Posted on March 14, 2013 AT 08:44pm
The Tomb Raider franchise has a long and rich history full of adventure, action, mediocre (based on opinion) and enormous…tombs. Though it’s been a few years since the last game in the franchise, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have teamed up to bring forth a new installment to the franchise, essentially bringing fans back to the time where Lara Croft wasn’t the adventurous badass she came to be known and loved as since her inception in 1996. After crashing her ship while looking for the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai, Lara and the rest of the members of the Endurance are forced into an mysterious adventure featuring a mysterious tribe, a dilapidated island and a lost myth about Himiko, the Sun Goddess who seems to somehow be tied into the legend of the Dragon’s Triangle, an island known for mysterious storms and crashed ships.
Croft is essentially a brand new woman in this prequel story that tells the origins of Lara Croft and her archaeological discoveries. Gone are the ridiculously enormous breasts that characterized her in the previous installments of the game, and Lara is now a lithe, athletic woman whose skills and abilities are focused upon more than her physical features. Croft is more humanized as well, showing the entire gamut of emotions, from awe to anguish, something that makes her more accessible as a character. This includes the horrified shock of her own actions as she kills a man for the first time, even though he was attempting to do that very thing to her.
The graphics of the game are incredible, with Crystal Dynamics rendering a breathtaking island landscape that really pushes the limits of how a game can look. The environment is varied and beautiful, from the forests that run along the island to the worn buildings that span inland. Everything looks incredibly realistic, and while everything also falls apart during the course of the game, it sure looks good while doing so.
The story of the game is a bit predictable (with the classic character turns, saving the day and doing all of the normal adventure game activities) but the entire experience is incredibly rewarding. While all of it revolves around Lara and her journey, adding in other well-developed characters heightened the sense of danger and made for some very interesting wrinkles in the plot itself. While the plot is encompassed by a whirlwind of action and intensity, the payoff is huge, resulting in a dizzying flurry of secretive lore and massive brutality.
The brutality of the game is the most surprising and off-putting aspect of the game. The level of anguish that Lara is put through during this game borders on sadistic as the story runs its course in the single-player game. While Lara is shown as a determined, strong and caring individual, she endures much more than most protagonists would normally have to go through in order to prove her capability. There is pain at every turn as bridges collapse, spikes stab through her flesh, bullets penetrate her skin and massive brutes pound her skull. Watching Lara be punished by the characters and the environments almost non-stop throughout the game seems like a bit of overkill, and while showing her as a strong character is important, proving that strength through the amount of pain she has endure is pushing it too far. This is the case throughout the game, as Lara receives an exponential amount of damage, the intensity of which is much higher than she gives out. Were the violence equal, this would be an easier thing to deal with, but since it isn’t, it’s a bit unnerving.
In all honesty, this barrage is a bit tough to handle at most points, especially during the times when the player fails to hit a quick-time event properly or makes a mistake during a traversal sequence. During these points, Lara’s demise is usually met with an uncomfortably long look at what has happened for the player to watch before the game reloads. Content Warning: This is a bit graphic. One example of this is during an action scene inside a river: after making a mistake, Lara’s head gets impaled on a large stick that was jutting out of the river, and while that is surprising enough, the player is forced to look at Lara as she hangs from the stick in sickening fashion for several seconds before the game reloads. This is just one of the shockingly graphic portions of the game, and while violence is a major part of many games of this nature, it seemed so piled on in Tomb Raider that it was actually a major detraction to the game, because not only do you get to know that Lara has died, you have to watch it happen.
There is a multi-player mode as well, but it seems so forced that it’s almost laughable. While it’s fun (in the same vein that games such as Aliens: Colonial Marines had a fun multi-player mode despite being a poor game), it has no real reason to exist and seems more of a tactic to compete with the bigger titles such as Gears Of War and Halo than a mode that felt like an extension of the game itself.
Summary: Lara Croft is back and better than ever, with an origin story worthy of her legend. She’s much improved both physically, mentally and as an independent character, and playing as Lara has never been so rewarding. The graphics, gameplay and plot are all incredibly well crafted, and the supporting cast does a great job as well. While there is a bit of uncomfortable brutality and an incredibly useless multi-player, this is a terrific game. Despite all of its shortcomings, Tomb Raider is executed almost flawlessly, though the flaws that do exist are especially glaring.
Pros: Everything about the game not mentioned in the Cons section. Seriously, this game is great.
Cons: Pointless multi-player, overbrutalization of Lara throughout the game.
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