Tomb Raider was once one of the most important video game franchises. After several reboot attempts from Crystal Dynamics it seemed like Tomb Raider would become another franchise that retired. Fast-forward several years and a new Tomb Raider is announced, this time a reboot, focusing on developing Lara as a person, not a big-breasted caricature, and people quickly called the game an Uncharted clone. But sometimes clones prove to be better than the original. Sometimes Uncharted outdoes Tomb Raider, and this time Tomb Raider has outdone Uncharted, for the most part.
Crystal Dynamics' latest introduces a new Lara Croft. Much like Casino Royale did for James Bond, Tomb Raider looks to humanize Lara Croft, taking her away from being the over-the-top action star she had become, to an archaeology student who has never fired a gun. After convincing her research team that they were headed in the wrong direction, Lara's ship is torn apart in a freak storm, leaving her to wash ashore a mysterious island inhabited by some less-than-savory individuals. After a frightening near-rape situation, Lara finds herself forced to kill her would be attacker. This becomes Tomb Raiders strongest and weakest aspect.
Lara can barely stomach the fact that she was forced to kill this man. She's crying and nearly vomiting, but she understands that what she did was necessary for her own well-being. Then, in order to escape to her friends, she has to kill a few more guards. She later makes a comment about how she had to kill a few guys to escape. Here's my problem: this is a video game that controls very much like every other third-person-shooter out there. I, the gamer, have hours and hours of experience slaying foes using all sorts of weapons. I have no issue taking out thousands of bad guys (hell, I've even killed good guys) to beat a game and my fingers are well trained in aiming rifles and pulling triggers. Lara is not. She's just a college-aged girl, forced into a situation to survive which thus forces her to kill, run, and hide. She shouldn't have the aptitude to pull this off, yet she does because I'm controlling her.
There's a disconnect between game design and story in Tomb Raider that is some times distracting. Lara is somehow able to climb cliffs, fight enemies, and fall great distances while barely taking a moment to gather herself. One of the first scenes shows Lara fall directly onto a rusty steel bar, puncturing her side. She gets up, pulls it out, says "ouch" (or something to that effect), and walks on. I don't think this is at all the fault of the developers, but rather the structure of games in general. Lara is frankly an unbelievable character.
Luckily, the game more than makes up for these shortcomings with some of the tightest platforming ever to be released. Every moment within Tomb Raider feels right, and rarely like a video game. Set pieces aren't set up just for Lara to climb/fall/shoot through, but are completely natural given the setting. Puzzles are similar, rarely feeling artificial. I'm also fairly disappointed by the lack of focus with tombs in a game called Tomb Raider. There are a few tombs that only have a small puzzle in them. Games like Assassin's Creed Brotherhood had better tombs than this.
What you'll spend the most time with is shooting, which, aside from my issues mentioned above, is standard but solid. The left trigger pulls up your weapon, the right shoots, while clicking in the right thumbstick zooms in a bit. Weapons are well-balanced, leaving Lara in situations where each feels appropriate. The best weapon to use in the game is actually the bow. You can stealth through some sections by using the bow which silently kills enemies. My year of the bow award has an early favorite already.Tomb Raider tasks you with collecting salvage from around the island that is in turn used to upgrade your weapons (increase damage, reload speed, etc.). Similarly, Lara has some abilities that can be upgraded as well, which can allow her new fighting moves, faster climbing speeds, and abilities to see animals which helps in the strange hunting part of the game, something that feels wasted after the first hour or so. It seemed like the game wanted to have a survival aspect with the hunting that would be akin to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Instead, hunting is just a task that you can do but it never feels important.
Story progression is always top notch, placing Lara in more and more perilous situations and as situations grow more outlandish, the story doesn't ever feel forced, like I feel it did in the Uncharted series. As soon as Uncharted turned that corner into supernatural, I always felt like it didn't belong, but when Tomb Raider takes a similar turn, I didn't once feel like it was the wrong choice. Tomb Raider begins feeling mysterious, much like the TV show Lost, and when things amp up into crazy-ville, it feels right at home.
Multiplayer rears it's ugly head, and frankly it's pretty boring. It's very clear that the decision was made late in the development cycle. Multiplayer modes are pretty standard, including Deathmatch options and the like. The most interesting, or better yet the least boring, was called Rescue. Heroes are required to gather five gas canisters while villains are attempting to stop them. The mode is unique because in order to win the heroes must gather 5 canisters, but the villains can win by killing the heroes 20 times. This adds a new dimension to what would otherwise be Capture the Flag, making the mode the only thing I spent much of any time with. Luckily this is barely the focus of Tomb Raider. Crystal Dynamics has pulled off a great reboot. My small problems with the story aside, Tomb Raider is a successful reboot that makes Tomb Raider important again. Hopefully, we can get another sequel for Tomb Raider again.
You should buy Tomb Raider.
Be sure to watch the video below in order to view my thoughts on Tomb Raider in vlog style.