Tomb Raider [Review]
The reboot of Tomb Raider has finally arrived; finally ready to give an answer to various controversies that surrounded the game a full year before release. Does Lara sound too sexual? Do the developers beat her up too much? How bad is the attempted rape scene? Honestly, these questions won’t even cross your mind as you play, but I’ll answer them for you in this review anyway.
For those not in the know, Tomb Raider is a complete reboot of the series. A prequel starring a young Lara Croft, this game gives players backstory on how she became the iconic tomb raider we know her as today. Lara and an expedition crew find themselves shipwrecked on an island in the beginning of the game, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the crazy cult that has been living on the island for years. As Lara you will need to help rescue your friends and get off the island. There is a lot more to it than that, but I don’t want to start spoiling things.
Tomb Raider games are usually known for their platforming, puzzle solving, and action (those dual pistols are iconic). You get all three of these things in this reboot, but it feels like it’s been prioritized differently. Instead of putting platforming and puzzles in the forefront, it feels as if action is the main focus of this title. There is more than a fair share of platforming, but puzzles seem to be dead last on the list of priorities. Also, all three aspects don’t feel evenly spread out throughout the game.
The beginning the game is almost all action. I’m not talking constant, pulse pounding, CoD drop-the-nuke-style action; but the breathers you get between the action points are typically just to push the story further. You really don’t get to experience the good platforming until you are at least a few hours into the game. While I haven’t played all of the Tomb Raider titles, this one has the most action I remember by far.
Combat with enemies is fast and can be pretty fierce at times. In most scenarios you just won’t be ducking in and out of cover (which Lara does automatically near cover points), playing that game of virtual whack-a-mole that we have become accustomed to. While there are enemies attacking at a distance, other enemies will be moving in most of the time to get melee kills. You may also have enemies tossing Molotov Cocktails and dynamite in your direction to keep you from staying put as well. There are multiple classes of enemies besides your run of the mill henchies such as armored guys, guys with shields, and even armored guys with shields. I’m pretty sure I saw an armored guy throwing dynamite from behind a shield once as well, but I can’t confirm. It’s the way the developers combine these enemies during fights that make them both fun and challenging to play.
There is also the stealth element into game. While you can’t go through the entire game stealthily, there are many areas where you can sneak up behind enemies, distract them, or even knock out lights to make it easier to sneak around. It’s no Metal Gear Solid, but it’s more stealthy than the last Assassin’s Creed. You can use other elements of the environment in combat as well. You can knock down a lamp to set enemies on fire, set a tarp on fire to burn up a platform an enemy is on, and some other goodies if you pay attention.
Your arsenal consists of a bow, pistol, assault rifle, and shotgun. Each weapon is self-explanatory, but their functionality increases as you progress through the game. In order to upgrade your weapons you need two things: parts and salvage. Parts allow you to build stronger weapons. For example, collecting bow parts will allow you to ditch the old bow and use the recurve bow. You pick up salvage from slain enemies, crates throughout the game, and even animals; allowing you to upgrade features on your weapon like accuracy, lower recoil, stronger attack, etc. All upgrades aren’t available from the start, however.
First off, some upgrades remained locked until you have unlocked a certain number of upgrades across all of your weapons, so this forces you to use all of the weapons instead of just relying on one or two. Second, many upgrades do not appear until you collect parts to build a new weapon. At first I thought that all of these parts would be directly in your path, but then I started to find many of them were off the beaten path. If I was rushing through the game I could have easily missed them. Another thing about parts is that there just isn’t one set for each weapon. I had used four different bows by the time I reached the end of the game, so keep looking for parts as you move about the island no matter what stage you’re at.
Salvage also allows upgrading of other skills that will make you a better hunter, brawler, or survivor. Upgrading brawler skills is more in line with combat, but the other two help you in aspects like tracking, killing wildlife, or even platforming. When I first saw that you can kill wildlife I thought that this would be something I would be required to do to survive, but it’s not. I thought it would have been a great addition to the game since a big focus is supposed to be on Lara becoming a survivor, but the mechanic just turned out to be a way to get more salvage or a collectable.
The opening of the game wasn’t completely devoid of platforming, but it felt like more of a filler between fights. With the way the story progresses it almost has to be this way, though. The lack of platforming in the beginning really has to do with the tools that Lara has available to her at the time. Over the course of the game Lara will pick up new tools like an axe, rope, and other items that will add new elements to the platforming, which in turn make it more fun and something to look forward too.
Puzzles definitely got the short end of the stick in this Tomb Raider. If any puzzle took me five minutes to figure out, that was a long puzzle. Most of the areas that these puzzles are in are confined spaces, so you really don’t need to go far to figure out what you need to do. If you do some exploring you can find optional tombs to complete, and while these tombs are supposed to be the more challenging puzzle rooms, anyone with half a brain should be able to figure them out.
The one thing I want to commend Crystal Dynamics for doing is allowing players to figure out things on their own. Even though the puzzles weren’t very challenging, they were yours to figure out. You are introduced to new elements of the game without a tutorial or pop-up box, have to learn how to use said element by using it (SHOCKING!), and then possess the sense to connect the dots and use said element to figure out whatever situation you are in. Even with combat, they never tell you to knock down lamps or set certain things on fire to destroy platforms; you need to pay attention to your surroundings and see what you can do. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a game trust the player to that degree, and I really appreciate Crystal Dynamics for allowing me to have fun and feel that sense of accomplishment.
From a technical perspective the graphics aren’t that impressive, but that being the case Crystal Dynamics found a way to create a visually pleasing game. There are several breathtaking views that you experience during the game; even scenes that have an impact because of the environment. One of my favorites was when Lara had to climb to the top of a radio tower to patch into it manually, or another time when you had to go back through a town you just fought through and see all the destruction you caused. Also, the character interaction and facial expressions help to set the game’s tone and keep you engaged.
The game is very cinematic, showing great camera placement throughout the entire game. It also helps that you go between real-time game play, cutscenes, and QTE sequences seamlessly without some type of buffer to get you ready for it. The beginning of the game has a few QTE sequences, but as the story progresses you see far less of them. The QTEs provided some exciting moments and I really wish they had included more of them throughout the game.
Besides pushing the main story line, the island itself is fun to traverse and explore. It gives players a reason to come back after the game is finished so you can find all of the little trinkets and collectables the game has to offer. Many of the collectables offer insight into the island, the cult on it, and you even find journals of your shipmates to give you a better understanding of them. I’m usually not big on collectables, but I definitely went out of my way to find some of the hidden items around the island.
I thought Crystal Dynamics did an excellent job on the sound design. The music was spot-on for certain situations and really pushed the story of a girl who would become the iconic tomb raider. Gunfire, the sounds within the environment, voice overs, and dialogue were all great. The combinations of those turn Tomb Raider into a living, breathing world. As Lara climbs the side of a rock face you’ll hear the footsteps, the axe piercing the rock, and her exerting herself in a REALISTIC fashion.
I want to emphasize the realism because many people seemed to be worried that Lara’s character would either be sexualized or presented as frail. Sure, Lara grunts and makes other noises, but there is nothing sexual about it. Actually, over the music and other environmental noises, I could barely hear her sounds. Does the environment kick the crap out of her? Sometimes — mostly in the beginning due to her inexperience or perhaps just because she parachuted into a bunch of trees (it happens). Her death scenes were usually pretty brutal, but no more brutal then what you see in Dead Space. If you don’t have a problem with Issac getting chopped in half by a door, you won’t have a problem with Lara getting impaled through the head.
I don’t really understand the “you’ll want to protect her” statement that was made last year. I never felt that need simply because she was such a boss at killing. The henchmen needed protection from her, if anything. I think this was a great re-imagining for Lara, and Crystal Dynamics did a great job in handling the character respectfully while still keeping Lara Croft the way we know her.
Tomb Raider was a great game on all accounts — great story, music, characters, and game play. I do feel that the series has lost a bit of its identity; becoming more like Uncharted in itsstyle of action and platforming. Puzzles also took a hit, but it’s still fun to play. I would highly recommend Tomb Raider since I had an excellent time with it.