65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Lara gets rebooted, but how does it fare?
, 17 Mar. 2013
This review is from: Tomb Raider (PS3) (Video Game)
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!!
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