Crystal Dynamics and Lara both take the Reboot term seriously, delivering an adventure worthy of a true survivor.
Tomb Raider (2013) (Xbox360) REVIEW
Long time veteran of the medium Lara Croft is no stranger to adventure, but in Crystal Dynamics new origin tale, we aim to achieve a closer relation to the newly redesigned heroine, and simultaneously bring a game long known for its puzzles and adventurous platforming into the new age of video game storytelling, all without sacrificing the tomb raiding the game built it’s name upon. Does this new Lara possess the ability to tell a hero’s tale and maintain the things that make Tomb Raider what it is? Well what came first, the chicken, or the egg?
No, we’re not getting into a lesson in Poultry. The reason i say that is the immediate feeling I got from the new Tomb Raider, much as I expected, was distinctly Uncharted. Of course, as anyone who has played Uncharted can attest to, it clearly took a heavy influence from at least the general outline of a Tomb Raider game, and added the flash and story that was needed to bring it into this generation of games. How did it feel like Uncharted then? Well Uncharted is the only game I’ve played in which it truly feels like you’re playing through an action/adventure film, and while sometimes taking its narrative hand a bit far and being criticized for forcing you along a designated path, some story’s are best told in that manner, and I get the feeling early on that Lara’s transformation from everyday woman into hardened survivor is best told in that very way.
From the games opening sequence it is clear it is going for a feeling of immersion. To say honestly that for the first time since the original Bioshock, I was blissfully unaware that I was in control of the character, and sat there for a moment wondering why nothing more was happening, makes me happy as a game opening can make me. Not because it’s a silly way of showing how impressive their in engine cinematics are, which even running on the consoles near decade old hardware are stunningly seamless. But rather for the fact that it truly feels as if it is a baton pass from narrator to player, which is rarely handled so well in this sort of affair. The island is also brilliantly well designed, feeling as if based on actual existing rock formations for how organically beautiful it all feels when the waves crash upon them, and how casually Lara squeezes through tight spaces that in most games would be a convenient gap in the mile long rock wall. While not entirely open world, it never feels as if I am being forced on my path, but rather that I am compelled to continue that direction for honest curiosities sake.
I need to get my major gripe out of the way, because while initially jarring, doesn't negatively impact the game experience I got in the end. Crystal Dynamics made it clear that this is the tale of Lara’s transformation into a survivor- but the gameplay takes a stark contrasting twist a short way into the game when you go from someone who struggles to handle the thought of murdering an Animal for the sake of survival, to someone who, seemingly without much thought, can blow up a barrel, igniting a man into flames until he ceases to live, and continue on her journey without hesitation. Again, while initially jarring to make such a leap, I understand from a gameplay perspective why they felt the need for not only a decent enemy population, but also a good variety of options for personal or environmental takedowns, and it does not take away from the fun i had with the game. That said, I do sadly feel that while fun is the reason I play games, I love a solid execution of storytelling, and the contrast in narrative against gameplay in this case does nothing but damage the experience i had feeling like i was becoming a survivor.
The general platforming is a ton of fun, which is good because the majority of the game consists of trying to figure out the best way to traverse each environment to get where you need to get to, using the tools you’ve been given. This is truly the high point of the game. Uncharted had a bad habit of assuming its players are a bit more on the casual side, which i understand for a certain accessibility standpoint. Tomb Raider pulls no punches at making you think as if you were in Lara’s shoes, holding Lara’s tools, trying to navigate your environment in the safest and most efficient way possible, though they are rarely the same route. The feeling you get when you look back and realize how far you’ve traveled, in awe of how on earth you got there or could ever begin to get back down, is near unrivaled.
While taking away from the notion of someone truly being out of their element, it needs to be said that the combat system built here is both fun and visceral, and although the first few times you see yourself go down in a stunning exposition of violence may put a few people off at first, it does make you feel the impact as bit more. Avoiding such scenes becomes increasingly difficult as the level of difficulty steadily increases up until the end, introducing a fair number of different enemy types to keep it both relatively realistic and enjoyable for the sake of variety. Sadly for the sake of the story it is trying to tell however, there is a distinct turning point once you get your initial weapon slots filled, where it starts to feel as if you’re the one doing the hunting. This is only a shame for the fact it takes away from the story, the change of pace is just as enjoyable, especially if you choose to stick to going for silent assassinations with the bow as opposed to running through the islands jungle Rambo style as you hear the enemy AI clearly as scared as your character is portrayed to be.
The game is roughly 10-12 hours long if you’re going for a complete story, but the Island offers a slew of options for exploration. There are numerous areas to hunt, though there is no need to do this particular activity versus any other, so it feels a little throwaway. You can explore the island for hidden tombs, of which there are a good amount, though they are often a single puzzle. The puzzles are plenty challenging, it;s just a shame considering the level of accomplishment that is felt when completing one only to be rewarded with XP and left to explore for another. The game has a bit of an identity crisis overall, telling a decent story very reminiscent of the television show LOST, often coaxing you to care for a character only to have them kidnapped moments later. This sort of storytelling would be fine, but the level of combat system designed for the game tells a significantly more badass tale, where in Lara is not a bow wielding survivor as is initially laid out, but rather a machine gun totting brawler who wouldn't hesitate to take her climbing ax to a fellows brains.
That said, Crystal Dynamics has built a sunning island to showcase the new Lara, and though her origin tale may not be legendary, it sets up a promising new perspective on the explorer we all came to know years ago. All while delivering a fun and satisfying combat experience. The level of attention put into a huge number of interactive parts on the island, many of which will come into play for the majority of the games puzzles, can be simply breathtaking at first use. Minor Identity crisis aside, This is one Survivor I’d be happy to see return for another outing, though preferably with an emphasis on the puzzles and traversal that made this game so fun and different, and less on the combat that sometimes took me out of the moment.
Tomb Raider for the Xbox360 gets a ⅘.
Tomb Raider is a game developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. Story consists of the equivalent of 10 missions, each spanning about an hour or so depending on the level of exploration done. Multiplayer DLC on the way at time of writing, no story DLC announced as of yet. No demo will be available for the game. Tomb Raider is now available for purchase worldwide for Xbox360 and Playstation3