Just to be clear, I’m talking about the 2013 reboot/origin story ‘Tomb Raider’, not the 1996 game! I realise that doing this is something of a trend at the minute, but quite why they couldn’t have called it ‘Tomb Raider: Origins’ or ‘Tomb Raider: The Dragon’s Triangle’ or something is beyond me. Anyway, I have just completed the new game on the Xbox 360 and thought I would offer my opinions…
Tomb Raider tells the story of the young Lara Croft’s first adventure, when she was shipwrecked on a mysterious island. Separated from the others she must gather equipment, rescue her friends and find her way off the island. During this time she must learn how to survive, including making her first kill and raiding her first tomb. She also must unravel the truth behind the island’s unnatural storms and the ancient Japanese sun goddess, Himiko.
The story is well-told and well-acted, mainly through cutscenes. Camilla Luddington shows a new side to the bad-ass babe, allowing some vulnerability to show through in the game’s early stages, as well as a certain geeky fascination with history and archeology (a refreshing change from the old Lara’s approach of putting her boot through ancient vases to see if there are shiny things inside!). But don’t worry, she isn’t a simpering wreck for the entire game and quickly finds her feet and proves how capable she is. In fact, the transition from a highly emotional Lara making her first kill to headshot-happy heroine feels slightly jarring, but I suppose Lara (and the player) must quickly adapt to killing in order to survive.
While Lara a well-written and has an interesting character arc, the rest of the cast seem very two-dimensional by comparison. They feel like a generic Scooby-gang of racial stereotypes: the angry black girl, the aggressive scot, the chilled out Hawaiian/Maori dude… but they all play their parts in the story.
The gameplay in the new Tomb Raider is excellent. Lara has lost some of her more acrobatic moves and her infamous dual pistols, but it doesn’t make her any less capable. Her abilities improve over time as she acquires new weapons and equipment and upgrades her existing gear with salvage.
Climbing feels more natural than previous games, with lots of organic surfaces and swinging physics objects in Lara’s path. Unlike games like Assassin’s Creed, where most of the control is taken away from you, you feel like you are in control the whole time (and can make mistakes). But unlike previous Tomb Raider games, Lara does what she is told and rarely falls to her death unless you actually make a mistake.
Combat is good too. It is usually possible to take down enemies stealthily and this works well. But when a fire fight does break out, the gun play is great, allowing Lara to use cover and a selection of weapons to fight her way to safety. Melee combat is not as great, but allows her to adequately defend herself if the enemies get too close. Just occasionally I felt like there were too many enemies for Lara to realistically defeat. I get that they were trying to make her bad-ass, but I felt like it was stretching it a bit. However, this only happened on a handful of occasions.
Exploration is another very welcome part of the game. After the rather linear and lengthy opening sequence, the world opens up into a massive island with lots of nooks and crannies. There are also a number of Tombs to raid (who could have seen that coming!?). The tombs (and many of the main areas) feature some interesting and clever physics-based puzzles. Most of the rewards hidden in these areas are relics, apparently-pointless GPS caches and Journals that fill in some of the back-story of the world. The player is usually only gets extra XP or salvage, but it is nice to be able to explore the world, rather than being guided down a linear path.
One thing that does annoy my is the game’s use of Quick Time Events. Some of them are fine and make the player feel involved in spectacular, tense or cinematic moments. Other times, however, they do not work so well. I remember one particular encounter with a wolf in a cave that took me multiple attempts to get past. One time the prompt didn’t even seem to appear before Lara died. It also occasionally puts the prompts in confusing places (like putting the icon for the left stick on the right side of the screen). As I said, many of them fit in seamlessly, but others are some of the lowest, most frustrating moments in the game.
The presentation in this game is also brilliant, in fact it is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played. Lara looks great (and even has realistic, human-like ‘proportions’). The island looks amazing too. I also noticed very few bugs or graphical glitches, which is unusual.
One thing I didn’t like (and this is probably a personal thing) was the way things like water and blood got splashed on the camera. Personally I feel like this looks dodgy, spoils the view and breaks immersion (as the player is controlling Lara, not the Camera, and never gets blood/water on their eyes in such a way).
Apart from Lara’s slightly jarring transition from emotional to kick-ass, the story is very entertaining and full of genuinely tense and exciting moments. This is a very well-made game and the large, beautiful world has plenty to explore and is full of fun gameplay and great moments.I really enjoyed the new Tomb Raider and look forward to future instalments in the series.
Recommendation: Buy it!