I played Tomb Raider (2013) on the PS3, not the X-Box 360, but unfortunately I couldn't make my user review for PS3 for some reason)
I like "reboots".
It's funny how the term "reboot"
had never really been used before until the 2005 release of Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins
... but sometimes, a "reboot"
is exactly what a franchise needs. A breath of fresh air, new ideas, a new direction. That's especially what Tomb Raider
needed if it was going to survive as a franchise, and that's where Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics step in.
Being flat out honest, I've never been a fan of the Tomb Raider
games. I remember playing the first Tomb Raider
at my friend's house on the original Playstation, when I was nine years old, over fifteen years ago. I remember my friend would not shut up about Lara Croft's "assets", it's all he would talk about! To be absolutely fair, he was a nine year old boy just like me back then, but on the same token most guys twice his age or more did the exact same thing with the Tomb Raider
games and the Lara Croft character. That's the sad thing.
However, I had a change of heart about the Tomb Raider
franchise ever since I saw the original promotional artwork and trailers. I really wanted to play it, I was looking forward to it. Here in Australia, we got the game a week early courtesy of someone breaking the street release date, allowing me to get my twisted, grubby hands on the game (hah, opportunity for a sexist joke there, but there was none!).
Lara Croft, now a more realistic young woman starts her adventure on a ship called the Endurance, on an archeological expedition to the Dragon Triangle, to investigate the legends of the Japanese Sun Queen Himiko. Entering the Dragon Triangle, the Endurance is welcomed by a massive storm, causing the ship to be completely destroyed. Those who survived were washed up on the shore of an island. Upon waking up on shore, Lara is almost immediately knocked unconscious by an unknown man, and that's where Lara's adventure begins. Not so much her adventure, but her survival.
Lara's quest for escape and survival for herself and her friends, is a brutally violent one. At first, Lara is quite innocent and scared, but she is forced to adapt and is forced to take the lives of others in order to preserve her own and save her friends. First an innocent girl, to harderned survivor. It's a great concept and seems familiar with Ubisoft's recently released Far Cry 3
, but in a way, the game play itself fails to make the story entirely believeable, as the game encourages and rewards players who fight with brutality. In a way, it seems a little contradicting to the story. Lara's first human kill, which was widely speculated as a potential rape scene in the trailers and by the media is very emotional and powerful, but after that, it doesn't seem to be that much of a problem.
But there is a point to the violence, strangely. When I played I sometimes actually thought to myself "I wish there were non-lethal methods"
and sometimes, I would on purpose try to avoid combat with the scavengers of the island and use stealth. Then I'd make a mistake. I'd be seen, I'd be caught, I'd be shot at, I'd have molotov cocktails thrown at me, arrows launched at me, guys with knives or swords chasing me... and that of course leads Lara with only one choice, she has to kill these guys, or they're gonna kill her. It sounds bad, but it's the only way. This island is a kill or be killed land.
Combat is straight forward in this game, but it feels new compared to other third person cover based shooters. Lara runs across the field with one of four weapons, has access to simple melee combat which can evolve over time, can dodge and "scramble" away from attacks and can finish off stunned enemies in a very barbaric fashion, she's even able to eventually counter melee blows with her own. What I was impressed with though was the cover system. Unlike a lot of games that use a more "press button to glue self to wall to cover" mechanic, Tomb Raider's
cover system is very fluid and dynamic. Near a rock or a crate in battle? Lara will automatically crouch herself to avoid fire. Need to return fire? Lara will poke her head and gun out just where you want to aim. It's like the game knows exactly when you need to take cover, return fire etc.
Although in total Lara only collects four weapons (five if you include her pick axe, a melee weapon) all weapons can be upgraded over time by collecting salvage from fallen enemies and numerous crates scattered across the environment. Lara can also obtain better types of the same weapon by finding weapon parts, also hidden throughout the game. Strangely, the most enjoyable weapon to use is the bow and arrow.
Similar to games such as the Metroid
series or the new Batman: Arkham
series, Lara can find new items and weapons to allow her to visit previous areas that couldn't be explored. The island itself is quite large and while slightly linear, most areas provide enough room and parkour style exploration to find new locations, hidden items and other bonuses. Thankfully, Lara can quick travel between areas by using small camp sites, which also allow you to upgrade your weapons with salvage or even Lara herself. Throughout the game Lara receives experience points from numerous tasks (defeating enemies, finding bonuses, hidden items etc.) which when ready, Lara "levels up" and acquires skill points, which is used to turn Lara from innocent girl, to capable survivor and killer. Some of the skills don't improve the game or Lara's abilities that much, some skills are not so much necessary to have but the can seriously make certain situations a lot easier and smoother.
The storyline for the most part was pretty good, but there are a few little gripes with it. The original transformation of Lara Croft isn't as built up as originally promised and for the most part, I didn't care about the characters. The only characters I cared about was Lara herself and her mentor, Roth. Lara's friends? Not really, they didn't really have much personality and were borderline cliche'. One of the characters (won't mention who) is outright predictable from the moment the player is introduced to him. What I did enjoy though were all the journals and entry logs scattered throughout the island, some of which give a little more insight into Lara's friends and companions. It's funny how I thought these log entries of the characters were more interesting than the actual on screen time of the characters themselves.
Speaking of collectables, there is a lot to collect. Journal logs and entries as well as finding hidden treasures of various ancient items. Hearing Lara talk about these items with such keen interest shows just how intelligent and passionate Lara is in history and exploration. Intelligence and passion, two traits I heavily look for in a woman... COUGH, anyway. The inclusion of many secret tombs scattered throughout the game was a nice touch too, each tomb hidden away requiring the player to solve non-combat puzzles on the inside to obtain the treasure at the end. There's something satisfying about seeing "Tomb Raided!"
appear on screen upon a successful... uh, tomb raid.
Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have handled the game's presentation very well. The graphics are awesome. From the well thought out and designed environments, to the textures, character models and animations. Lara's animations in particular are very impressive. Most of the voice acting was good, but again Lara's friends on screen really didn't do much for me, delivering some cheesy lines with cheesy writing. The orchestrated soundtrack is absolutely amazing, something that I believe can either make, or break a game. The hectic set piece moments, very similar to that of the Uncharted
franchise are just as impressive.
The ten to fifteen hour origin story of Lara Croft is a brutal story. It's the story of a young woman thrown into a world of chaos and violence and does what she is forced to do in order to survive and save her friends. With only a few small gripes with the game's story, some characters and the slight disappointment of Lara's growth, Tomb Raider
is a seriously fun adventure and is seriously to be recommended to any gamer, whether you're a fan of the franchise or not. I like this new Lara and I like her a lot, I wanted her to live, I wanted her to survive.
Lara is back and my only question now is "How the hell will they top this?"