Review: Tomb Raider
Much has been said about this Tomb Raider reboot since its announcement. The sexual assault controversy, the re-imagining of the Lara Croft character and its supposed similarities to the Uncharted series. However these opinions of the game were formed long before anyone played the full version and knew just how remarkable Tomb Raider truly is actually is.
We join Lara at the very beginning of her archaeological career, aboard the ship Endurance setting out on her first expedition to find the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai, home to the shaman queen Himiko, known as the ‘Sun Queen’. However it all goes a bit Lost and the ship crashes on the island stranding our hero in this strange and hostile environment.
Everyone would be scared in this situation and Lara is no exception. Gone is the hard cookie we once knew; the young Lara is scared, vulnerable and frightened. It’s not long before she gets in deep trouble with some unfriendly locals and after making her first kill to in order to survive, she’s rather horrified with what she’s just done. However, over the course of the game our heroine grows stronger, developing greater survival instincts and maturity. Although, Lara becomes an accomplished survivor, she is never reduced to the mindset of a killer and her motivation is always her desire to escape the island. In some ways her journey mirrors that of Jason Brody’s Far Cry 3, albeit less extreme and a whole lot more realistic.
But Lara isn’t the only strong woman on the island. The plot of the game revolves round the aforementioned Sun Queen, Himiko. I’m not going to divulge any plot elements here, but I will say that the story, mystery and the adventure across the island had me gripped from start to finish. It’s a mix of classic Tomb Raider and Uncharted style storytelling and action which works perfectly.
Simply put, this reboot has breathed new life into an aging series, bringing it slap bang up to date. Admittedly, the first 15 minutes of gameplay make it feel as though the game is trying desperately to mimic Uncharted, with Mr Drake simply being replaced with Miss Croft. However, what comes next is incredible, as the game shakes off the familiar and begins to stand firmlyon its own two feet. The result is something that by far outdoes any of the other series that Tomb Raider may have been compared to previously.
I love Uncharted as much as the rest of the world, but I’ve always felt the gameplay wasn’t quite as good as it could or should have been compared to other third person games. With Tomb Raider, I found the shooting far more satisfying with much greater depth. Tomb Raider has a Metroid and Arkham City feel as some areas of the world are only accessible after unlocking specific equipment as you progess in the game. This means you can go back to any stage of the game using fast travel stations (don’t let that give you the impression that this is some vast open world game, as it isn’t) and get through that door you couldn’t previously. This grants access to lots of the collectibles that are scattered across the world, which help you to piece together more of the back story. There are also optional tombs that you can raid which reminded me of the catacombs in Assassin’s Creed II. These self-contained puzzle areas are pretty basic but add a nice variety and change of pace to the main story.
Plus you can also collect salvage that litters the island and XP from doing pretty much any actions in-game. Performing headshots and finding collectibles are a couple of ways of gaining XP which combined with salvage, can be used to upgrade Lara and her equipment. The use of these two currencies give Tomb Raider light RPG elements which are somewhat similar to Far Cry 3, although these are more simplistic. However with both games, you pretty much unlock everything before the end of the campaign (even without doing every side-quest) so it’s sort of pointless in some ways as you don’t focus on a particular skill branch like you do in games like Deus Ex.
On the whole, Tomb Raider is a vastly improved game that has embraced many of the modern staples of of the genre, stitching them together to make a wonderful Frankenstein’s monster that is full of life. It also boasts a meaty campaign that lasts into the double figures.
As seems to be the case with most games these days, multiplayer has been included. The argument that this has a negative influence on the campaign has never washed with me. It’s almost always done by a separate team with its own resources rather than eating into the budget of the core game. Even when it’s a pretty standard affair like Spec Ops: The Line, the power and impact of the story wasn’t lost on me when I booted up for a bit of Team Deathmatch. However I was incredibly disappointed with Tomb Raider’s offering.
Included in this game are four modes played across five different maps. That’s too small to hold any interest beyond the next release but the reality is that you won’t even want to play for that long. In terms of modes you have Free For All and Team Deathmatch which are what you expect, plus you’ve got Rescue and Cry For Help. Those latter two modes pits two teams against each other with Rescue seeing one team attempt to bring medical supplies to certain points in the map with the opposing team aiming to stop them. Cry For Help is similar and sees one team battle to turn on radio transmitters whilst preventing the other team from stealing batteries. They sound decent enough but trust me, it doesn’t play very well and isn’t at all exciting. Again, similar to most games you can choose your weapon, add attachments and pick your special skills. However I’d say loadout selection is a little sparse and the best thing I can say about it is that at least you don’t have to spends hours experimenting. So across the board multiplayer is really rather basic and shallow and it seems little effort has gone into it.
There’s very little here that you haven’t seen elsewhere and I’m telling you now, I’ve played this mode so you don’t have to.
It doesn’t have the polish of the Uncharted series but Crystal Dynamics have done a fine job here. The graphics on offer are fab and serve to create create realistic, living environments and backdrops. The voice acting and mocap is great and the cast have really brought the mix of characters alive. Again it’s not technically the best around but the world that developers have created is brilliant. They’ve taken a leaf out of Naughty Dog’s set piece moments and blended them in well to the main action and story. There’s nothing like upside-down cruise ships in this game and that’s probably for the best. I find the more realistic set pieces are more exhilarating, like the moment when Lara is on cracked glass which echos the trailer scene in Jurassic Park 2 and it’s a heart pounding moment.
It’s titles like this that show how games like Crysis 3 should be. You can be technically outstanding but can be quite boring to play which isn’t what gaming is about. But there’s none of that here. You’ve got a solid, fun game presented very well indeed.
To sum up
If you’re a fan of Uncharted you’ll like this game. If you’re a fan of past Tomb Raider’s you’ll like this game. And for most of us, we’ve got exactly what we wanted. A Tomb Raider that stands up high and mighty to some of the best games this generation. Multiplayer aside, this game is a glory and sets the standard for the next generation of survival games.
I haven’t been able to say this for years, but I’m really looking forward to the next Tomb Raider game.
Version reviewed: Xbox 360