on 17 March 2013
I have had this game on my radar since it was announced several years ago. As a casual follower of the Tomb Raider franchise since Tomb Raider II, I was immediately intrigued, because I'd always felt that while the games were brilliant back in the 90s and early 00s, it seemed that interest in the young Miss. Croft had faded significantly in recent years. So I was fascinated to find out how a new, younger version of Lara would work in the context of a more modern, grittier story. So how did it do?
It's impossible to review Tomb Raider without first considering its modern competitors. The first, and most obvious of these, is the Uncharted series. When Uncharted was first announced back in the mid-00s, reviewers and gamers alike were quick to brand the game as a 'Tomb Raider knock-off'. And it was no surprise really; both series feature a strong lead character who is in search of a particular ancient treasure, trying to claim it before a stereotypically evil bad-guy gets his hands on it. Both series incorporate supernatural elements into an otherwise realistic world, and both borrow heavily from the Indiana Jones films. And it's true; Uncharted certainly owes some of its success to the 'Tomb Raider'-shaped hole that had opened up in the market, and turned out to be one of the greatest games series of the last decade.
But this isn't a review of Uncharted; it's a review of 2013's Tomb Raider. Ever since gameplay was shown, gamers have been labelling the reboot as an Uncharted 'clone'. And while it is certainly true that the vast majority of Uncharted fans will undoubtedly love Tomb Raider, the two games are not as alike as many gameplay videos or gamers would have you believe.
You start the game aboard the 'Endurance'; a large ship, whose passengers and crew are attempting to find the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai, where a Sun-Queen named Himiko once reigned (all of which is based on true history). Lara Croft, the protégée of Dr. Whitman (a failing television archaeologist) is part of the expedition, when a storm hits, destroying the ship, and shipwrecking it on a nearby island. The plot of the game sees you exploring most of the vast island, trying to keep the rest of the crew safe from the savage islanders, while attempting to discover the secrets behind the island.
The gameplay itself is excellently designed, and merges perfectly with the fast-paced storyline. A lot of the gameplay is based around platforming; climbing up buildings, jumping from platform to platform and zip-lining from one place to another. While the climbing mechanics are not quite as robust as those in other games (i.e. Uncharted), and you will occasionally become frustrated at Lara's peculiar tendency to through herself into a giant chasm, but on a whole they work very well. A particularly nice touch to the climbing aspect is the use of the climbing axe, which as well as doubling as a brutal melee weapon, also allows you to climb special 'craggy' areas of cliff faces. As you progress through the story, you unlock more equipment, and as a result gain access to more areas. For example, about a third of the way into the game, you unlocked the ability to fire rope arrows, which allow you to pull objects towards you from a distance or set up your own zip-lines, as well as tripping over enemies.
Speaking of arrows, there are four staple weapons in the game; a bow, a handgun, a rifle and a shotgun. Each of these has different purposes and can be upgraded separately using salvage that you collect from the environment and downed enemies. The bow quickly becomes a vital piece of equipment, due to its usefulness in exploring as well as fighting. Arrows are silent, allowing you to adopt stealth techniques easily. Arrows can also be fired near to enemies in order to distract them. As you progress, a range of different arrows can be unlocked, including fire arrows, napalm arrows and the aforementioned rope arrows. The bow mechanics are some of the best I've seen in games. The handgun can be silenced when enough salvage has been found, and also can be modified to have a burst fire mode. The assault rifle is inaccurate, but quick firing, and is modified later in the game to include a grenade-launcher attachment. The shotgun can be customised to have a secondary fire that features a longer range for decreased damage. The focus on salvaging and modifying weapons gives the game a realistic 'survival' feel, while incorporating some RPG-elements that are thankfully becoming increasingly common in modern games. These elements extend into an XP system that allows you to unlock more moves and abilities for Lara, such as the ability to collect arrows from enemies you have shot, and a series of useful finishing moves. Lara also has the ability to use "Survivor Vision", which works similar to "Eagle Vision" from Assassins Creed or "Detective Mode" from the Arkham series.
I was initially sceptical of the shooting mechanics of the game. Unlike Uncharted, there is no option to 'shoot from the hip'. In order to fire your weapon, you must be aiming using L1. When I first discovered this, I believed it to be laziness on the developers half, but quickly discovered that it was deliberately left out to give the game a more realistic feel. Unlike Nathan Drake of Uncharted fame, Lara has never used a gun before, and it shows. You can't casually mow down hundreds of enemies as you run past them without a thought; taking out enemies requires you to really think about where you are positioned, and selecting your weapon carefully. Several times throughout the game, I found myself repeating a section over and over again, before realising that the weapon I was trying to use made the section particularly difficult. This plunges you deeper into the game's narrative, allowing you to appreciate how scared Lara must be. And while I love the Uncharted series, never has it got my heart racing quite as much as some of the intense shoot-outs in Tomb Raider.
The cover system is particularly well-designed. To begin with, I was having a hard time getting used to it. I was so accustomed to getting into cover using a particular button that I found it difficult to make Lara take cover, and occasionally got torn to pieces by machine gun fire as I was standing helplessly beside a wall. I quickly found out that Lara was clever, though. As long as I was near enough to a wall or table, and enemies were nearby, Lara would automatically take cover. This works perfectly, and very quickly, I was using cover to my advantage extremely effectively. Lara naturally tries to survive.
That's a big part of Tomb Raider, as it turns out. Crystal Dynamics (the developer) have worked hard to turn Lara Croft from a badass treasure hunter into a naive, scared young girl, barely out of college. You are supposed to sympathise with Lara greatly, and they've done a great job of allowing this, through narrative, voice-acting (kudos to Camilla Luddington for doing a fantastic job of voicing Lara!) and gameplay. It's intense, but you're with Lara every step of the way, from the moment she first sits beside a campfire, shivering from the rain, to the time she makes her first kill, right up until the end.
Speaking of the end, the story finale isn't actually the end of the game. While the narrative follows a linear plot that sees you walking across most of the island, the game is decidedly open-world. You revisit areas that you've been to previously, but with new abilities and equipment, allowing you to unlock new areas to find the remaining treasure. In a way, this is very akin to Batman: Arkham Asylum, where your progress through the game allows you to access more and more areas. While the island itself is a little more linear than the Arkham games, the fact that it is all confined to an island allows you some freedom (unlike the Uncharted games, where there is a distinct path at all times). Throughout the world, there are various documents to find, as well as treasures, and other collectibles.
There are also several Hidden Tombs throughout the game, which incorporate puzzle and platforming elements (think of the Assassin Tombs etc. from Assassin's Creed). While these are a fun addition, they are generally too short, and not as challenging as I would have liked. Nevertheless, they are a nice break from the other parts of the game.
The games graphics are generally very impressive, with excellent lighting to accent the effort that has been put into creating a living, breathing island. Many of the sections of the game force you to use fire and torches to light your way, and the effects on the fire are particularly impressive. Some of the cutscenes lack detail, and occasionally, lip-syncing is a little poor, but these rarely take away from the action.
On a whole, the campaign is fantastic, gritty, and lovingly-made. It is one of the most enjoyable single-player experiences I have had from a game, and I'm not afraid to admit it. The multiplayer, however, leaves much to be desired.
I can sort of see what Eidos were trying to do with the multiplayer, but unfortunately, the game doesn't translate well into a multiplayer experience. Lara's lack of experience works extremely well in the single-player, but when put into an online environment, the guns all feel too light, the gameplay frustrating, and the controls flimsy and unpredictable. Very often, I ended up too close to the enemy I was trying to kill, and ended up in a massive climbing-axe-swinging-fest, during which we simply circled around each other, failing to hit each other, until somebody else came along and put us out of our misery. I am aware that a lot of people dislike Uncharted 3's multiplayer aspect, but it at least feels like a robust, well-made aspect of the game, rather than a tacked on feature. It's just a good job that the single player is so fantastic.
+ Fantastic climbing and platforming mechanism that throws Lara into the 21st Century of gaming.
+ Well-designed shooting mechanics that capture Lara's inexperience perfectly.
+ Various ways to engage the enemy; stealth, melee or cover-based shooting.
- Multiplayer is often frustrating.
+ Incredibly detailed world
+ With some impressive lighting-use.
- Some occasional cutscene syncing issues.
+ Voice acting is brilliant, giving each character a very realistic feel.
+ Music is tense, and adds to the feel of the game brilliantly.
+ Gun sound effects are particularly realistic.
+ Multiplayer mode provides a lot of playtime, if you don't find it too frustrating.
+ Lots of treasures to be found, and Hidden Tombs to locate.
- Slight lack of enemies to kill after beating the game.
+ Great, fast-paced story with some great twists.
+ Interesting storyline which matches real life history.
While I appreciate that Tomb Raider might not be everybody's ideal game, I have found it to be one of the single most enjoyable gaming experiences. It borrows ideas from some of the most successful games of the last decade, and while some of the mechanics do not feel as robust as they do in other games, the culmination of them into one game makes Tomb Raider stand out. It's a fantastic celebration of what gaming has become!! If you enjoy Uncharted, Assassin's Creed and the Batman: Arkham games, then I'm sure that you will love Tomb Raider!!
on 8 March 2013
I've been a big fan of the Tomb Raider franchise since it's initial release on the Sega Saturn back in '96 and loved every entry in the series that CORE Design developed. Yes, even Angel of Darkness. When the reigns were handed to Crystal Dynamics I feel the games took a massive slump. Legend was utter tripe, Anniversary was average at best and Underworld needs to burn in the pits of hell. Needless to say I was not impressed with Crystal's lacklustre attempts. So naturally, I was sceptical when this new Tomb Raider was announced. Even more so being the third reboot of the franchise.
So. Now I have played through and completed the single player I can safely say that this game is just fantastic. Crystal have finally managed to create a decent TR game!
Unlike previous games in the franchise, this title is heavily story driven. It's a dark and gritty tale of overcoming mystical, horrific and insane odds whilst desperately trying to find a way to save her friends and escape the island of Yamatai. The story itself is told well, with additional tidbits revealed in documents scattered about the island.
The game is beautiful and highly detailed. Definitely one of the best looking games I have seen in a while. The lighting is superb, more so when it's day time with the sun beaming beautifully down on the island. The PC version in particular is one of the most graphically impressive games available.
The games play well and the controls are easy to pick up. Lara will automatically assume a 'cautious' stance when enemies are detected and thus automatically take cover when within range of low walls, etc.
The emphasis on survival is lost pretty soon after the game begins though sadly. After requiring to kill a wild animal for food to cure Lara's hunger, she seems to go the rest of the game without requiring sustenance again. A shame really, as I feel an MGS3 style stamina/recovery system would've benefited this game tremendously, though that is what I was led to believe this game would have. Besides the wolves early in the game, the only threat to Lara's life are the seemingly limitless well armed human enemies. At times it does feel like playing a generic TPS. Only when the enemies shift to a more super natural force towards the end does the heavy shooting action seem more justified.
For the most part gameplay is in the great outdoors, beautiful ancient Japanese castles and war time Imperial Japanese fortifications. But do not fret. There are a few 'optional' tombs that you can get to raiding. They are small in size but offer the best puzzle experiences within the game.
If you like collecting hidden items, then you'll find plenty of that here. Documents, artefacts, maps, along with weapon parts and salvage, which can be used to upgrade and enhance your weaponry. Plenty to keep you occupied.
Despite being so different, I find it hard to be disappointed by this game. I personally feel that this reboot has been successful. We all now have to accept that Tomb Raider has been reborn into a darker, more gritty tale of survival against impossible odds with a more realistic and believable young woman at it's helm.
The original games, the first in particular will always be the closest to my heart but if Crystal Dynamics keep up this formula, I can see Tomb Raider rise to the top again.
I honestly cannot wait for Tomb Raider 2.
For me at least, I can't see anything else topping this game in the foreseeable future.
on 26 October 2013
To be honest, I've never really played Tomb Raider before (OK - I played one game briefly a few years ago, but got bored after a little while.) However, this game is GREAT. Really fun gameply, lots of abilities / tools, great mature story. This is no longer a game for only adolescent boys. My one complaint was it seemed a little short, but that may simply be because I was so into it. The game mechanics were so *fun*, it was a shame for it to stop just when I had begun to master them. Sequel, please!
I played Bioshock Infinite just before this, and I would rate this the better game, mostly on the basis of how *fun* the gameplay of this is. Platforming, puzzle solving (actual puzzles you have to think about, with optional "tombs" too), running and gunning to beat any first person shooter, bow and arrows - fire rope arrows to pull things towards you, create zip lines etc.. - something about the bow and arrows was so fun I often preferred these weapons even when better firepower was available.
Game levels/design are also brilliant. So called "open world" games should take note. Little secrets and things to do everywhere (collectables, narrated diaries, artefacts with genuinely interesting historical relevance narrated by Lara), and while the story and progression is linear, you sometimes re-visit areas, but ALWAYS taking a different path (perhaps on a higher level) - so none of that horrible backtracking present in other games. This is linear storytelling and game progression done RIGHT; it almost feels like an open world game. No load screens; the entire game is streamed as you go (obvious connections between areas in the form of narrow tunnels, but it Works.)
The Lara character was also very sympathetic and extremely likeable as an actual person, a kind, genuine character who fights only because she has to; you really end up rooting for her, something not many games achieve. She's now a person, believable and likeable; no longer simply a walking pair of breasts. Other characters were great too!
Did I mention how fun the gameplay was? It feels like a blast from the past, when games actually used to focus on FUN above all else.
10/10, am now a Tomb Raider fan. Sequel please, hurry up.
Remember the old Tomb Raider back in the 90s? Pixelated boobs, long braided hair swishing as our angular-featured heroine ran around caves shooting at wolves with her dual pistols? That was my first and last experience with Lara Croft though she's had numerous games and a couple of movies made since then. So it's quite a shock to the system years later to go from that experience on my old Pentium 2 to this latest Tomb Raider game on the Playstation 3. Tomb Raider has become one hell of a sophisticated gaming experience since then and a far better game than I'd expected!
Tomb Raider is a prequel to the first game and we are introduced to a young Lara on her first expedition, part of a larger group of archaeologists, whose ship is caught in a sudden and violent storm and runs aground onto a mysterious island. Separated from the group and injured, Lara must use her wits to gain new skills in foraging, weapons usage, and combat to survive, gather as many of the surviving crew as possible, and get off the island alive.
First off, and maybe best of all, the graphics in this game - my god, what a beautiful looking game this is! I'm not just talking about Lara herself, though she is that and her boobs have become less cartoonishly massive - it's no coincidence her chest is covered with her hand on the cover of the game, the developers want you to know the focus has shifted. But the environments are so well modelled from the shipwreck on the beach, to the spooky forests, to the snow-flecked mountainous temples, the developers have really put the effort into making this a visually stunning game. Each environment looks different with varying levels of light so the shipwreck beach during the day is absolutely gorgeous, a vista you wish you could step into even momentarily, while at dusk or night it becomes forbidding as the swinging lanterns creaking in the wind become foreboding and shadowy figures come out of the darkness to attack you. The camera angles accentuate the landscapes too. Generally its placed just behind and above Lara but switches when she is climbing to give you amazing perspectives on the scenery as well as hints as to where to go - brilliant. I could spend the entire review talking about the environments but I won't - suffice it to say they are incredible.
Gameplay-wise, this is a really fun game. Lara learns new abilities as she goes, like rock climbing and fashioning tools out of salvage, and as her experience levels go up she gains further abilities in combat, survival, etc. The weapons are quite limited as the developers obviously wanted a degree of realism even though really most of the game is a total fantasy. Your arsenal includes a pick axe, bow and arrows, pistol (singular), machine gun , and shotgun. Initially these weapons are quite poor to use but the more salvage you collect means you can upgrade the weapons to become more efficient, even adapting them to become more deadly. Lara's arrows go from ordinary to flame to grenade, she can get a silencer for the pistol, and even turn her machine gun into a RPG! The bow and arrows though - Lara's dual pistols do make an appearance towards the end but you'll want to use the bow and arrows the most. It's too much fun using them to shoot guys in the head with!
There are lots of tombs to raid, all of which become progressively more complicated, though none are impenetrable to understand and if you're really stuck, there are lots of helpful videos on Youtube. The game itself is actually quite easy. It's clear the developers want you to experience the game in full, whether or not you're a hardcore gamer or not, rather than keep you stuck in a single place for too long. If you play a lot of third person shooters, you won't find Tomb Raider a challenge, even on the hardest setting, but the game itself is so compelling with its constantly changing range of environments and setups that its really addictive and keeps you playing for longer as a result.
I had an absolute blast playing this and was amazed that this was the same franchise. Gorgeous graphics, great gameplay, a compelling story with great cinematics and voice acting, Tomb Raider ticks all the boxes in what I look for in good games. I finished the game at 76% completion and am now going back over the areas in the island to pick up the extras and gain all the upgrades, and it's still great fun. An excellent action adventure game, I highly recommend it. Square Enix have rejuvenated Tomb Raider and made the best game in the series as well as one of the best games of the year.