Crystal Dynamic’s 2013 reboot gives us a Lara Croft who we haven’t seen before–but more importantly, one who completely wins us over. She’s young, she’s naive yet intelligent, and surprisingly, she hates tombs! After a sudden storm, she is shipwrecked on an island and is greeted by not-so-friendly natives. It is up to Lara to find the strength within herself to stay alive and rescue her friends from the many dangers within the island. Can this new Lara save herself? More importantly, can she save this franchise?
[pullquote] Release Date: March 5th, 2013
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $59.99 [/pullquote]
You truly feel responsible for the safety and well being of Lara, as well as feel an actual sensation of failure when you die.
The story in Tomb Raider is reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies (you know, the good ones, without aliens), in which the plot itself is kind of thin, but the subplots of character development and action distract you from it. Character development is done flawlessly in Tomb Raider; Camilla Luddington’s performance as Croft is incredibly convincing. You truly feel responsible for the safety and well being of Lara, as well as feel an actual sensation of failure when you die. I can’t remember the last time I felt such a strong connection and sense of pride in a game’s character as I felt playing as Lara Croft. It’s hard not to sympathize with the poor girl–the island is incredibly unforgiving and she’s just so innocent and charismatic. She reminds you of a girl you know back home, and she gleams with potential. Watching her reach and surpass it makes you proud of her as well as yourself. It’s an interesting feeling, but a good one. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the all of the game’s characters. In comparison to Lara’s intense emotional development, her fellow shipwrecked friends fall short in terms of voice acting and presence. They’re secondary characters for a reason, but it’s still somewhat of a let down.
Gameplay in Tomb Raider is refreshing because as the player, you’re trusted to make all of your own decisions, and that’s pretty rare in games these days. All too often games over-instruct, taking away from that sense of discovery that most look for in an action-adventure game. Crystal Dynamics got it right in assuming that players are intelligent enough to figure it out on their own, and that is what makes this game so appealing.
The first hour or so of Tomb Raider is admittedly pretty heavy on cinematics and quick time events. To be fair, it’s all done for the purpose of character establishment, not to mention they’re some of the more exciting and engaging QTEs I’ve encountered in a game– you actually have to pay attention and time them correctly. However, once you’re free to roam the island, hunt, and explore areas, the game really gets to show off all it has to offer. You earn XP from hunting, killing enemies, and finding treasure. As you gain XP, you’re able to upgrade abilities and weapons. The XP gain certainly increases your desire to explore the island and, you know, raid tombs.
The tombs themselves are hidden throughout the island and contain ingenious puzzles that will make you feel incredibly intelligent upon completion, but incredibly stupid during the process. They possess ancient structures and relics, and the way Lara geeks out over these items is incredibly endearing and pretty freakin’ adorable. It’s exciting to see her character actually enjoy something, and her love for ancient civilizations and history gives her moments of peace in a chaotic reality.
It’s important to know that while Tomb Raider does a decent job at balancing realism and action-adventure fantasy, there are still moments in which it falls off kilter. While Lara will automatically crouch behind objects to avoid being spotted, there is no actual crouch button. Generally, you don’t need it, but in instances where you want to sneak into an area full of enemies, stealth becomes important, and at times, Tomb Raider feels ill-equipped. Lara will randomly pop up out of hiding, blowing your cover and inviting a barrage of bullets with Lara’s name on them. Also, some sort of automatic blend system into tall grass or bushes would have been appreciated. Tomb Raider‘s enemy AI is of average intelligence (but I swear they’re all partially deaf), but they should not have noticed me hiding in the bushes. Again, those instances are rare, but still frustrating.
Playing through the game, I got choked to death, had my head crushed by a boulder, my throat speared by a tree limb, and snapped my neck on an ocean reef… This game will surprise you with its gore.
Tomb Raider has certainly earned its mature rating. There is a surprising amount of gore in the game. You see and hear all of Lara’s dangerous falls, broken bones, gasps for breath, and cries of pain, not to mention walking through pools of blood and severed limbs. I believe the most intense and gruesome parts of the game are some of Lara’s death scenes. These things are hard to watch, man. Playing through the game, I got choked to death, had my head crushed by a boulder, my throat speared by a tree limb, and snapped my neck on an ocean reef. Sure, they’re incredibly realistic and show just how dangerous the island can be, but they kind of come out of nowhere and just seem to serve as more of a gimmick than anything else.
Combat was certainly a concern going into this game, especially with the lackluster combat systems from past Tomb Raider games. Thankfully, Crystal Dynamics pulls off an exciting, engaging, and intuitive combat system. Not only is the combat enjoyable, but it’s also somewhat diverse, allowing you to play to your own style. Throughout the game, Lara discovers new weapons, giving combat a nice refresher. I typically preferred to use the bow because, like a fart, I enjoy being silent but deadly. However, if you’re a bigger fan of going in guns a blazin’, you have that option as well. Climbing is also a breeze in Tomb Raider but still maintains the essence of anxiety. Every leap to the next ledge will leave your heart in your throat until you’ve landed safely.
Visually, there’s much to admire in the stunning island that Crystal Dynamics has created. Whether it’s beautiful sunsets, breath-taking waterfalls, or lush green tropical plants, it’s all a joy to see. Sound is also a strong suit for the game, even the sound of Lara’s bow bending back sounds incredibly realistic. You hear every piece of this gigantic environment. From birds to dripping water in tombs to distant wolves howling, it all feels incredibly real. This, tied in with the amazing visuals in the game, make the island feel like more like an environment, and less like a ‘level.’
I quickly formed a love/hate (mostly love) relationship with the dynamic camera angles used in the game. More often than not, it created a pretty cool cinematic affect that blended in with the cutscenes well. The camera angles also created a sense of immersion in producing a sense of panic when exploring tombs or climbing over walls– not knowing what was on the other side or around the corner was rather nerve-wracking, but in a realistic sense. The camera will also shake during intense action sequences or even when Lara is cold, again immersing the player into the world that Lara inhabits. However, the camera angles have their moments of overkill, especially during the later climbing sequences. There were also a few instances in which I thought, “I’m pretty sure this is just so I can look at her butt.” But overall, the camera angles don’t really exploit Lara in a sexual way, which is a bit of a relief, especially since she’s been considered somewhat of a sexual icon. It’s nice to see her go in a more serious direction in terms of design and presentation.
If multiplayer developer Eidos Montreal can fix the bugs and add more maps and game types with their upcoming DLC, there may be hope for Tomb Raider’s multiplayer. Otherwise, I don’t see it being played much longer.
To be honest, the one thing that really brought Tomb Raider down was its multiplayer. In general, multiplayer seems out of place in a game that is so focused on personal growth. There are only five maps and four game types: Team Deathmatch, Free for All, Rescue, and Cry for Help. Except for Free for All, all game types are 4v4, pitting the Survivors (Lara’s fellow shipwrecked friends) against the Solarii (the island natives). In Rescue, survivors must retrieve five medkits to their camp, while the scavengers just have to score 20 melee kills. Cry for Help forces Survivors to activate radio transmitters whilst the Solarii try to capture batteries to prevent the transmitters from being activated.
There are interesting aspects to Tomb Raider‘s multiplayer that do tie it to the single player. There is a vast amount of mobility- you can scale rocks and slide down ziplines just like single player. You can also set traps for enemies to fall into, but eventually, everyone kind of suspects them and become of little use. Multiplayer also borrows the single player’s leveling up system by gaining XP from kills and the ability to level up guns by looting chests around the map. The maps themselves have a strange color scheme; they either seem incredibly dark or incredibly bright, there appears to be no balance between the two extremes. They also don’t compare to the stunning graphics of the single player and just leave something to be desired. Your loadouts are composed of a primary weapon, secondary weapon, explosive, offensive skill, and survival skill (skills acting as perks). In terms of multiplayer gameplay, there’s quite a bit of lag and bugs- players get stuck in rocks and skitch along your screen, making it difficult to kill them. Personally, I found multiplayer to be more frustrating than fun– I felt like I was testing an early multiplayer beta rather than a finalized product. If multiplayer developer Eidos Montreal can fix the bugs and add more maps and game types with their upcoming DLC, there may be hope for Tomb Raider’s multiplayer. Otherwise, I don’t see it being played much longer.
The Wrap Up
Tomb Raider finally provides the franchise with a game that possesses all the elements that a solid action-adventure game requires and polishes them wonderfully. Lara’s character development gives you a sense of personal responsibility for her well-being. The few issues with camera angles are easily forgivable with the immersive experience they provide. The overall gameplay and presentation of the game is impressive and refreshing . While the multiplayer leaves something to be desired, it truly does feel completely separated from the outstanding single player. Tomb Raider is certainly a game that everyone should experience.