Tomb Raider ReviewTomb Raider Crystal Dynamics Square Enix
While travelling with a documentary crew in search of the lost kingdom of Yamatai, they are shipwrecked after entering a region known as The Dragon’s Triangle (South of main land Japan), an area known for claiming ships and their crews.
Lara Croft finds herself on an island inhabited by a mysterious and violent cult. With her crew missing and the cult on her tail, Lara must overcome, adapt and survive. Tomb Raider represents a stark change in tone from previous Tomb Raider games and also represents a big change in Lara’s character. Lara is undoubtedly the focus of this game, which is great but at times to the detriment of the supporting cast who never seem to elevate beyond cardboard cut-out film/game tropes. The main antagonist of the story also feels underdeveloped. This is a shame as it feels like a wasted opportunity to create a memorable ensemble cast. Which to an extent is understandable seeing as Lara’s development is central to the story. The real stars here are Lara and The Island.
Much has been made of Lara's seemingly abrupt change from disgust at taking a life to 'cold killer.' While part of this can be attributed to the gameplay needing to take precedent at some point, I think when Lara's actions are looked at in the context in which they are shown it makes more sense. It is a life or death situation and she's decided she needs to live and killing is only way to make that happen.
This game takes a more desperate and realistic tone than previous installments and it shows in the sheer beating Lara is subjected to at every turn. Combined with the dark and depressing feel of the island, it adds to the sense of Lara being out of her depth. It also serves to highlight the mystery of the island, a mystery which will keep you wanting to drive towards the end.
Tomb Raider’s graphics are in a word: impressive. While not the best I've ever seen on a console it is still a gorgeous game to look at. The vistas are some of the most beautiful I've seen and the game makes a point of highlighting these well. I’m a sucker for weather effects in games and Tomb Raider has these in spades. Weather does a great job of creating an oppressive and ominous tone.
The score was composed by Jason Graves who has also scored games such as Dead Space, Alpha Protocol and Section 8. Here Graves creates a great big orchestral score that would fit right in with any big budget action adventure movie.
Most of the voice actors perform well, with the most standout performance being Lara herself (Camilla Luddington). The other cast members are good but lack any real depth. This could be due to the writing more than the actor’s abilities. Tomb Raider has some great sound design but the one lacking aspect is the gun sound. These mostly sound fake and lack any depth.
Early previews of the game had fans worried that Tomb Raider would turn out to be a very linear game. Luckily, those fears were unfounded. A lot of the preview footage that was shown was from early in the game and that is fairly linear but it acts to serve the story and Lara's first trial. After this culminates into a climatic and emotional moment, the game then starts to open up. One of the best aspects of the new Tomb Raider is the great sense of exploration. The game is filled with lots of collectibles like relics and journals. The journals also help to flesh out the story and characters, past and present. As well as these there are also challenges that are unique to different areas. These usually involve destroying x number of this or find x number of that. These collectibles and challenges provide a nice change of pace. Thanks to quick travel, which is available through campsites you are able to travel to any other campsite you have discovered, making artifact searching much easier. You are also able to use the Quick Travel feature at any time during the game, without the need to finish the story first.
As a third person shooter Tomb Raider’s combat controls are very good. Gunplay is responsive and satisfying. You get all the basic weapon types (handgun, shotgun and rifle). As you collect these weapons you are able to upgrade them by collecting scrap of metal and weapon components. The more you upgrade your equipment, the more the island becomes accessible, giving you access to areas earlier in the game that were previously unacceptable (Metroid/Castlevania style).
The stand out weapon is of course the Bow; upgrades allow you to use mods like flame arrows and grappling ropes. It’s one of the most versatile weapons in the game and one you’ll find yourself using most of the time.
As well as upgrading your weapons you are also able to upgrade Lara’s skills. Different actions gain you XP and once you ‘level up’ you are able to spend the points on new abilities. These skills range from new finishers, bonuses to salvage collection, XP and health. Once certain skills are unlocked, Lara is able to use close-quarter melee attacks on her enemies. Whilst many of these are stylish and fun to execute, trying to do so when up against multiple enemies can be problematic as you will often get shot when trying to set yourself up for a melee finisher. Overall, levelling up is fun and it also adds to the story of Lara’s character arch.
One of the biggest changes from previous Tomb Raiders is that now, tombs are optional. These also add a refreshing change of pace from combat and while the puzzles aren't exactly difficult, solving them is still satisfying and the rewards are good.
Tomb Raider’s controls follow a pretty standard fair when compared to other third-person games. The controls are tight and responsive. The only issue I had was on occasion while climbing, Lara didn't seem to want to hang on to the wall after making a jump. But this was a rare occurrence and checkpoints in this game are fairly generous. The use of a minimalist HUD also helped with the immersion of the game and I am a big fan of this method.
The GUI of the menu system is also quite nice and easy to navigate. It has somewhat of a comic book/minimalist look, a la Max Payne, which I like.
Adding multiplayer to Tomb Raider was pointless to say the least. Multiplayer doesn't bring anything that will keep you playing. Gameplay is not as good as the single player. Give it a miss.
Rebooting a series is a tall order that can go oh so wrong, yet Crystal Dynamics have met that challenge head on and created something truly impressive. The gameplay is solid and both the platforming and exploration engaging. The addition of collectibles and challenges will have you coming back to explore the island even more. Tomb Raider is definitely one of the best games I've played in a long time and one worthy of your time.