March 12, 2013 by Paul Curtin
Unlike previous games and movies in the Tomb Raider franchise, Crystal Dynamics’ latest tells the origin story of Lara Croft in a dark and gritty format. The latest more serious take on the series is the perfect example of how a reboot should be handled. Lara is a young adult with only first-world problems and grand aspirations, thrown into an uncontrollable situation, and as a result becomes lost and focused on one thing: survival. And it’s that will to live that forces her instincts to kick in and allow for her character transformation that will keep you on the edge of your seat rooting for her throughout her entire epic journey.
From start to finish, the new and improved Tomb Raider stays true to its roots while successfully managing to break the character of Croft down and build her back up even stronger. There are very few complaints that can said about the story arc and the way in which new abilities are unlocked to help Lara evolve from being hunted to being the hunter. Some supporting characters contribute to some of the game’s most emotional scenes, but most are far weaker than Lara in terms of development, though that’s acceptable considering the story is all about Lara and her origins.
You really won’t care much about most of the other characters because of how likeable Croft is, due mostly in part to how good of a job Camilla Luddington (True Blood, Grey’s Anatomy) does as the leading lady who is often alone. Luddington’s voice acting and character animation is spot on — you couldn’t ask for a better voice acting performance, especially from someone’s debut in a video game.
The only real problem with Lara’s origin story is how the developers have chosen to deal with her transition into a killer. It all seems to happen far too quickly. After being kidnapped early on in the game, Lara is forced to kill or be killed in a very intense QTE scene. She ends up pulling the trigger, and you can really see how taking someone’s life for the first time has an emotional impact on her, as it clearly wasn’t something she wanted to do. But immediately after her first kill, she begins killing tons of bad guys as if she’s a paid assassin with a dead-eye who has been doing it for years. It’s understandable that the amount of killing is needed in the situation, but it all just feels a bit rushed.
Aside from Croft’s slightly forced transition into killing what seems like thousands of bad guys, the rest of storytelling is beautifully done, mostly due to the way Crystal Dynamics has reworked the camera system and eliminated almost all loading. Throughout the game, players are allowed to be the cameraman while Crystal still subtly behind-the-scenes directs how the camera should move and where players should take Croft that results is shots as amazing as what you would find in a big-budget film.
Lara’s adventure starts off with tons of tight shots to bring you in close while you’re getting to know her in tight claustrophobic areas, but as the game progresses and Croft transitions into an explorer, the levels really begin to open up, and Crystal uses breathtaking skylines to show off just how stunning the game’s visuals are. The only problem I had was that the visuals during some cutscenes were too good and took away from the immersion when transitioning back into gameplay.
Even with the slight change in visual quality between cutscenes and gameplay, the balance of pace through the entire campaign is where the developers have really nailed it. When players aren’t in intense shootouts with foes, they’re platforming from building to building or rock to rock using the game’s flawless rock-climbing system. Like Uncharted and in some cases even better, many times throughout the game there are epic chase sequences that will have your pulse pounding and palms sweating as entire buildings or bridges are collapsing right underneath Lara…
And just when the game has your adrenaline at an all-time high after witnessing one of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen in a game, the pace quickly slows back down as Croft escapes to a new area of the island where secret tombs are hinted to be nearby that give players a chance to take a break from all the action and turn their brain back on to solve elemental puzzles that make great use of fire and water. All of the challenges found throughout the island are never too challenging to where they become frustrating, but enough to make you spend a little time and feel clever once solving.
The isolated island of Yamatai that Lara becomes stranded on is more linear than more open world games like Far Cry 3, but is still filled with mystery in the form of random hidden tombs, artifacts, and other collectables that are scattered throughout the varied weather environments. All of the hidden areas are a great method of showcasing Lara’s explorer side early on in her story and at the same time give players a reason to search every corner and take advantage of the game’s fast travel system that allows her to instantly go back and forth between areas she’s already discovered. However, the fast-travel ability is more for completionists as it never serves a point in the story since Lara is constantly pushing onward and quickly able to get back to areas when the game rarely backtracks.
When getting back to the ass-kicking, the gameplay is about as high-octane as it gets. Lara is constantly finding new weapons that can be upgraded, such as more powerful bows with the ability to explode into napalm around enemies and ignite them in fiery chaos. Vertical levels allow for players to scale almost everything in order to get the exact vantage point they want, and there’s almost always some sort of environmental hazards, such as explosive barrels that are easy to spot in the distance and can be used to create even more chaos, sometimes even taking down entire destructible enemy fortresses.
The enemy AI isn’t anything mind-blowing, but at times you’ll be amazed at how realistic they can be in certain situations such as reacting to Lara running out of ammo and calling out to others informing them to rush her. Controls are almost perfect, but the lack of a true cover system that locks players into objects takes a bit of time to get used to and can still cause problems since the game dictates when Lara will actually use the cover as opposed to the player being pulled into cover and not having to worry about popping back out.
For those looking to get extended play after the game’s extraordinary campaign, there are somewhat enjoyable competitive online multiplayer modes. Tomb Raider‘s multiplayer is a solid attempt for Crystal’s first try at bringing the franchise online, but it’s not a home run like what Naughty Dog has been able to do with the Uncharted series that’s worthy of stealing players from other multiplayer juggernauts for anything longer than a couple weeks.
The controls just don’t transition over into multiplayer as well as they work in singleplayer. Both aiming with guns and trying to melee enemies can be frustrating when facing opponents online who move much faster than the enemies found in singleplayer. And the lack of a true cover system and the ability to pull down or kick enemies off ledges make the gameplay feel dated and subpar when compared to Uncharted, Gears of War, and even Assassin’s Creed. There is, however, the unique idea of adding traps into the mix, but they quickly get old and aren’t enough to be anything truly innovative.
Even with its multiplayer not pulling its own weight and the singleplayer not doing anything new, the campaign’s dynamic camera and character movements, superb visuals and voice acting, skill system, and intense shootouts come together to make for one of the best and most enjoyable experiences over the past few years that you won’t soon forget.
Crystal Dynamics have poured their hearts into the details, and it shows in every square inch of the environment. However, small clipping issues, freezes, and other minor problems hold Croft back from a flawless comeback. While it’s not perfect like Uncharted, it’s damn close and something both Uncharted fans on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners can appreciate. Tomb Raider gets 4.5 out of 5 stars (Amazing).
- New dark and gritty story is exactly how a reboot should be done
- Perfect voice acting from Camilla Luddington as Lara Croft
- Intense scenes make for the most enjoyable game experiences in years
- Amazing level of detail throughout the entire campaign
- Intelligent enemy AI and hidden tombs full of puzzles challenge you
- Skill system adds a new dimension to the treasure hunting genre
- Gameplay doesn’t feel right in multiplayer
- Lara’s transition into a full-blown killer seems a little rushed
- Cover system works, but it isn’t as good as other games’
- Visuals during cutscenes are better than the gameplay’s graphics
- Small clipping issues, freezes, and other minor problems