The Tomb Raider series has been looting the hearts of gamers since 1993 when busty English archaeologist Lara Croft stepped onto the artefact hunting scene in her figure hugging tank top and all too revealing short shorts. It was a different time back then as her adolescent male fans rallied behind her overly sexualized appearance. Although her cup size grew in subsequent titles, her fan base diminished as Tomb Raider became less about its namesake of raiding tombs and more about fan service.
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Players: Single-Player. Multi-Player
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release: (INT) March 5th, 2013
Over two decades have passed since Lara Croft was first thrust onto the video gaming stage and after a series of less than modest titles in years gone by, Crystal Dynamics have taken charge with the impressive 2010 Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light; and now their main draw-card, a rebooted Tomb Raider with a re-invented Lara Croft for a new breed of gamers, and to much critical success I might add.
In a year of reboots, Tomb Raider has been stripped back to its core in what could be regarded as an origins title. Tomb Raider recounts the first expedition of Lara Croft in her early days as a young, ambitious archaeologist on the hunt for the lost kingdom of Yamatai, a mysterious island located in the fabled “Dragon’s Triangle” (think Bermuda Triangle with an oriental flavour) off the coast of Japan. While on the freight ship Endurance bound for uncharted waters, a violent storm lashes out; splitting the ship in two, leaving Lara Croft separated from her team and stranded in a hostile and dangerous jungle environment. The opening few minutes are gritty and raw, definitely not what Tomb Raider fans would expect from the franchise but nevertheless, a mind-blowing shake-up for the better.
For the first time in the series, we see the strong-willed adventurer in a state of vulnerability, struggling to survive and fend for herself. With little much else at her disposal but her keen sense of wit and limited arsenal, Lara needs to dig deep to overcome what initially feels like insurmountable odds. Crystal Dynamics have done wonders with story-telling this time round producing a polished plot seeped in dark undertones, topped off with a solid helping of inspiration from various series. What we get is on-the-edge of your seat moments border-lining on a psychological thrill-ride that just simply works.
Perfectly paced sequences heighten the mood and builds upon the Amazonian atmosphere as Tomb Raider seamlessly shifts between adrenaline-fuelled set pieces, converging upon tentative stealth moments and problem-solving elements to test a player’s resolve. The jungle is a vast expansive world that is both beautiful and terrifying as tranquility among the free-running waterfalls and lush greenery are broken up by deep running caverns, isolated ruins and deserted settlements of long forgotten explorers. There’s a certain unease midst the moments of harmony, illustrated in stunning visuals, further complimented by a soundtrack that captures the mood of the foreign landscape and the plight of Lara Croft through her many trials and tribulations.
Unlike many games that attempt to amalgamate multiple genres together, Tomb Raider gets the balance just right as it juggles action, role-playing, platforming, and third-person shooting mechanics into the one experience, an epitome of the Tomb Raider franchise. Little details such as Lara Croft huddling from intense gunfire; to the gentle movements as she brushes along rock faces, inching across a cliff edge all adds to the survival realism that Crystal Dynamics creates with success, capturing that elusive immersion so sought after by developers. It’s in this careful, well thought out approach where fine-tuned elements come together to satisfy the taste of just about any and every gamer.
Not forgetting its heritage, Tomb Raider provides plenty to explore with relics scattered across the vast landscape. A refreshing change from all the scripted titles out there is how natural it feels to back-track, or even side-track to access previously unreachable areas. As new abilities and items are unlocked, so are new methods and interactions with the environment where travels can take on a vertical approach. With access to fire, rope and improved climbing comes new terrain to scale, however bundle it together with Lara’s ‘Survival Instincts’ vision for puzzle-solving and there’s gratifying satisfaction to be had when blazing new trails or finding the answer to a complex puzzle. Interestingly, relics are no longer just for the sake of collecting as collectibles now serve to provide back-story on the previous inhabitants of the island in more detail, particularly enjoyable for those that want to delve into forgotten lore.
Gameplay mechanics work well from a third-person perspective with combat being a relatively fluid affair. Despite the initial limited offering in arsenal, I still found it engaging enough to want to tackle more hostiles over and over. QTE (quick-time events) makes a strong impression as a key mechanic through many of the cinematic sequences. Lara’s adventure can come to an abrupt end with sloppy timing that can feel a spot annoying and demoralising, particularly when forced to witness Lara’s demise again and again on trickier sections. QTEs aren’t everyone’s cup of Earl Grey so some may have more gripes about it than I did, but I found them manageable enough to not detract too heavily from the impeccable single campaign experience.
Unfortunately Tomb Raider‘s multiplayer mode isn’t quite as accomplished as the single player component. Lacking refinement, players can choose from characters categorized as “survivors” and “Solarii” (cultists from the campaign), ranging from key characters to your garden variety henchmen. Character load-outs and abilities can be customised, however the degree of options available are dependent on rank and experience. I got a hint of Uncharted multi-player in the various matches as “Team Deathmatch”, “Survival”, “Cry For Help” and “Rescue” modes seemed to draw some form of inspiration from the Nathan Drake franchise. Although appealing on the surface, there are some imbalances that detract from the multiplayer experience and didn’t have the same polish of say; Uncharted 3. This can be attributed to Tomb Raider playing to the survival theme but nevertheless, is still a worthwhile addition to the game beyond the single-player completion point.
Tomb Raider is a stellar single-player experience and so far for me a massive highlight of the 2013 release roster. It lives up to the hype machine with Crystal Dynamics delivering a concise story-driven experience that sets the bar on what can be achieved in re-establishing a franchise. Yes there are flaws with the multi-player mode and QTEs, but the overwhelming positives negate the minor negatives. Tomb Raider sets the stage for greater things to come and represents a triumph return for Lara Croft.
9.0 – Excellent. Fun, enjoyable, engaging, and memorable but is missing that little something that will make it exceptionable. People will fondly talk about this for generations to come.