Platform: Xbox 360//PlayStation 3//PC
Developer: Crystal Dynamics Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Third Person Action Platform Played: Xbox 360
Lara Croft has finally returned, bringing her latest adventure into the modern gaming age. After seven years of work on the ‘Tomb Raider’ franchise, the developer Crystal Dynamics has decided to reboot the series, focusing on Lara’s origins, the central theme of the game being her transformation into the ‘Tomb Raider’ we all know and love. It will be hard to avoid making the comparison during the review, so let me come out and say it: ‘Tomb Raider’ feels like ‘Uncharted’ in many ways. As you know, Croft and Drake are in a similar line of work, and her latest adventure brings many of gaming’s latest trends into the game’s landscape. Now before I lose anyone, this isn’t a bad thing. ‘Tomb Raider’ is able to refine, improve, and add to the similar formula both games posses. Crystal Dynamics has put an outstanding amount of effort to make sure the game appeals to classic Lara, and new-age fans alike. ‘Tomb Raider’ offers an amazing experience, bringing the legend of Lara Croft to life, right before your very eyes.
Set in present day, we find Lara Croft aboard the Endurance, a large ship on course for the Dragon’s Triangle, located South of Japan. Commanded by Conrad Roth, the crew is searching for the next big historic discovery, determined the Dragon’s Triangle will provide that treasure. After their ship is struck by an un-seemingly strong storm, they run ashore, stranded on an isolated island with no way of escape. Camilla Luddington produces an excellent portrayal of the British explorer, her performance capturing Lara’s personality right from the very first scene. Lara is obsessed with history, this being her livelihood, and no matter what is happening around her, the discovery of ancient artifacts continues to astound. Right from the start, Crystal Dynamics establishes the character’s heart, respect, and loyalty to her friends, making Lara an extremely likeable character. When Lara’s best friend Sam is kidnapped by the unfriendly inhabitants of the island, she refuses to give up, and makes it her duty to save her friend, no matter what the cost. She is the definition of a hero.
Over the campaign’s 8-10 hours journey, we are shown the evolution of Lara’s character, we witness Lara forced to take another human’s life, see her as she proclaims “I hate tombs!”, all of these moments helping to establish who she was before the island. This evolution makes you feel connected to the character, experiencing these moments along with Lara doing wonders at attaching the player to her. Though many might feel the transition from her first kill to the many more she must conduct throughout the experience jarring, it doesn’t feel as if this transition could have been completed more fluidly, without losing the player’s attention. Tomb Raider doesn’t hold itself back when it comes to brutality, or even controversial themes. Because of this, the campaign feels more believable and realistic. Crystal Dynamics is not afraid to put a lead female protagonist in some extremely gruesome death scenes, or shocking occurrences, and I completely respect and admire their decision. Never holding back does wonders for the game’s narrative, and makes the entire experience memorable.
The campaign feels like an action movie, there being many cinematic set pieces throughout, and the game’s main narrative is fairly linear on its own. ‘Tomb Raider’ really shines when you’re exploring, though the game’s main narrative is a fairly straight line for those who don’t deviate. Those who do explore the world ‘Tomb Raider’ offers will certainly revel in their experience. Exploring the game’s bounty of environments offers collectibles, which present some interesting side stories, salvage, which is used to upgrade weapons, and hidden tombs that offer some intuitive puzzles, all while you’re gaining XP to level up Lara’s abilities. Those who avoid exploration will be missing out on the very crux of what ‘Tomb Raider’ has to offer.
Collectible relics and journal entries give much insight into the island’s history, and even provide some interesting side stories, though these do not always offer to the main narrative. I found myself invested in these stories, and eagerly hunting down the next collectible to explain what exactly happened in these tales. Salvage is earned by opening wooden crates around the island, which can then be used to upgrade Lara’s weaponry. These upgrades become extremely useful during the latter half of the game’s adventure. Lara is also able to fast travel to previous locations, in order to use her new-found equipment to find more salvage. Think ‘Darksiders’: certain areas are unable to be accessed until you have the right tools at your disposal. Once you complete the game, there are no “New Game Plus” options, though you can continue to explore the island, in order to collect anything you may have missed during your playthrough.
‘Tomb Raider’ is visually varied. Though the events of the game take place entirely on one singular island, the environments never blend into one another. They all have their own distinct features, and they all look amazing; from the varied weather elements, to lighting effects, and to landscapes, they are all gorgeous. The great use of colours and unique areas of the island provide fantastic backdrops to some of the best AI enemies I have experienced. They are erratic, unpredictable, and intelligent. If you don’t stay on your toes and plan your strategies, you will be surrounded and cut down to pieces, literally. With such a great challenge, weaponry in ‘Tomb Raider’ had to be set at a high standard. Overall, what it lacks in quantity, it certainly provides in quality.
Lara’s main weapon is her bow and arrow, which can be upgraded to produce flaming, or explosive tips. She also has her rifle, which can be turned into a deadly, silent, killing machine, her shotgun, which is used to clear paths in the environment and key against some difficult enemies, and her pistol, which becomes vital at picking off headshots. The weapons themselves feel like they evolve with Lara’s skills as your progress, upgrading weapons and acquiring stronger varieties providing that extra strength that gives you a great sense of empowerment. Lara can also user her “Survival Instinct” to get the edge on enemies, and find collectibles around her vicinity (think Batman’s “Detective Mode”), which provides great insight to tactical situations. You learn to use these weapons to their advantages, becoming one with the deadly island itself. It’s a great challenge, and higher difficulties will definitely test the skills of the master player.
Traversal is another key element to the game’s mechanics, using a system similar to ‘Assassin’s Creed’, or ’Uncharted’ before it. It’s basic, but when up against some of the challenging puzzles in the game, it is key to overcoming the odds. These puzzles are not mind-bending by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a great change of pace to slow down the action, while you summarize the task in front of you. These especially shined during the optional hidden tombs, which provide an abundance of XP to the player able to conquer their secrets.
The main issue with combat and traversal is its reliance on QTEs (Quick Time Events). Some of the manoeuvres could not possibly work using other methods, but except for the first half of the game, QTEs are generously scattered throughout the rest of the campaign. My personal gripe was when I was forced to waggle the analog sticks back and forth; there has to be a better method of conducting these situations. Thankfully, there are only a handful of these moments. Besting the AI opponents and then finding yourself getting setback because of a failed button press takes you away from the intense atmosphere the game is able to provide the player.
This intense atmosphere is also increased by great musical score on display. Though there is nothing as standout as the main theme from ‘Uncharted‘, the game’s score does a commendable job at increasing the intensity at the right time. There are moments where I genuinely felt overwhelmed, and I owe that to the great positioning of these tracks. The great sound is also displayed by Camilla Luddington as Lara herself, though this cannot be said about the rest of the game’s side characters. Lara’s friends feel dialled in, compared to Camilla herself, and it definitely stands out when the characters react. Not only that, but the cast feels very generic. We’ve got the nerdy technician, the grump old man, the big man with a heart of gold etc. It feels like they have given us such a strong lead protagonist, only to be surrounded by an inferior cast of characters. I never felt connected to anyone but Lara herself, though that connection was indeed strong, because ultimately, the game is all about Lara’s journey to become a ‘Tomb Raider’. The narrative would definitely have benefited from a stronger, more established supporting cast.
‘Tomb Raider’ also offers its own attempt at competitive multiplayer, though overall, it feels plain, and fairly basic. Players are offered your standard “Free for All” and “Team Deathmatch”, but also two other modes called “Rescue”, and “Cry for Help”. “Rescue” has one team gathering medical supplies, while the other tries to kill them enough times before round’s end. “Cry for Help” has one team capturing beacons to send out a distress signal, while the other team collects batteries. Both modes feel very similar to one another, with “Cry for Help” being the most fun when teams are working together. The multiplayer also offers a basic leveling system, where players unlock new weapons, abilities, and character skills as they go. Loadouts can also be created, with the ability to use salvage collected during matches to purchase unlocked items.
Though the multiplayer adds its own varieties to online combat, such as using traps to capture enemy opponents, and also allowing the action to continuously flow with the option to spawn on teammate’s locations, nothing feels memorable. Not to say it is a bad multiplayer suite, but there is nothing here that hasn’t been done somewhere else better. The weapon and loadout customisations feel basic, the variety in modes is lacking, and nothing really ever enticed me to think I would ever return. Sure, this might be something to try out if you own the game, but it is hard to see this online environment thriving, when there are just so many better options out there. It is hard to justify a multiplayer that barely innovates, instead, feeling like a half-baked version of superior online suites.
‘Tomb Raider’ is an excellent game, and easily one of the best titles so far this year. The comparisons to ‘Uncharted’ will come, but in its own way, Lara provides an experience that separates itself from Sony’s exclusive franchise. Exploring the island is not only heaps of fun, but addictive, when you can reap weaponry upgrades as the reward. It is an intelligent mechanic that encourages you to stray from the main narrative. For the best experience ‘Tomb Raider’ can provide, please do so.
Lara’s journey is one many of us can comprehend. Out of our element and against all odds, we strive to become the best we can be. Her loyalty to her friends, her respect for history, and her evolution is one we can all admire.
Lara proves she is worthy of the Croft name, but she also proves she is rightful to the title – ‘Tomb Raider’.
+ Intelligent and unpredictable A.I make combat a pleasure
+ Exploring the island is when ‘Tomb Raider’ shines; it would be a shame to ignore it
+ Lara Croft’s evolution throughout the campaign makes the narrative interesting
+ Environments are varied; there’s always something new to experience
+ Camilla Luddington is Lara Croft.
– Generic, uninteresting supporting cast of characters
– Basic, bland multiplayer, which lacks innovation.
– If you hate games with QTEs, prepare yourself