Tomb Raider Review
Lara Croft is a gaming icon, a woman that, in the nineties, became the very symbol of video gaming and its place in society. Although many of the people who saw her in newspapers and magazines couldn’t tell you that she came from a video game called Tomb Raider, they certainly recognized her face (and, perhaps, other parts of her anatomy).
The fame didn’t last, and it didn’t take long for the Tomb Raider franchise to drop in sales, and for Lara Croft to stop featuring on the cover of magazines. The last game in the series, Underworld, received mixed reviews and average sales. Something needed to be done.
To influence their decision, the developers looked back, trying to decide the origins of gaming’s first lady of cool. In rebooting the franchise, Crystal Dynamic have stripped Lara of everything she became – her attitude, her skills – and left a frightened young woman, alone on an island…
While searching for the lost Japanese city of Himoko, Lara Croft’s expedition is caught in a storm. The boat she and her allies are on becomes shipwrecked and, after somehow making her way to an island, Lara is knocked out on the beach. She wakes up in a mysterious cave, tied up by her feet, next to an unusual, religious statue and even closer to a corpse.
Lara managed to escape, although she risks her life time and time again. Who were the corpses in the cave? Where did these statues come from? How is a junior member of an archaeological expedition supposed to survive alone, on a mysterious island, when she’s being hunted by an enemy she can’t possibly understand?
There are two things that initially struck me, when I started playing Tomb Raider. The first is that this is almost definitely a Tomb Raider game. Throughout all of its advertising, its more story-based, linear gameplay meant many were likening it to the Uncharted series. This definitely feels like Tomb Raider, albeit a Tomb Raider with a heavier emphasis on character and plot.
That was the second thing I noticed. The new Lara Croft has been painted as a semi-helpless little girl who, by the end of the game, will have a glimmer of the woman she is to become. That isn’t the case. Lara is athletic and intelligent, performing tasks and feats many won’t ever do. Pushing her into the unknown isn’t so much a learning process, as a series of events which push her out of her comfort zone. She was always capable of doing everything the game throws at her and this makes for a very interesting character – far more interesting than the one-liner machine she was in Legends.
In fact, that’s probably the biggest difference between Tomb Raider 2013 and the games that came before it. This is a far move character-driven experience, and it really benefits. Lara was always likeable, but now she’s also multi-dimensional. She hesitates the first time she needs to kill somebody, she apologies to the deer she must kill for food. She’s sure of herself, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less scared by the events on the island, or by her encounters with wild animals and deadly drops.
You’ll certainly find yourself coming across all sorts of obstacles. The platforming portions of the game are a little more obvious than perhaps they were in the Legends trilogy, and certainly more obvious than the original PS1-era series, but that just means you don’t have to search to find the right ledge to grab, it means you won’t accidentally miss a handhold that doesn’t even really exist. When you’re not jumping between platforms, you’re exploring larger areas or intricate cave networks. Tomb Raider has a sort of quasi-open world feel to it, not entirely unlike Metal Gear Solid 3. It often feels like there’s nothing stopping you from turning back and heading back to the cave you woke up in (you can’t, but the level design is such that everything feels beautifully connected). Each of these large areas are filled with various things to do; you can hunt animals, find salvage (which you spend on upgrades), discover relics and more. This is a world rich with things to find and only somebody with complete control of Lara’s skills will manage to discover it all.
Perhaps it’s this fantastic blend of fast-paced narrative and overwhelming host of activities that keeps Tomb Raider from ever feeling dry or boring. If you’re not collecting things, you’re running through an action set-piece. If you’re not hiding, you’re shooting. Not only is this constant adrenaline exciting for the player, but it becomes far too easy to identify with Lara herself, as you jump, cringe and shudder alongside her. Even things we take for granted in video games – things like killing – begin half-heartedly in Tomb Raider.
The fight system had some Tomb Raider fans worried about the direction of the series. It’s certainly very different from that in the earlier games, but that’s in no way a bad thing. Gone are the wild flips in the air (and perfect aim whilst doing so). It was fun while it lasted, but in a more serious, more realistic game, it wouldn’t have fit and I can’t say it’s missed. Relying on cover is a little overdone, but I can’t think of a single suggestion that would have made things any better. When it’s a shooter, Tomb Raider is competent and fun.
After you’ve survived another section, you’ll find yourself at one of the many basecamps. From here you can upgrade your weapons and equipment with salvage you’ve found. Those who want to rush through the game’s story are fine to do so, but the reward for searching for salvage is great. You’ll also gain XP for completing objectives and smaller side tasks. The XP will allow you to teach Lara new skills, making her more effective in hunting or combat.
Tomb Raider has changed, but not beyond recognition. Fans who decide against trying out the reboot are completely insane and are missing out on the Lara Croft experience they’ve been waiting for over fifteen years.
If you want to see what the Uncharted series will look like on PS4, check out Tomb Raider on PC. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and while it’s technically beat out by games like Far Cry 3, the art direction and general level design is above and beyond anything I’ve played in recent months. Most impressive to me is Lara, who, after years of designs and re-designs, looks like a real human woman. From lush forests to sparkling ocean vistas, there’s enough landscape here to keep your mouth wide open and your need to explore fresh.
The big talking point for Tomb Raider, visually, is AMDs new TressFX. It’s fairly graphics intensive, and most people are going to want to turn it off. It adds a really nice hair physic which, although it sounds meaningless, brings a lot to the game. It’ll probably take about 19 points off your frames-per-second (more in cutscenes), but I can safely say this is something I’m going to miss in the next game I play.
The sound design is incredible, although the voice acting isn’t always everything it might be. The areas you explore really come to life, a mysterious bumps in the night are always enough to put you on edge. Heavy rain and thunder provide the soundtrack to thick forest and Lara’s groans of pain illustrate what every cut and graze means to her.
Tomb Raider reminds me of Resident Evil 4 in many ways. They both took their respective franchises to new places, both have a thick atmosphere that almost force you to keep playing and even in terms of story there are similarities. I only hope that Tomb Raider does as well as Resident Evil 4 did, because it really deserves it. For years there have been a list of faults with this franchise – the biggest being that it was stuck in the PS1 era – and one by one Crystal Dynamics have scratched everything from that list.
If you call yourself a gamer, you owe it to yourself to at least try out Tomb Raider.