Giant Bomb Review

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Tomb Raider Review

4
  • X360

Tomb Raider's tone is somewhat at odds with its action, but the reborn Lara Croft seems primed for a successful new adventuring career.

Not pictured: shooting hundreds of dudes in the face.

If the goal of the "reboot" is to free a creaky old franchise of its baggage, strip its protagonist of their larger-than-life attributes, and get back to basics, then consider the new Tomb Raider a successful reboot. The game relieves Lara Croft of her backflipping, wisecracking ways, recasting her as a wide-eyed young archeologist of no particular good breeding, out on a commissioned ship to make her mark on the world by finding--and shooting a reality TV series around--the lost island kingdom of Yamatai. The harrowing survival tale that commences once she arrives on the island molds Lara into a shockingly capable killer a little faster than I would have liked, but ultimately this origin story serves as a sturdier and more respectable springboard for further Lara Croft adventures than any previous game in the series.

Lara makes her way to the island with a band of researchers and television types in tow, and after the shipwreck scatters them all around the island, the game does a fair job, with voiceovers and flashbacks, of having you cross paths with each crew member and filling in the ways each one relates to Lara and how they may have helped or hindered her journey. The game is less successful at believably depicting Lara's own transition from eager young scientist to cold-blooded survivalist killing machine. The hasty remorse she offers when first hunting a deer for food or making her first human kill, in defense against the crazed cultists who rule the island, is hard to take seriously when you're then encouraged to slaughter every living thing in sight, human and animal alike, with a stock-standard video game arsenal of assault rifle, shotgun, grenade launcher, and flame-tipped arrows.

In its efforts to paint Lara as a vulnerable but resilient heroine, the game suffers an identity crisis of sorts. It swings wildly between quiet character moments, where you feel every bit of the physical pain and emotional anguish her grueling situation entails, and the sort of ludicrous, over-the-top action this medium just can't get enough of. The contrast is only so irksome because the game goes to such great lengths to legitimize Lara's struggle in the first place, but regardless, it sometimes feels like a constant process of two steps forward, one step back. Here's one egregious example. In an early cutscene, Lara visibly shivers by a campfire at night in a forest somewhere around sea level. Two hours later, you're high up in the mountains in near-blizzard conditions, making absurd death-defying leaps between radio towers wearing nothing but a tank top (and by this time you've clearly gotten over that earlier compunction about taking a human life, since you're now taking scores of them as a matter of course). To the story's credit, once Lara becomes visibly fed up with everything the bad guys are putting her through, and starts flinging back harsh words as readily as bullets, it became a lot easier to buy into her character arc, and the game ultimately does leave Lara a changed person who could believably kick off a whole new franchise. But in the first half, that strained dichotomy between beset young girl and invincible killer made me wish the developers had picked one style of characterization or the other and really focused on it.

Storytelling quibbles aside, Tomb Raider plays quite well by modern action standards. The game offers an unusual structure that straddles the line between a couple of distinctive genres, though it took me some time to come to grips with what the game actually is. That's because the big island map--split into little subsections with names like "Coastal Forest" and "Base Approach," each with an exhaustive lists of challenges and collectibles--gives one the impression of an open-world game with a fair amount of freedom to dally and explore. (Some of the game's marketing has not exactly dispelled this notion.) In actuality, Tomb Raider is a mostly linear game whose story propels you through those discrete regions one after the other, often with some sort of larger-than-life action sequence bridging the transition. Many of the game's combat sequences are also rigidly linear, though a few (which not coincidentally were my favorite) take place in wider areas and let you sneak around and get more creative with the ways you approach them. At least you're free to fast travel back to previous areas to check off all those collectibles and earn extra upgrade points after the fact, though.

In addition to revisiting previously explored regions at will to look for shiny baubles, you'll also come back to some of the larger levels for a second or occasionally even third time at the behest of the story. Thankfully, the mandatory backtracking avoids feeling like a cheap rehash and instead helps create a cohesive sense of place, since the designers usually have you reenter these areas from a different, previously inaccessible point, and then go on to send you along a different route than you took the first time. There are also new things for you to look for when you backtrack, since the game doles out new gear and abilities consistently over the course of the story, like a rope-arrow you can fire to make a bridge across chasms, that lets you get into new parts of the levels you couldn't get to previously. This system isn't as integral to the flow of the game as in your average Metroidvania--you're often only gaining access to more collectibles or some very brief "optional tombs" to raid--but it's still satisfying to wring a bit more out of the game world as you move back and forth.

Parts of Tomb Raider--potentially too many parts, depending on your taste--come off as the developers doing their best Uncharted impression, as you Quick Time Event your way through a large number of barely interactive action sequences that have everything around you exploding in a hail of splinters and fire that magically leaves you without a scratch. Actually, no, Lara comes out with plenty of visible scratches--the game pulls the effective trick of distressing her clothes and appearance more and more as the game goes on, a la Arkham Asylum. But you never once feel like she's in true danger, which can make the whole thing feel a bit like it's just going through the cinematic-action-game motions. I wish less time and effort had been devoted to these bombastic scenes and more put into the old Tomb Raider standby of climbing around on old ruins, giving you the chance to feel a more tactile connection to the mystical past that forms the backbone of this game's storyline. Those combat-free optional tombs are the closest you get to solving any ancient Rube Goldberg machines, but they're insultingly short--I bet the handful included here constitute no more than half an hour of gameplay, collectively--and largely just made me wish there were a lot more of them included.

The robust upgrade system lets you deeply customize your combat options.

If you're going to spend a lot of time fighting, at least the combat and attendant character-progression mechanics are implemented well, giving you a ton of options as to which weapons you want to enhance with better basic stats and a few interesting extra abilities, and which extra combat maneuvers, such as an array of dodge-counters, you want to unlock. There's a long list of extra abilities not related to combat, as well, including an enhancement to your show-me-everything-I-can-interact-with vision mode that reveals those scores of collectibles through walls, and annotates them on your map in a really smart way. If you're the type of person who enjoys going back and collecting every last thing, you'll get a whole lot of mileage out of Tomb Raider. But even if you're a one-and-done sort of player, the game is still quite long and doesn't exactly skimp on content in the first place.

There's also a reasonably full-featured multiplayer mode, but I didn't get much out of it since it's so similar to other third-person multiplayer modes, most notably the one in the Uncharted games. There's a fully realized leveling and loadout system that gives you tons of options for customizing the way you play, but this long after Call of Duty 4 it's just hard to get excited about that sort of thing anymore. The most interesting part of the multiplayer is the handful of traps, like rope snares and lightning rods, you can set to trip up other players when they unwittingly run over them, but that's small comfort when you've seen most of this stuff before. The multiplayer in the 360 version also suffered from an absolutely abysmal frame rate when firing while zoomed in, but that's such a specific problem I'd like to believe it will promptly be addressed with a patch. In single-player, the 360 game is quite a looker, though it does tend to chop up a bit here and there. We weren't provided PS3 or PC copies of the game prior to release, but with Nixxes, the studio behind the PC port of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, also handling porting duties on this game, it's easy to imagine the PC version will be the one to get.

Tomb Raider might be guilty of trying to do too many things at once, but the relative quality of each one of those individual things is high enough that the whole is still pretty satisfying. The game deftly rises above the unpleasant tone of the marketing that preceded it, recasting Lara Croft as a capable young heroine for whom many new adventures inevitably await.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
218 Comments
Posted by Orange_Pork

Pumped. Saw that there's an upgrade path for stealth kills. So you can stealth kill even harder. Day 1.

Posted by Yummylee

While I do like the look of the combat from what I've seen, I am disappointed to hear that it isn't weighed with more puzzles and actual tomb raiding. It's ironic when you think back to how shallow the combat was in previous Tomb Raider games and how its stock was purely put in navigating tombs and solving puzzles. This new one looks like it's taken the complete opposite approach and it perhaps veers a little too close to Uncharted territory with regards to the combat/puzzle/exploration ratio. Still, I'll be sure to give it a go eventually as I'm plenty interested all the same.

Edited by MeatSim

I feel like Far Cry 3 has already met my needs right now for island adventure involving hunting animals and killing crazy dudes.

Posted by LiquidPrince

Good read Brad. I still think people are taking this transition bug them a little too much. I mean consider being trapped on an island filled to the brim with rapist scavengers... You don't have much time to be traumatized after your first kill. I think at that point your survival instincts would kick into full effect.

Posted by rebgav

Sounds like they've just turned Tomb Raider into an Uncharted knock-off, doesn't it? That seems like a waste of time.

Edited by DrWhat

It really sounds like yet another one of those instances where the gameplay designer(s) and the writers didn't talk, or didn't understand each other, or didn't agree on what the point was.

Edited by squidraid

@golguin said:

@brad said:

@golguin said:

I'm not sure I agree with taking a game to task for being a "video game" when it's story is suppose to have Lara agonize over a kill and then sets her to kill hundreds more. That same critique can be leveled at every other game every made.

But... that's exactly why it should be taken to task. Most games don't do that.

It would be nice if games figured out that problem. We'll see if The Last of Us manages to solve that.

It does happen in every other game ever made, but every other game ever made doesn't push telling the very personal story of the main character as a major bullet point of its entertainment value, either. If you place this much stress on telling a deep, believable story, I'm not going to give you a free pass on loopholes like that.

Posted by ImmortalSaiyan

So hyped to play this. I think it is a game I will like despite those tone issues which I feared ever since they first started showing combat.

Posted by Veektarius

I'm glad to see the point of 'killing too many enemies' being raised in a review. It's something I was harping on after Max Payne 3 and Spec Ops. Maybe developers with gritty/emotionally-invested mechanics in mind will begin to take heed.

Posted by jimmyfenix

hell yes

Posted by aktivity

@rebgav said:

Sounds like they've just turned Tomb Raider into an Uncharted knock-off, doesn't it? That seems like a waste of time.

You make it sound like an Uncharted knock-off would be a bad thing. I dunno if we're gonna get a new Uncharted anytime soon, so what the hell. Go for it Tomb Raider. Besides Uncharted is a Sony exclusive, there's a huge market left to be fed.

Posted by JeanLuc

This has sold me. I definitely want to play it.

Posted by JohnB

"...[the optional tombs are] insultingly short--I bet the handful included here constitute no more than half an hour of gameplay, collectively..."

You broke my heart. Hopefully there are tombs on the critical path that are at least somewhat reminiscent of the large, spacious and confusing ones of old.

Posted by Bollard

@shimmy said:

@kre8havoc said:

@bkbroiler said:

@overbite said:

More like Boob Raider

Dude, nice.

Womb Raider?

Less nice, but I like that you're thinking.

Actually, it fits better.

But not as well as Loom Raider. Cause she's a woman. And women make clothes? Right?

Eh, I tried.

No wait! Broom Raider! ... okay, I'll leave now.

Posted by me3639

Considering this has been in development for a few years, i really hope developers are taking notes that wasting resources on multiplayer and hundreds of kills are growing less attractive than the importance of story and character in games like this. Good review.

Posted by Masterherox

A little glad to see Lara back in the limelight for a good reason.

Posted by Spitznock

Wasn't all that interested in this game before, but now I'm considering renting it or something to see it. Great review, Brad.

Posted by Benny

@tr0n said:

No Quick Look?

Squeenix aren't letting anyone publish videos of the game until release day :/

Posted by GnaTSoL

@pudge: Oh plz. these developers don't add in violence just cause it sells. Not even a little. They add it cause they want to. It's an action game. Violence is a realistic part of shooter/survival action.

Violence is a part of the world. It's not an obsession. It's reality. Especially considering lara's situation in her current story.

Everyone is too ultra analytic. You with your violence and brad nit-picking and not giving the game's story more of a chance by allowing himself to immerse to what's happening.

Edited by Deathpooky

It does happen in every other game ever made, but every other game ever made doesn't push telling the very personal story of the main character as a major bullet point of its entertainment value, either. If you place this much stress on telling a deep, believable story, I'm not going to give you a free pass on loopholes like that.

Exactly. Its the same reason Far Cry 3 was ridiculed for its story. If you communicate in game and in marketing that you're trying to tell a realistic character story, then the game as a whole gets evaluated on those standards, including the gameplay.

Though it's generally become a problem with this generation of games, ever since the norm became realistically modeled and voiced protagonists in a fleshed-out story. The gameplay in GTA IV, Red Dead, Sleeping Dogs, or the Uncharted series is increasingly hard to reconcile with everything else in the game.

Edited by mellotronrules

after taking in all the common critiques of the game (many of which i can see myself agreeing with), such as the violence, uncharted-ness, and time-to-killing-machine...i wonder how much of this game is either helped or hindered by it's heritage. tomb raider is an interesting franchise- one whose heyday i've always associated with the ps1. i suppose it was invoked to help sell copies of the game (gamers are probably more likely to buy a reboot than an entirely new IP)- but it does make me wonder what the press' and even my own perception of the game would be like without lara croft as the central character.

they probably wouldn't have had the budget this game had if it didn't have the tomb raider brand slapped on it- but i am curious what the game would have been like with just a no-name female (or even male for that matter) protagonist (who perhaps isn't destined to become an indiana jones or nathan drake analogue).

Edited by fiberpay

Jeff explained the fact that you kill lots of people very well on the bombcast. She has no other choice its kill or be killed. In that situation there are 2 kinds of people, those who get caught/killed in 5 minutes or those who make it to the end of the game. If the character was the former then it would be a short game. If she was scared to kill people the whole game that would be incredibly boring. I think that aspect of Brad's review is a bit off but other than that it sounds good.

Edited by GnaTSoL

@brad: Yet you pick your fights and don't levy the same arguments with every game you review.

Edited by rebgav

@aktivity said:

@rebgav said:

Sounds like they've just turned Tomb Raider into an Uncharted knock-off, doesn't it? That seems like a waste of time.

You make it sound like an Uncharted knock-off would be a bad thing. I dunno if we're gonna get a new Uncharted anytime soon, so what the hell. Go for it Tomb Raider. Besides Uncharted is a Sony exclusive, there's a huge market left to be fed.

For me, Uncharted gets a pass based on the production values and the dialog. It's a flimsy, shallow game which is also a lot of glossy, easy fun. If the pitch for Tomb Raider is basically Uncharted without the quality behind Uncharted then I don't really see the point.

Posted by demontrace

THIS COMMENT HAS BEEN DELETED!!!!!

Posted by RVonE

It seems like they're moving away from the more fantastical elements of the previous games. I'm not sure I like that. I'll pick it up and find out.

Posted by deerokus

Hmm, I had only seen bits of the marketing, and thought this game was a kind of open world version of classic Tomb Raider. It's neither? :(

Why is everything Uncharted?

Posted by The_Ruiner

...Why so many deleted comments?

Posted by GnaTSoL

@deerokus: Uncharted is not the father of climatic/epic sequencing/action.

Edited by Nictel

@patrickklepek has caused me to play this game with the bow only. Really curious how that will play out. Lots of death scenes probably.

Posted by SomeJerk

All this jibber jabber about the game stealing from other games..

Where were you people in 1996 when the original came out?

Posted by Milkman

I will play this game.

Edited by Triumvir

The PC version of this might be worth a look when it is on sale... and if it isn't effed up. Thank you kindly, Mr. Shoemaker.

Posted by Solh0und

shocker. i expexcted a 3 star review. cant wait to pick it up then!

Edited by Krakn3Dfx

@triumvir said:

The PC version of this might be worth a look when it is on sale... and if it isn't effed up. Thank you kindly, Mr. Shoemaker.

It's $36 on greenmangaming.com w/ their 20% off code right now.

Also, if there's a company I trust with PC ports, it's Square Enix. Everything they've put out on the PC that I can think of has gone above and beyond what most other publishers are willing to do.

I pre-ordered, and I am super stoked to check this out comes Tuesday.

Posted by Ganthet2814

Sounds like a solid game for the most part. The muliti-player might be a tack on which is sad don't need it if the game is solid. Might pick this up sometime. Good review Brad.

Posted by gogosox82

@fiberpay said:

Jeff explained the fact that you kill lots of people very well on the bombcast. She has no other choice its kill or be killed. In that situation there are 2 kinds of people, those who get caught/killed in 5 minutes or those who make it to the end of the game. If the character was the former then it would be a short game. If she was scared to kill people the whole game that would be incredibly boring. I think that aspect of Brad's review is a bit off but other than that it sounds good.

I think there's a difference between killing a few guys because you have to and killing hundreds of dudes for really no reason. They could've had it so where you only face a few guys at a time and you have to use your smarts/environment, whatever weapon you can string together to survive. If its uncharted and I have essentially unlimited ammo and I'm mowing down guys left and right, it kind of breaks the survival part of the game they've been talking up so much.

Posted by Supertom11

Does anyone know if you have to kill early on in the game? Is there a non lethal option? If there is then it really lies in the hands of the player to develop Lara as they see fit.

Posted by liako21

im glad this game turned out to be pretty good.

Posted by Nightfang

Is 2013 the year of good video game reboots and spin-offs?

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

@bkbroiler said:

@overbite said:

More like Boob Raider

Dude, nice.

Womb Raider?

I want to say that that exists in the form of a porno.

Posted by Supes

I had only just recently realised that this game was out really soon, seems like it was announced so long ago. Looking forward to grabbing it on the pc. Miss playing a good 3rd person action game since Darksiders 2.

Posted by MattClassic

@triumvir said:

The PC version of this might be worth a look when it is on sale... and if it isn't effed up. Thank you kindly, Mr. Shoemaker.

It's $36 on greenmangaming.com w/ their 20% off code right now.

Also, if there's a company I trust with PC ports, it's Square Enix. Everything they've put out on the PC that I can think of has gone above and beyond what most other publishers are willing to do.

I pre-ordered, and I am super stoked to check this out comes Tuesday.

Don't worry about the PC port too much, it was handled by Nixxes, who did a bang up job on the PC version of DXHR. I still haven't played Hitman: Absolution yet, but I've heard mostly positive things about what they did with it, too.

Edited by wsowen02

Those combat-free optional tombs are the closest you get to solving any ancient Rube Goldberg machines, but they're insultingly short--I bet the handful included here constitute no more than half an hour of gameplay, collectively--and largely just made me wish there were a lot more of them included.

This is the deal breaker for me. This is not Tomb Raider.

Posted by DarkbeatDK

I'm a person that never really liked the old Tomb Raider games because I thought the bad 3D platforming, time-release switch puzzles and awful camera made them the most tired games ever.

I'm actually really excited that it's an action game and after reading a couple of reviews I now plan on picking it up.

However, there *are* plenty of action games out there and part of me feels that it would be better if they had made a Tomb Raider game in line with the classics that the fans want.

Generally, I think there should be more niche games that focused on more interesting and unique things, without crossing over to be some indie hipster bullshit. Maybe the dawn of the next generation will bring about the return of the middle-tier game.

Posted by ThreeRoneC

I can't wait! Only a few more days!

Posted by Brad

@supertom11 said:

Does anyone know if you have to kill early on in the game? Is there a non lethal option? If there is then it really lies in the hands of the player to develop Lara as they see fit.

There's nothing close to a nonlethal option -- it's a shooter. You'll have to kill dozens, if not hundreds, of people to finish the game.

Staff
Edited by eternitymemory

@fiberpay said:

Jeff explained the fact that you kill lots of people very well on the bombcast. She has no other choice its kill or be killed. In that situation there are 2 kinds of people, those who get caught/killed in 5 minutes or those who make it to the end of the game. If the character was the former then it would be a short game. If she was scared to kill people the whole game that would be incredibly boring. I think that aspect of Brad's review is a bit off but other than that it sounds good.

Yeah, but the issue seems to be that there are so many enemies that need to be gunned down from the get-go that it creates a super obvious story/gameplay disparity that sort of cheapens Laura's struggles with her situation. If you really want to create a serious "she has to kill in order to survive, man" atmosphere during cutscenes, you probably shouldn't have said character going all Rambo-type action hero over waves of enemies once the gameplay kicks in.

This issue is also probably why I won't pick this up despite this review making it appear that for all intents and purposes this is a pretty good game. The difference between the plot and gameplay would just bug me too much.

Posted by Zevvion

Good review Brad. Insightful. I have to say I didn't really pay that much attention to the media surrounding this. I should not be 'held back' by that factor.

I'll enjoy getting the 120 euro version of this because I'm still in the collecting figurines phase.