So, I think the last time I played a Tomb Raider game must have been...phwoar...10 years ago.
I do however, recall Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2 being 2 games in just a half-dozen or so that introduced me into gaming back in the mid-90s. There are scenes from both games that will live with me forever. The first icey cave your run into and the wolves attack. The first swan-dive. The first Raptor. The first T-Rex. Running around in the jungles of India killing Tigers etc (was that TR 3 maybe?). Venice and the wooden boats. Ahh. Memories.
I still have a Voodoo graphics card box up in my attic that has, I think, Tomb Raider 2 on the cover (Lara stood on a rock with a waterfall behind her if I recall). I confess to missing out on the "newer" versions of Tomb Raider, those made for the latest generation of consoles etc, but, Lara has always held a nostalgic place in my heart.
And now, she's finally back.
So, has Crystal Dynamics delivered? Is Tomb Raider worthy of Lara's icon? Has the wait been worth it?
Yes. Yes it has.
Now, it's easy to get sucked into reviewing a game with 5 stars on the day of its' release. You're excited. You over-react.
So, realistically, I'm giving this game 4 stars.
I'm not going to delve into the game's story, due to spoilers of course, but also because you can get a synopsis of the game's intro by reading a wikipedia page, can't you?
One thing that bugs me, is people complaining that Lara is more realistic. She's more relateable. They want her to be some sort of badass that just goes on killing sprees. Right. Okay. Good for you?
This is a PREQUEL. Lara is 21. This is her first adventure. Her origins story. This is the first time she's ever fought for her life. The first time she's had to kill.
Now. Graphically, on the PC, this game is truly, TRULY stunning. At 1920x1080, everything on Ultra, this game will test your machine as much as, say, Battlefield 3.
Granted I play on a custom-built laptop, but my specs are:
Intel i7 3840QM @ 2.8ghz Quad Core
16GB DDR3 RAM @1600mhz
Nvidia GTX 680m 4GB DDR5.
Crucial V4 256gb SSD.
I have everything on Ultra, AA off, teselation off, and I get 40(lowest I saw)-70fps.
Battlefield 3 gets 70fps with lows of about 30, so yes, the new Tomb Raider is relatively taxing once you wack up the detail.
I tried all the settings on low, just to see how it looked, and it still looks pretty darn great.
The level of detail of the characters, particularly Lara, the environment (except the water, that for some reason is toned down and barely ripples when you walk through it...disappointing I guess. It moves and sways of course, but the surface is..."flat" and doesn't really react to collisions on objects or Lara herself), is fantastic.
Artistically, Crystal Dynamics have gone for a darker, grittier feel, and it shows everywhere. Lara gets covered in mud mixed with blood that washes off in the rain. Early on, she gets pretty badly injured and you constantly see and hear her pain and struggling.
Her infalted air-bags are gone, kind of, but Lara looks like a young woman perfectly portioned with curves in the right places. Hot-pants are now cargo pants, and her vest covers her belly finally. She's still very, very sexy, so retains her sex symbol status in gaming, but she's far more realistic now.
Crystal Dynamics have truly hit the jackpot with Camilla Ludington. Not only did she do all the motion capture, she is the new voice of Lara.
Quintisentially British as always, with this being an Origin story and Lara's first adventure at just 21, her performance and that of all cast members is superb.
Lara is alot more vocal in this entry, and will constantly be making noise of exersion when she jumps or grabs a ledge, will shout with pain, will tremble in confined spaces or when she faces any form of environmental danger.
Trees sway, birds chirp, wolves howl in the distance. You're in the wild, alone with nothing but Lara's wits and inner drive to survive.
Standard 3rd Person action here. Camera behind. The usual Tomb Raider controls with some new aspects thrown in. Ledges where you slip require you to hit a certain key in the allocated time or Lara will fall and, inevitably, die due to the sheer drop below her.
Combat is completely revamped. No more hopping around with 2 pistols on auto-lock and infinite ammo. This is far more realistic, and stays in 3rd person throughout.
Uncharted and Gears of War comes to mind when you're firing, but hey, how else can you do action in a 3rd person game?
The bow and arrow add an element of stealth to the game, which is actually the prefered way for Lara to move around. She can now crouch and hide behind objects. Choke foes to death from behind. Arrows can be used as distractions, but rather worryingly, arrows seem to be available a bit too much. To the point where just an hour or so in, I was thinking "why are there so many arrows around here?" Get into a gunfight and Lara for sure can hold her own, BUT, she's very fragile, even on normal difficulty.
As expected in games these days, the "entry level" thugs at the start are your typical selection of only-wearing-a-shirt-for-protection bad guys with AKs. Easy to taunt and trick. These do get replaced with heavy-armour wearing foes with shotguns and LMGs later on, with some riot shields thrown in as well to mix up your tactics mid-fight, and for the most part the AI holds its' own. They'll spot you if you're not hiding properly, yet don't have eagle vision either to make it unfair.
Lara can eaves-drop on foes and some humorous dialogue can be heard, as you crouch in the shadows (aka behind a low brick wall in the bushes).
Weapons can be upgraded through parts you find in the world, to repair your bow, your AK47, your shotgun etc, from the rusted pirates' version to a shinier, more accurate and damaging version (standard stuff in gaming).
These upgrades are done at "camps" you find in each area of the island, where you can rest up, catch your breath, fast-travel and perform said upgrades.
Collectibles throughout the world give you an incentive to re-visit areas (often with different weather too) and gain XP to give yourself new moves and better upgrades etc, so the camp quick-travel is always useful.
In my opinion, there are too many Quick Time Events causing button mashing, but the I've never been a fan of them. Also, a few too many "cutscenes" where you have no control of the awesome moments.
Some of the QTEs are exhilirating, such as using your shotgun to blow away wooden obstacles as you crash down raging rivers (and these parts of the game REQUIRE weapon upgrades before you acces them).
After a long write with not enough detail no doubt, I can honestly say this is the one, latest game in the series that is worth a purchase, just because it gives you an insight into who Lara is and how she became the legend.
It's darker, it's gritier, it's rated 18, and it's a well-told, emotional ride.
I have only 2 so far.
First off, there is a bug that is kind of irritating.
When you grab a ledge or have a button to hit, it shows you which button to hit, otherwise you fall and die, or the object crushes you etc. Well...it usually shows you what button to hit, but not always. You die. Reload, try again, and there's the button you have to hit on the screen. Weird. But it does it numerous times, which is annoying, but hardly game-breaking.
Also, Lara's attitude changes FAR too quickly from scared woman to killing machine.
Her first kill (ie, ever), is a dramatic moment that will live long in a gamer's memory. It's horrifying. It's partly a rape scene. Lara's emotions are so relateable after she kills her first person. She breaks down. She's on her knees, dropping the gun in horror at what she has done.
It's a powerful, unforgetable moment.
...but then 5 minutes later, she's slaying men left and right.
It's not that the scene was bad or unrequired, it just seems they pushed the moment so hard but then showed no emotion about it from then on.
This is a problem in games these days, and it's just story-telling being badly done. Far Cry 3 did it. Jason Brody is a teenager. Never fired a gun. Kills someone for the first time, it's horrific for him, sure, but again, 5 minutes later, he's using an AK47 like he's a trained killer.
I kind of wish developers would ease us into being so proficient with weapons in a better way, especially when it's obvious the character has had no training at all.
It's a nitpick some will agree and disagree on I guess.
It's not a 4. It's not a 5. It's a 4.5.