fuzzypumpkin's Tomb Raider (Xbox 360) review

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Whether you're a Tomb Raider fan or just in the mood for some thrilling action, this reboot's got you covered.

Lara Croft has had something of an interesting career in the video game industry. Once a pinnacle in the original Playstations' library of games, the Tomb Raider series began to lose some steam after the second or third title. With each new chapter, developers promised a return to Lara's golden days as an adventurer, but what players were left with was some poorly aging controls and questionable story decisions. So, when Square Enix announced that they would be rebooting the long standing series and giving it a grittier and darker tone, people seemed genuinely excited. The tone of the story can feel like it's clashing with itself at times, but for the most part, Lara is back to her old form and feeling better than ever.

The story sees the young Lara on an expedition aboard the Endurance to find the ancient city of Yamatai. With her crew of friends and colleagues beginning to think the mission is a wash, Lara insists that they need to push forward to the Dragon's triangle, a treacherous part of the ocean where she believes the ancient ruins rest. Not too long after she convinces the crew to head there, the ship is tossed around by an incredibly violent storm. After these chain of events, Lara finds herself washed up on shore of the mysterious island. Little does she realize, she's set in motion a journey that could very well be the death of her.

Some of the death animations take it too far.
Some of the death animations take it too far.

Right from the start, it's clear to see that Square Enix is going for a grim tone. Within the first few linear hours you'll be swinging upside down next to rotting corpses, escaping from murderous island dwellers, and just all around getting Lara's face beaten in. I'm not kidding, some of the stuff that happens to her is downrght cringe-worthy. Witnessing Lara get roughed up like this really establishes how deadly this island is and that she's not just going to shake off everything that comes her way. While these moments do a fine job of teaching the player to be completely aware of their surroundings, they can also get carried away with the grizzly nature of the death animations. There's one sequence where you're being carried down a river, dodging rocks and spikes jutting out towards you. If you mess up the timing, *thwack*, a spike goes through the bottom of you chin. Not only that, but you're left watching her struggle to get off of the thing. It's moments like these that I felt took it a bit too far and it was as if the developers were indulging in some sadist fantasy. You'll see less and less of these as the game goes on, but that doesn't take away from the games' feeling of danger.

Bombastic action is par for the course here.
Bombastic action is par for the course here.

Along with that tone comes the obvious comparisons to the Uncharted series. It's funny that Tomb Raider gets flak for borrowing so heavily from the Playstations' venerable treasure hunter when that series was so clearly inspired by the likes of the Indiana Jones films and the Tomb Raider series. Where the original Tomb Raider had more puzzle and platforming elements, Uncharted felt more like a summer blockbuster in video game form. These points are fair nonetheless.

Once the island has opened up a bit more, you'll be jumping across chasms and blasting thugs in no time. Controlling Lara is slick and responsive and it makes exploring the island, searching for treasure to upgrade you equipment, an utter joy. The action is nothing you haven't seen before, but it's still a blast. Enemy AI is pretty good, flanking you when hunkered behind cover and lobbing grenades to get you out in the open. There are only four weapons throughout the game, but along the way you can upgrade them with better attatchments(i.e. silencers, larger clips, etc.). In the vein of Metroid or Castlevania, Lara will come across paths that can't be accessed until she has a certain item. This gives anybody fiending for every last collectible in the game a good bit of exploring to keep them busy.

The game tries to differ itself from most other shooters, at least in the beginning, by giving some feeling of consequence to having to kill. When Lara takes the first life of her would be murderer, she crumples to the ground and regrets what she's had to do. Where the game succeeds in making her feel truly sorry for what she's done, it drops the ball on how it handles it throughout the rest of the story. After mourning for a brief moment you're on your way to slaughtering something like fifty or so men in the next hour. This robs all of the impact of her having to make such difficult decision in a life or death situation. From that point on, I lost all hope in the story tackling the issue of taking lives in a new way. It only stands out so much because it seemed to be headed in the right direction at the start.

Helping the characters in the game sell the emotions is the terrific voice acting. All of the crew members and friends are well acted throughout, even if they are a bit one-dimensional. The bulk of the voice acting is splendidly done by Camilla Luddington as Lara. With the aforementioned sequences that deal with death and her struggle in dealing with it, she gives the character such a believable performance. When she starts to cross the line from scared girl into badass woman, I found myself thinking "I woud not want to get in this girls' way." Most times it can feel forced, but Camilla brings such gravitas to the performance that it's hard not to love.

Being this far into the review without saying a word about the act of actually tomb raiding may seem odd, but this aspect definitely takes a back seat to the action. There are only a couple handfuls of tombs that you'll have to actively seek out. Most of these involve walking into a musty cave and figuring out some ancient contraption to reach the treasure at the end. The puzzles are all fairly simple for the most part, but I found them to be charming. The fact that there's only so many to be plundered left me feeling a little disappointed. Hopefully with a sequel (maybe?) they'll cram a few more in there to feed my puzzle hunger.

With all of the controversy leading up to the games' release, it was easy to begin thinking that Tomb Raider was going to be a mess. Poor word choices aside, Sqaure Enix has delivered in spades. Taking cues from some other established series while giving the game its own identity has yielded not only a welcome surprise, but one of the best games of the year.

(Note: I did not play the multiplayer, so this review is strictly focusing on the single player aspect of the game.)

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