Wait a minute, is it 1996 again? Oh no, it’s 2013 and this is a new Tomb Raider, a reboot in fact. Lara Croft has come a long way from the uber pixelated heroine from the 90’s to one of the shining symbols of gaming. Between then and now she has spawned several more games, most of them have not be too notable, and has spawned 2 films with Angelina Jolie playing Lara. Now Lara has taken on a totally different look as we move back in her timeline to play her before she became a dual pistol gun toting badass. Will this bring much sought after acclaim back into the franchise? Let’s find out!
This is not Lara Croft as we know her in the films and the previous games. She is an archaeology student whose dad has gone missing (presumably dead) testing out her adventuring shoes. She hasn’t killed anybody. She hasn’t fired a gun or had to forage for food. This is the innocent Lara. Needless to say, as the game progresses, its your job as the player to put on her shoes and through her experiences in this god forsaken island where the game is set, turn her into the badass we have come to know and love (and in some cases obsess over).
We start of with a shipwreck and find Lara stranded alone in an island which gives a lot of character into the game. It’s a hodgepodge of ancient Japanese structures, old World War 2 installations as well as shanties created by the island’s current inhabitants. So you can already imagine there’s a lot of history on this island and what is archaeology but the discovery of history. Lara, even in her own struggle to survive fits perfectly into the island setting. Making it her mold in turning her into Angelina Jolie, I mean the “now Lara”.
Graphically the game is an absolute feast for the eyes. You climb, run, rappel, slide, swim and fight in one island with several varied locales; mountain tops, underground rivers, WWII bases built near volcanoes caves and yes, tombs. We can’t have a tomb raider game without tombs. Crystal Dynamics has masterfully waved their artistic brushes on this one and has created an island that feels dangerous and beautiful at the same time giving it a lot of life. We reviewed the game on our high end PC and turned up all the bells and whistles and we can simply say, even the tiny pot marks on Lara’s face are beautiful, lending to the fact that CD has really put a lot of effort into texturing and texture filters. There is an optional hair effect that simulates Lara’s hair with realtime physics calculations. Although they reacted to wind and movement beautifully, they still seemed awkward and out of place. One thing we noticed as well is the shadows and lighting as well as the volumetric shadows are very well simulated. Postprocessing blends them seemlessly into a tapestry you’ll want to stare at for a while (the environment gentlemen, not just Lara you sickos).
As for sound design, the developers have not pulled any punches. I particularly like long action sequences where the music is pumping as you hear wood splinters, glass shatter, metal bending and Lara huffing as she gets hurt over and over again. What’s notable is the silence. Crystal Dynamics has applied silence very well in this game. Nothing can freak you out or make you shiver in your pants better than the silence that suggests uncertainty of safety or danger. The voice acting has come out superb as well. Might be there are some annoying characters here and there but Lara herself is an absolute treat to listen to as she progresses. Early in the game she whelps, cries and is generally perceived as a lady in danger. Later she is more determined, stronger and comes off as dangerous. Catering to our Lara lovers out there, you won’t miss her cute accent that’s just gotten a lot cuter now that she looks more human and less pixelated. Camillia Luddington, we kneel to your voice acting. Never have we seen Lara more alive through voice than through Camilla. If you pay close attention to Lara’s journals, you can clearly map out her transformation.
As action adventures come, gameplay in Tomb Raider is pretty much standard. What sets it apart is the more cinematic feel. Your user interface rarely gets in the way of the action and is mostly invisible as you play the game. You still kick butt with the standard pistol, shotgun, rifle and everybody’s favorite, the bow. Sticking to the survival feel, you can scavenge parts and make upgrades on these weapons as you progress. For instance, you start off with a makeshift longbow and end up late in game, with a competition bow that can rival the one is Crysis 3. What we particularly love about the gameplay are the tomb puzzles. To some it may be frustrating but there’s no other feeling than completing a tomb puzzle you figured out on your own.
There are few DLCs for the game to increase its life but the shipped game already comes with a lot of playtime. Sure, the story could have been longer, but we like the flow of it. You can explore the island more and find more tombs to unlock that gives rewards such as weapon parts, costumes and salvage equipment. There’s also an extensive Multiplayer with several play modes like the standard Team Deathmatch, Rescue mode as well as a mode called Cry for Help where you need to collect and discover to win the game. There are many paths to the same goal in this new Tomb Raider. For instance, you might want to run in guns ablazing or use stealth by using your survivor’s instinct to track your targets. This could also give you more game time.
All in all, this reboot is highly encouraging and worth the play but it certainly does not redefine the genre or make huge waves. Pretty as it is, you still have to consider deepening the gameplay than just adding skillpoints and improving weapons. Having said that, this new Tomb Raider and the new Lara could be a stepping stone to making the IP big again down the road. Crystal Dynamics has laid the foundation and we can only hope that they drop a big one on us. As for this Tomb Raider, it’s certainly worth the buy if you’re a Tomb Raider fan and an action adventure junkie.
Replay Value 7
Total Score: 8
Available on Xbox360, PS3 and PC in Datablitz