Tomb Raider Review
Do you remember Lara Croft? That femme fatale from a certain adventure series? You know, the buxom beauty that has a starring role in nine games, two films, and countless other media? She’s the one with Barbie’s warped proportions, Batman’s agility and cunning, and whose confidence and grit are as palpable as her impressive dimensions? If you do remember, then you certainly haven’t played the latest Tomb Raider series reboot by Crystal Dynamics. After playing this game, you will have forgotten everything you know about the old Lara Croft.
This new and younger Lara is vulnerable and uncertain of herself. She cries and shows genuine sorrow when she loses a friend. She laments killing animals that she hunts for sustenance. Her every physical action painfully reflects her lack of experience, her desperation and dread at the seemingly insurmountable odds laid before her. Yet she perseveres through her story, dealing with the physical pain and emotional anguish, and grows all the better for it. Lara goes on a tremendous journey, and takes us right along for the ride.
The story starts off proper on the expedition ship Endurance where Lara is accompanied by a diverse group of fellow adventurers. Most of Lara’s cohorts are forgettable, but the main ones the story centers around are Samantha one of Lara’s closest friends, Dr. Whitman, a renowned archeologist, and Roth, a Croft family friend. Keep an eye on the interaction between Lara and Roth, as it’s one of the main vehicles of Lara’s development in the story and guaranteed to tug at the heart strings.
They are all on the hunt for the lost city of Yamatai, whose long-dead shaman queen Himiko is said to have held mystical and malevolent powers over the land. Lara convinces the group to set course for the Dragon’s Triangle (which I would assume is the twice-removed eastern cousin of the Bermuda triangle). Worst. Decision. Ever. The ship is caught in an unusually savage storm, and is strewn about on the banks of the legendary island. Lara herself is conveniently split from the rest of the group, and has to make do with her wits and modest survival skills. Within the first hour, Lara is kidnapped, hung upside down, suffers through a debilitating injury, and just barely escapes death from her psychotic captor. Lara, from that point on, is shell-shocked and hurting. All she is trying to do is find her friends and get them and herself to safety.
The introduction of the Solarii cult (they worship Himiko) sets in place a decent protagonist and some savage enemies for Lara to deal with. The enemies (whether they are the cult, wolves, or…something else entirely) are appropriately fierce and their mannerisms and spoken word convey malicious intent. Lara will be tested throughout her time on the island, and story does not hold back from vividly showing every ordeal that Lara (and the player) has to go through.
Giving out anything about the story beyond this point would be a disservice to you all. You’ll just have to experience the rest of the story for yourself. It’s interesting all the way through to the end, and lays the groundwork for what looks to be a very bright future for this reboot of the Tomb Raider series.
Keeping with the “all hope is lost” theme, Lara’s controls and actions are similarly affected. Her every move is careful and measured, even her running animation. It’s a far cry from the rigid and robotic movements that she is known for in her prior games. Crystal Dynamics did a great job with her animations, as they really convey a sense of reality with whatever action Lara is doing. She will struggle when traversing ledges, her legs will flail when she leaps between rock faces, and will virtually fall flat on her face if she jumps from too high a height (as opposed to other games where the player magically does a parkour-like front roll).
Even when Lara is in close-quarters fights, she will not try to block sword swings and other attacks, but instead will scramble out of the way, and with the right upgrades, she will be able to perform some slick counters and finishers. Lara hunches down automatically when she detects danger anywhere near her. This reduction in her profile helps in taking cover behind any structures or barriers. No player input is needed at all, which I like. So when you see Lara crouching down of her own accord, Achtung, Spawners!
There are only four weapons in the single-player game (shotgun, assault rifle, pistol, and the bow) which can be individually upgraded, provided you have enough experience points to cash in. The fifth “weapon” is the utility axe mainly used for climbing rock walls, which can also be upgraded and used in certain reversals and attacks as well. The weapons all sound decent, and the gunplay is satisfying, considering the limited set that we are provided with.
The island itself is mountainous, and there is not really any variation in the setting, aside from some snowy locations here and there. Yet every area is unique in how it looks and feels. There are optional tombs that you can access in the different areas, and each one has its own theme. The puzzles are appropriately difficult but should not be very hard to figure out for the average gamer.
Campfires are set as rest locations where the Lara can buy upgrades for her weapons, fast-travel, and also purchase perks that help in hunting, treasure collecting, and fighting. The upgrades for weapons can only be purchased with salvage that can be found in boxes, enemies, and yes, animals around the environment.
Perk/Ability upgrades can be purchased by gaining experience points. This can be accomplished by hunting down animals, completing tomb puzzles, killing enemies in certain ways (headshots, etc.), gaining story progression, and finding the various types of hidden collectibles that every environment is saturated with (GPS markers, challenge items, idols, documents, etc.). Hitting up collectibles will also unlock galleries and character models in the Extras menu, besides giving you experience points. So there’s some added incentive there. Also, it is possible to fully upgrade your weapons and abilities in one play-through, if you are so dedicated.
This game looks fantastic. Crystal Dynamics has invested three years into the game and it shows. The vistas are beautiful and the graphical effects are pleasing to the eyes. Each location conveys a definite theme and does much to solidify the reality of the island (the sun glaring through the clouds, the moon reflecting light down among the mountain mists etc.).
NPCs are fittingly rendered, and the animations are smooth all around. Just don’t expect Crysis level NPC details, going into the game. Flora and fauna are done well. Especially the chickens and crabs. Don’t even ask.
Multiplayer in Tomb Raider feels clunky and much like an afterthought. There are very few maps included, and you get to choose to be either a Scavenger or a Survivor. Each side has its own buyable characters and perks (once again, gained with XP from playing matches, accomplishing goals, killing the enemy team, and so on). There are a few game types like standard deathmatch and control point matches, but that’s about it. Nothing at all comparable to the multiplayer in the Uncharted series (which is divine, btw). Tomb Raider’s multiplayer plays like Uncharted with stilts on and its eyes covered. Play with caution.
Meh. At least the multiplayer component is there to amuse you for a little once you have completed the main game, which I will mention that you will be revisiting a lot, just to get all of various types of collectibles.
No major issues to speak of in single-player. Multiplayer, however, is another story.
For the achievement and trophy hounds out there, be prepared for some disappointment. About a third of the achievements/trophies are tied to various multiplayer accomplishments. It’s almost as if Crystal Dynamics really want you to at least try out the mode…almost…
Unlockable art galleries and character models are included in the Extras menu. They give some decent insight into the character and world creation process.
The soundtrack for the game is good and complements Lara’s journey quite well. You won’t be humming the soundtrack anytime soon, but it does what it sets out to do.
Tomb Raider is the multi-platform answer to Uncharted 2. Lara’s strife and struggle throughout the game is beautifully conveyed to the player and you can feel her desperation and hopelessness like no other game character in recent memory. I’ll forgive the lackluster multiplayer component (next time just leave it out Crystal Dynamics. Do you hear me!?) All in all, the story, gameplay, graphics, and soundtrack all converge to make this game the ultimate version of Tomb Raider to play. If this is what the developer set out to do, they have accomplished it. In spades.