Posted on March 13, 2013 AT 06:00am
Lara Croft is a legend in the gaming world, influencing many developers and gamers alike. A strong independent woman, she gave female players a reason to believe that they can kick as much ass as their male counterparts. After a plethora of Tomb Raider games (and two Angelina Jolie-starring movies), Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have decided to press the reboot button, giving our heroine an origin story unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the series.
At just age 21, Ms. Croft is out on her first adventure as she and her crew search for the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai. A ferocious storm leaves her and the crew shipwrecked on an island, and they are unfortunately not alone. There the crew is captured by an evil cult called the Solarii, who wishes to bring back the spirit of Himeko the Sun Queen. With her best friend Sam being chosen as the nest vessel of Himeko it is up to the young explorer to rescue her and the others, and get back on the island.
As this is an origin story, the Lara Croft we play as is one that is filled with fear and doubt. She’s vulnerable, doesn’t know how to truly fend for herself, and hasn’t really used a weapon against an animal, let alone a person. That all changes when she is backed into a corner, and when there is no choice in the matter Lara strikes her first enemy with a gunshot to his head. It’s a feeling that Lara hates, and almost looks like she is about to faint from illness after doing the deed. However with that first kill, her true survival instincts kick in, and that’s when we start seeing Lara Croft slowly transform into the heroine we all have gotten familiar with.
A lot of bad stuff keeps happening to Lara, a real understatement about this game, no doubt. She’s tied up, beaten, shot at, harassed, nearly drowns, plummets down long falls, impales herself, almost gets crushed by rocks, and winds up setting herself and her surroundings on fire. And that’s in the FIRST 30 MINUTES OF GAMEPLAY! However behind this never-ending action is a tale that spins a most wondrous web of character development and deep emotion.
The way Lara Croft evolves during gameplay is one of the strongest aspects to the storyline in Tomb Raider. Storywriter Rhianna Pratchett (Mirror’s Edge, Prince of Persia) creates elements of Lara’s first adventure that will put you at the edge of your seat. It’s the humanistic elements of the protagonists and the monstrosities of the antagonists that showcases how any normal person can be pushed to the edge when it comes to the necessity of survival. Some of the supernatural elements help to add some great twists during gameplay, especially during the third act of Tomb Raider, but it’s when Lara goes face-to-face with the world’s most dangerous game when the story shows its sharpest teeth. (Storywriting talent runs in the Pratchett family, after all.)
As you play Tomb Raider you can find hidden tombs to, well, raid, with each one featuring a unique puzzle needed to solve in order to gain the prize. Throughout the lands you’ll come across hidden artifacts, journal entries from various people, and even a couple nods and winks to past Tomb Raider games. While it’s great finding these tombs it would’ve been nice to have a few more than the ones that are offered. The game is called Tomb Raider, after all, but fortunately the minimal amount we’re offered here doesn’t take away from the game’s overall experience.
Controlling Tomb Raider is the most satisfying I’ve come across in its entire series. I had a love/hate relationship back in the day with the original game, with my attitude being a thrill to play, but a pain to maneuver. That has all changed here, thanks to a very responsive control scheme and an organized weapon system. Even its camera system is fantastic, with there being no issue whatsoever with a bad angle screwing me over during a crucial moment (something not even the Uncharted series has been able to do). Plus those who have never played any of Lara Croft’s past adventures and need a little extra help can simply press the L1 button to initiate Survival Instinct, which highlights the area that you need to travel to in order to progress through the game.
One of the biggest thrills and heart-sinkers is when you are climbing up and above high places. Many times you can see the ground from below, and the way the view is positioned may make you grow pale for Lara’s safety. You’ll even come across some Quicktime Events during battles and climbs, done here wonderfully with a great variety of what-if scenarios whether you did it right or wrong.
The very first weapon you earn is the bow, which turns out to be the most fun one to use, especially when you can set them on fire. Guns come into play early on in the game, but I found myself going back to that bow each time, trying my best to get a quiet kill as to not alarm the other guards in the area. At specified camp sites you’ll be able to upgrade your weapons and skills, as you change Lara into the person we’ve all come to expect. Melee attacks are also fun, with a plethora of styles to use depending on which weapon you have equipped at the moment. However those looking for Lara’s trademark double pistols will have to wait until the last few moments of the game, which is appropriate as that moment helps to be the final punctuation mark that completes Ms. Croft’s transformation.
The island and lost kingdom of Yamatai has some of the most beautiful elements the gaming world has ever seen, even as a console title. The mountains, rivers, forests, and buildings you travel though are as real as you can possibly get on an Xbox 360, with each spot more dazzling than the last. Watching the waves crash, the snowy winds holler, and the rain pour on Lara add a sort of realism not seen probably since Skyrim.
Character designs have also been done here quite well. Every scratch, bruise, and wound on each character is detailed at the fullest extent, with clothes being ripped and the filth of the island piling on Lara’s face as the game progresses. Of course, there are the death scenes. They can be quite gory and cause the most squeamish to run out of the room in horror. The first time I saw Lara getting her throat ripped out by a wolf made me drop my controller, cover my mouth, and scream obscenities with teeth gritting. It’s disturbing, eye-popping, and what make Tomb Raider seem ever-so real.
Lastly there’s the score and voice-acting, both bellowing with the same emotion showcased by the powerful graphics. Jason Graves has created a soundtrack that not only plays to the horrors of the island, but also the heroic evolution of Lara Croft. It knows how to bring about the proper mood in the right scene, as well as adds that extra oomph needed to bring a battle scene to life. Camilla Luddington takes over the voice role of Lara, who has been able to convey the fear, the confusion, and hidden potential of our beloved heroine.
I finished the story in about fourteen hours, and that was just with a 70% completion. You can go back afterwards to find all the hidden items, and thanks to the ability of warping from camp site to camp site that task is a lot easier. The only real complaint of this entire gaming experience is that there weren’t enough boss battles. Taking on packs of wolves and a giant ancient Samurai is fun, but there could’ve been a few more thrown in to add a bit more of a challenging experience. One other downside to Tomb Raider is its subpar multiplayer mode. The styles of play are fine, but the small map sizes makes it hard to run around and find that good hiding spot to get the jump on the other characters.
- Story knows how to get a gamer’s jaw dropping
- Beautiful environments, characters
- Inspiring voice acting, soundtrack
- The most fluid controls in a Tomb Raider series
- More tombs would’ve been nice
- Multiplayer modes are a bit lacking
- Not enough boss battles
At the end of the game Crystal Dynamics thanks players for giving their Tomb Raider reboot a try, when in fact it is us that should be thanking them. This is the reboot we have been clamoring for, and we got more than what we could have ever expected. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have taken one of the most iconic characters in gaming history, and evolved her in such a way that it reminds us more of why we loved her in the first place. Nathan Drake better watch out, because Lara Croft is coming to get the adventurer’s crown back.
FINAL GRADE: 9.5 (out of ten)
Xbox 360 version played for the review
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