PC, Mac, Playstation 3, and X-Box 360 (PC Version used for review)
Lara Croft is arguably one of the most recognizable characters in video gaming. Since her debut in 1996, Croft has been at the forefront of popular culture, including nearly a dozen video games, and two big budget feature films starring Angelina Jolie (all of admittedly varying quality). Croft’s status as a female protagonist in an action game has been the subject of much debate over the years, some found her a strong role model in a genre dominated by men, others wondered if she would have been as big of a deal without her very noticeable…assets.
This latest iteration from Crystal Dynamics takes everything you know about Lara Croft and throws it out the window. Gone is the suave, cultured British aristocrat/adventurer with years of knowledge on tombs and the raiding thereof. Instead, the franchise has been rolled back, and we are introduced to a young Lara Croft, straight out of university and off on her first big adventure, travelling with a group of like-minded individuals in search of the mystical island of Yamatai. Thanks to a hunch by Lara, their ship ventures into the dangerous Dragon’s Triangle, off the coast of Japan, and as you’d expect, everything goes horribly wrong. Lara ends up shipwrecked, separated from her companions, and washes up on the shores of Yamatai, where’s she almost immediately captured by savages. From this precarious situation, Lara must learn to survive on an island full of danger, re-unite with her team, and figure out a way for them to escape. No easy task, since it seems like strange forces on the island may be conspiring to ensure that nobody who arrives on its shores ever get off.
I would have more screenshots, but I was too busy trying not to die horribly
Tomb Raider is not, unlike the games that preceded it, about adventuring, it is about surviving. Lara is not the smooth-talking, quick-firing, always-in-control heroine we’ve come to expect. Instead, she (and the player) must learn skills necessary to protect herself, both from the treacherous environment of the island itself, and the human element that also lurks in its environs. Rather than striding confidently into new areas, you will find yourself running, sneaking, stumbling, falling, and quite often fleeing from enemies that want to see you dead, captured, or worse. Make no mistake, Lara takes a beating in this game, crashing from situation to situation with panicked breaths and groans of pain, reacting rather than acting as the environment changes around her. As the game develops, you will become adept with the weapons you pick up along the way, but even when you’re caught in firefights with the denizens of the island, the combat is never a joking matter. Whereas someone like Nathan Drake might blow through dozens of armed men with a laugh and a bevy of witty one-liners, Lara rarely revels in what she’s being forced to do, even as she recognizes that her only option is to kill or be killed.
In case you wondered, this is not the worst thing you’ll be forced to flee from today
Much has been made about the “brutality” of this game, and yes, there is a lot of it. Death is a prevailing condition on Yamatai, and when things die, they do in sprays of blood and screams of pain. Even Lara is not immune to a certain level of savagery, as the game eventually gives you the ability to “wound” enemies, allowing you to “finish them off” with a close-range attack that plays out in dark cinematic glory. Frankly, even though doing so gets you more experience points, I found these finishing sequences less optimal than simply killing enemies at a distance, since Lara isn’t exactly geared for constant melee combat. And yes, there are the shocking death animations that you’ve been hearing about, and I will not lie, they are fairly graphic. However, a vast majority of the time, Lara will die from either falling from a great height or getting shot, and those scenes occur far more often than, say, the infamous “spike through the throat” scene that is getting so much play. Honestly, the worst part about the particularly brutal death scenes is that they tend to occur during particularly finicky Quick Time Events, meaning that you may have to replay through them several times, which I found led more to simple frustration at the game controls rather than “Oh my god, that huge wolf just broke her neck in its jaws”.
One feature that I did enjoy is the ability to back-track to old areas. Unlike similar games like Uncharted, while the areas themselves are basically linear progression, there are “hubs”, centered around the game’s “camp” system (which serves as save point, upgrade station, and fast travel location), which allows you to return to previously-visited spots in order to search out some of the many (many) collectibles that you might have missed the first time. This becomes important when you receive new pieces of gear or upgrades to old items, which allows you to access areas that were previously out of reach, all the way back to the starting area of the game. This system, combined with a laundry list of items that you can find in order to earn achievements (most notably, all manner of hidden documents that flesh out the story of the island, its inhabitants, and its history, in full VO) will give you additional hours of enjoyable single player gameplay, over and above the basic story.
Day Camp sure has changed a lot since I was a child
And for those who want some connection to the old raiding of tombs, you’re in luck, the game features a handful of “optional tombs”, which are essentially puzzle-solving exercises (some of them quite fiendish) that reward you with a chunk of experience, some upgrade items for your weapons, and often the revelation of all hidden items in that area. While they are an enjoyable side option from the story, my main complaint is that there aren’t enough of them. I suspect (and hope) that DLC might be forthcoming to solve that problem, but for the moment, the tombs remain a brief, but enjoyable, small series of side quests.
The multiplayer aspect of Tomb Raider is nothing you haven’t seen before, featuring big, slightly modified maps from the single player campaign and all the usual game modes that you’d expect to find. It’s not bad, but it has that familiar feeling of “multiplayer mode for the sake of having multiplayer mode”, rather than anything innovative or different.
Graphics and sound are, in a word, stunning. The sheer level of detail given to the environments and characters is incredible, creating a world that is fully alive and vibrant. The voice acting is superb, and the atmospheric effects put you right in the center of whatever setting you happen to be in at that point in time. In addition, as a special treat for PC users, AMD has included their new TressFX engine, which allows (as the name suggests) fully realistic rendering of characters’ hair, in individual strands, able to be affected by head movement, wind currents, and any number of environmental factors. It’s an interesting feature that could have a large effect on game graphics in the near future, but it’s not particularly an important one at this point in time.
Top of the world, ma!
- Story is thrilling and very strong, with memorable, three-dimensional characters
- Island setting is superbly detailed and varied, multiple settings are brought to vivid life
- Combat is slick and easy to master, all weapons are equally viable in most situations
- An overall incredible experience
- AI can be a bit unfair in combat
- Sudden death QTEs can be frustrating
- The camera will sometimes interfere with your perspective during action sequences
- Not enough tombs/puzzles!
While it will, more than likely, be overtaken by other hotly anticipated titles over the rest of 2013, at this point, Tomb Raider is an early contender for Game of the Year. This reboot of a popular, well-known franchise went through several bumps and delays in development, but the end result is a very good product. Following a young Lara Croft as she tries to survive while exploring a dark and dangerous island is a thrilling experience, guaranteed to get your adrenaline racing. Fans of both the original games and similar franchises like Uncharted will find a lot to like here. Pick this one up, and you may not put it down again until you emerge at the end of the game, bruised, bleeding, and exhausted, but ultimately triumphant.
Absolutely stunning visuals, both environmental and characters. Some minor glitches in the PC version.
Combat is smooth (although the AI is a little too accurate), QTE’s are a bit finicky and the camera can act up sometimes
Excellent voice work, atmospheric sound, and combat effects
All sorts of collectibles and unlockables will keep you going, meanwhile the multiplayer is competent, but nothing special
Tomb Raider is a hell of a ride, with all the connotations that go with that statement. It is a roller coaster, a thrill a minute, and a thoroughly enjoyable (if incredibly dark) reboot of the franchise.