[The name Lara Croft has been a household name in the gaming industry since debuting in 1996 with titles being released for the Sega Genesis, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii & PSP. The games were a mixture of action, platforming and puzzle solving with the latter being the main focus for the franchise. The series would enjoy its fair share of success. However; recently it has stumbled with some of its releases with the exception of Tomb Raider Legend and 2008’s Tomb Raider Underworld. Five years later and we have a new Tomb Raider title albeit a reboot for the long running franchise. The newest title is the 5th in the series to be developed by Crystal Dynamics and attempts to take Lara Croft back to her roots. Is the latest release the much needed revival that gamers have been waiting for? Read the review to find out!
The game starts off with Lara Croft’s first expedition aboard the Endurance as she attempts to find the mysterious Japanese island known as Yamati, which is home to the legendary Shaman queen Himiko. Along for the dangerous journey are six crew members. Lara Croft is intent on searching the Dragon’s Triangle, a place that is well known for its violent storms and countless lost ships. Eventually her ship is destroyed by the violent storm, stranding all of the crew members. Lara Croft is captured by a barbaric and demented individual. She eventually escapes the cave and in the process ends up killing the crazed mad man who had captured her.
The game has a much darker and more violent tone than any previous releases in the series. In prior releases Lara Croft was quick, fearless and a hero. However, this time around she is sensitive, emotional, weak and just trying to stay alive. When Lara Croft starts her treacherous journey, her only defense is her bow and arrow. She will eventually gain access to a grenade launcher, rocket launcher, a pistol, a flaming arrow, shotgun, machine gun, etc. In fact, her first kill of a deer is one that she regrets.
She doesn’t even use a gun until an hour into the game. During the first hour, the game presents itself as a tutorial with quick time events thrown in. As the player progresses, he or she can stop at campsites where Lara Croft’s survival, hunting, combat and awareness abilities can be upgraded via the available points that the player accumulates along the way.
My one gripe with the game is something that previous games have utilized (mainly Resident Evil) and that is quick time events. Sliding down a watery slope to avoid environmental dangers, being attacked by a wolf or simply trying to survive precarious situations require QTE’s and are used excessively. Quick reflexes and upgrades are vital because the game is very challenging even on the easiest difficulty. Enemy A.I. is brutal and will attack in large groups without hesitating. They will utilize everything from guns to explosives and Molotov cocktails.
As the game progresses, Lara transforms into an unstoppable killing machine that is just as vicious as her foes. The game’s cover system is done very well because instead of relying on a button press to get Lara behind cover, she crouches behind it automatically once she gets near it, which is a welcome change. The game does feature puzzles but, unlike previous entries, they aren’t frustrating or mind-numbingly difficult. Melee combat is very well done and allows for many brutal up close and personal encounters. Lara can finish off her enemies as well as dodge their attacks. Levels are expertly designed. There are also minor boss battles that the player must contend with.
Tomb Raider utilizes a Modified Crystal Engine to run the game and it looks amazing. Character models look excellent and are well detailed, especially Lara. The various areas that Lara explores are beautiful and are full of detail whether it’s a dark and creepy underground cave, a tomb, the beautiful jungles, temples or the ocean side beach. The water effects are excellent. Foliage and trees are wonderful sites to behold. Shadows, lighting and explosions are done just as well. As Lara Croft makes her progress throughout the game, she accumulates damage which looks painstakingly realistic. Seeing Lara getting impaled by a tree branch or getting mauled by a wolf can be cringe worthy for some people. Set pieces look great as well. Technically and visually, Tomb Raider looks really good.
The game’s audio is impressive. Actors and actresses such as Robin Atkin Downes, Camilla Ludington, Cooper Thornton, Arden Cho, Robert Craighead, Andy Hoff, Earl Baylon, Tanya Alexander and James Walsh lend their voices to the game and all do a great job of being convincing in their given roles. Enemies will yell out when Lara Croft is spotted. Guns, arrows, explosions and fire sound pretty convincing. The game also features a really good soundtrack which was composed by Jason Graves and does an impressive job of immersing the player, especially during heavy battles and firefights where the music’s tempo builds. I was fortunate enough to purchase the collector’s edition of the game that came with the game’s soundtrack CD, and I loved it. Those with a great sound setup will be in for a treat, that’s for sure.
For the first time in the series Lara Croft seems like a real person. She is emotional, saddened and is in the fight of her life. She cares about the people around her. As a gamer, I felt bad every time she endured pain and suffering. I actually cared for her and felt sympathy for her because Lara is believable as are the events that happen around her. The game seems like a horror survival game because Lara is either trying to escape or survive or a combination of both. That brings me to the next major part of Tomb Raider. The latest release is violent - no doubt about it. Underground caves are littered with dead carcasses and human remains. Blood stains are aplenty and the body count is high. The game paints a grim and gritty picture that focuses on survival, torture and the will to escape it all. This is Lara’s most personal and emotional roller coaster ride to date.
The game’s multiplayer is pretty good but features a paltry selection of game modes, which allow for 4 Vs 4 matches. You have your typical Team Death match where you play as either a member of the Survivors or Scavengers. The matches are in a best-of-three format where players alternate between Survivors and Scavengers. Players have access to the same weapons that are available in the game’s single player story such as the bow and arrow, pistols, shotguns, and even a rocket launcher. There is a Rescue Mode in which the Survivors need to collect 5 med packs then deliver them to various locations while the Scavengers try and kill 20 Survivors. Traps are common as are environmental hazards such as explosive barrels, falling rock piles, collapsing floors and even a sandstorm that makes visibility difficult. Cry for Help places the emphasis on discovering and collecting items as opposed to the previous modes. You can level up your character, choose your weapon load-out and unlock skills using skill points. Teammates can revive one another as well.
I enjoyed my time spent playing Tomb Raider because it has a solid and coherent story. Lara Croft feels like an actual person that I care for, which is a first for the series. The game is violent, emotional, gritty, and dark, and places its emphasis on survival which makes the latest release the most personal to date. The weapons and melee combat are well done. Level design is varied and impressive. Enemy A.I. is brutal. Lara’s transformation from fragile young woman to an experienced survivor is striking. The game’s automatic cover system is a welcome change. The game does feature puzzles, but they aren't as frustrating as with previous entries in the series. The game’s numerous locales look very impressive as do the character models. The game has solid voice acting, impressive weapon sounds and an immersive soundtrack thanks to Jason Graves. The multiplayer aspect is pretty good although it is paltry in comparison to other multiplayer options out there. Given that the game’s main focus is its story mode, that can be forgiven. My one gripe with the game is its excessive use of quick time events, which is something I have never been a fan of.
This latest release is the best in the series hands down. While it's still early in 2013, Tomb Raider is already a contender for game of the year. It is available for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.]