Tomb Raider Review
Lara Croft hasn’t had the best of times in recent years. The Tomb Raider series found itself slowly declining in popularity, following a handful of games that failed to capture the magic possessed by the original titles.
Not only that, but when Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series arrived in 2007 it quickly took the crown as gamers ‘tomb and treasure’ game of choice.
Now, developers Crystal Dynamics have gone back to the drawing board to bring Lara Croft and her escapades back to their former glory.
Tomb Raider is a reboot in a very literal sense, taking the heroine back to a time when firing a gun, let alone her iconic twin pistols, is truly alien to her.
Crystal Dynamics new take on Lara’s beginnings start with her travelling the seas on her very first expedition, along an easily forgettable crew of supporting cast. Of course, things don’t go to ‘plan’ and the ship crashes on to a mysterious island with hostile natives and dangerous locales.
Things quickly go from bad to worse as Lara finds herself captured, having to use nothing but her will and ingenuity to escape and survive. At this stage Lara is understandably terrified and it’s these moments that keeps the opening stages of the game supremely grounded. The scene builds one of real emotional connection and sympathy towards the horrific circumstances Lara finds herself thrust into — after all, she’s not yet become that self-assured icon that people know her as.
These initial sections of the game are overly scripted, relying on quick time events (QTEs) to help move things along. Thankfully, these never feel overused, helping to keep the action a pace, and perfectly shaping Lara for the events to come.
Tomb Raider’s first act culminates in Lara having to take a life for the very first time — it’s a brutal necessity and the game does a very good job of reinforcing it as such. Lara’s reaction to the committed act is one of tortured horror, perfectly voiced by Camilla Luddington. Her resolve to save her friends is what pulls Lara through. This theme of genuine survival and saviour continues throughout the 12-15 hours that you’ll spend in Lara’s company; it’s arguably one of the best origin stories of recent years, witnessing a scared young girl transform into a competent and confident individual.
Combat hasn’t always been a strength of the Tomb Raider games, but this entry changes this dramatically. It’s a third person game, as always, but now the gun play relies on a cover system, instead of just jumps and rolls, to take out enemies. Unlike most cover based games there is no dedicated button to snap to the environment, Lara simply ducks behind cover once she gets close to it. Lara can then pop out from behind cover and take out enemies at leisure. It’s a simple system that just works without any fuss and it’s a serious blessing.
Not a huge variety of weapons are on offer, with the standard pistol, shotgun and rifle all accounted for; a bow and arrow rounds-out Lara’s arsenal. This restricted choice of weapons only adds to the authenticity of Tomb Raider’s survival theme. Upgrades eventually bulk out the limited weapon set, allowing a plain bow to fire explosive arrows, a pistol to gain a silencer and a rifle to get a grenade launcher. These upgrades all feel powerful without allowing the game to become easy.
Previous Lara adventures have required an almost pixel-perfect approach to platforming, where the slightest incorrectly angled jump would prevent Lara from being able to reach that ledge she was aiming for. Fortunately, this isn’t the case this time as a much more free-flowing nature to traversal is present. Yes, Lara will still drop to her death if you miss-cue your jump, but the margins are now more forgiving. All of Lara’s movements are made all the more convincing thanks to the superb motion-capture and animation work.
Lara can now climb certain surfaces with the use an ice pick, this addition introduces a level of verticality to proceedings, preventing exploration becoming stale. Additionally the aforementioned bow, gained early in the game, can be modified to create makeshift ziplines and pull certain objects closer. These abilities aren’t available until later in the game, but they add an incentive to go back to previously discovered areas to see what you may have been unable to reach first time around. This backtracking is encouraged by the games open world nature and fast travel areas, similar to that of Far Cry 3.
Although taking place on one single island the environment is surprisingly diverse. From the lush jungle and jagged coastline to shanty towns and ancient war bunkers, Tomb Raider offers an impressive range of areas to explore. The vistas on offer are stunning, whether in rain or sun, and clever level design means the environments are hidden to the rafters with treasures to find. These hidden treasures along with the puzzling concealed tombs, which are a joy to solve, add welcome layers of addictive gameplay. Lara herself also deserves applause, as her look transforms throughout the adventure showing off all the punishments she’s had to endure.
For the first time in the series history Tomb Raider introduces a multiplayer element to extend play-time. While the gameplay does translate to the competitive arena, it’s not exciting. The maps choice is slim and those available a quite limited in their design. Modes on offer don’t stray far from the tried-and-tested team deathmatch and capture the flag options available in most games; would a ‘save the survivor’ mode been too much to ask for? Tomb Raider’s multiplayer is functional, ticking the box. It’s hard to imagine the servers maintaining an audience for the sort of longevity that Call of Duty, Battlefield and even Uncharted 3 demand.
Tomb Raider’s single player adventure is a success from start to finish. The well thought out, engaging story provides an ideal companion to the superb adventure game on offer here, providing some of the best combat scenarios seen in recent years. Despite the lacklustre multiplayer the single player is more than enough reason to play.
Lara Croft is without a doubt back in a big way, and hopefully this is a sign of things to come.