Tomb Raider (PC) Review.

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It'd be easy to look upon Tomb Raider with a cynical eye, one tinted with the knowledge that the men and women of Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal had at some point, played the highly successful Uncharted franchise and said 'hey, let's make that game but featuring Lara Croft' and to be fair on face value that's how Tomb Raider appears, a less captivating Uncharted as it attempts to reboot a franchise many would called outdated.

I can't remember the last time I saw an island filled with junk look so darn pretty.
I can't remember the last time I saw an island filled with junk look so darn pretty.

However, stop and breath in this 2013 reboot of the much loved Playstation One franchise and you'll discover an action packed adventure that's worth experiencing. Whilst it leans heavily on the fundamentals first seen in the Uncharted franchise with it's mix of over the top action sequences, ancient tomb puzzles that need solving and gun antics that feel all a little to familiar, Tomb Raider is able to hold it's own thanks to some splendid visuals and some memorable if flawed character development, even if Lara's origin story feels hampered by the fact that it's a video game at the end of the day.

On an expedition to find the mysterious island of Yamatai, Lara and a group of adventurers seek the truths of the Sun Queen, Himiko only for things to go awry. On this expedition Lara's joined by her close friend Samantha, of Japanese descent whose love for the story of the Sun Queen Himiko is what drives Lara to make it on her own, following in the footsteps of her father. Other members of the team include Conrad Roth, a friend of Lara's Father, Dr James Whitman whose driving need to rejuvenate his dying TV career puts him in constant contrast with Lara and the other members of the expedition including Alex, Angus, Jonah and Joslin. While the interaction between cast members is done as much through documents found scattered throughout the Island then cut scenes, they do a nice job of highlighting Lara's constant inexperience and innocence to the true dangers she might face on her journey. The only downside to this is that there's a little too much story and character development done through these collectible documents.

The character development of Lara is one of Tomb Raider's real high points. Even if it does sometimes contrast against the actions of the player.
The character development of Lara is one of Tomb Raider's real high points. Even if it does sometimes contrast against the actions of the player.

The Island of Yamatai is as beautiful as it is mysterious, with some stunning landscapes that feel varied enough as Lara ventures around the island. Speaking of travel, whilst it might seem that Tomb Raider offers up an open world for you to explore, it is instead a collection of separate locations that feature a wide array of collectibles and tombs to discover. These locations provide more than enough open space for you to never feel like you're being linearly driven about, but it can still feel limited. Lara controls well thanks to responsive controls though you won't be making any impossible jumps as the games pretty forgiving when it comes to traversing the island. Gun play can feel a little loose at times and isn't always the high point of Lara's adventure but it works for the most part and the ability to upgrade your numerous weapons by collecting scraps is a welcomed addition. Speaking of which, Lara will gain access to camps which allow her to upgrade her skills, fast travel throughout the island and as previously mentioned, upgrade weaponry.

"Don't look down, whatever you do don't look down"

Upgrading Lara's abilities feels justified by Lara's tale of maturity as she faces the many dangers the island of Yamatai as to offer. Seeing Lara develop from a somewhat frightened and scared women to the strong almost reckless individual willing to face any dangers to rescue her friends is when Tomb Raider is at it's best. Unfortunately this being a video game an all, the need to throw enemies at Lara's feet, constantly contradicts some of the early story points as it feels weird that Lara goes from killing for the first time in a state of fright and shock to gunning down twenty to thirty men without a single sign of regret or expression. Don't get me wrong, this is fine as we see a more mature Lara face these dangers constantly but they highlight a flaw in Tomb Raider's storytelling in the early hours. All that said, Tomb Raider provides a decent tale and a fine framework for Lara's development as a character, a reinvention that the franchise needed more than I'd thought and in this regard it does a fine job of setting the scene for future games.

Did Tomb Raider really need multiplayer? The simple answer is no, though it's not necessarily bad the whole mode feels like an after thought and one most won't return to all to often. That said, I'm playing the PC version of Tomb Raider many months since it's release and I was able to get a few games in so at least some people are still playing. To be fair to the multiplayer, it benefits from the fact that Tomb Raider plays great with responsive and fun controls, even if the gun play remains as spotty in multiplayer as it does in single player. However I'd still rather play Uncharted's variety of multiplayer modes over Tomb Raider's any day. But taken as a whole, the multiplayer doesn't exactly harm what the game as to offer as package, it just doesn't feel necessary.

So, was this Tomb Raider reboot needed and is it worth consideration? Well yes it is. That's not just because it's a fun Uncharted copy and paste experience, but that it also attempts and succeeds in adding value and depth to a character that's been often seen as nothing more than eye candy in the past. Lara Croft made waves as a video game figure back in the PS1 days, but looking back now she appears to be a thin and lifeless figure that's a lasting reminder of how far we've come in character design in video games. Thankfully the folks at Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal have reinvented Lara for the modern age, creating a character that feels more human and yet venerable despite her numerous strength. It sets up the building blocks for what could be a fascinating franchise in the years to come and it's started off strong with this fun and well paced action adventure.

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