The new Tomb Raider developed by Crystal Dynamics and Published by Square Enix promised to reinvent the character of Lara Croft, and I’m happy to report that they did just that. Prior to this rebooted Tomb Raider the character of Lara Croft was nothing more than a caricature of the ideal female body for male gamers to pitch tents over.
Her daisy dukes and torpedo-sized chest took away any sense of her being a realistic strong female lead video game character. I’m all for cheap thrills, so don’t think I’m standing on a soap box here, but the old Lara became a parody of women in video games, and because of that her franchise needed a shot in the arm.
That’s exactly what Crystal Dynamics has accomplished with their new Tomb Raider offering. They took the Lara Croft playbook and burnt it, and after that they dumped the ashes in a deep sea abyss so no one could ever find the big boobie Lara ever again. Their rebranded Tomb Raider starring, what many consider to be the strongest female lead character of all-time, is an experience that all gamers should partake in. It’s graphics aren’t jarringly amazing, nor is its gameplay that unique, but the story of survival and growth of the lead character ties everything in this game together to provide one of the best gaming experiences of 2013.
Please put any preconceived notions you have about this reboot aside, and open your mind to the new Tomb Raider. I hope to further convince you throughout my review, so please head on down past the score to take in my full opinions on this game. I can tell you with good conscience that it will easily be on my short list for 2013’s game of the year.
EB 9.8 out of 10 Buddhas
(Xbox 360 version used for review purposes)
- The rebooted character of Lara Croft
- Great mix of storytelling and gameplay through cinematography excellence
- Puzzles that don’t make you feel stupid
- Believable Lara Croft origin tale
The Not so Awesome
- Feels short (15-20 hours of gameplay max)
- Monotonous QTEs
- Relatively easy
For all intents and purposes, the story of the new Tomb Raider is centered around telling the tale of how Lara Croft came to be the dual-gun wielding badass that we know her to be from the previous TR titles. Luckily, unlike the Star Wars prequels, Croft’s origin story doesn’t fall flat on its face. In fact, it could be one of the better reboots of an established franchise in any medium.
The meat of the plot focuses on Lara and her fellow explorers who are searching the world’s oceans for the mysterious kingdom of the Yamatai. The Yamatai were an ancient Japanese culture who worshiped the Sun Queen Himiko, and it just so happens that Lara knows a few things about her and her people. This leads the expedition to get caught up in a Bermuda Triangle-like part of the world and they crash land on an island surrounded by mysterious weather, and a band of savages. It’s safe to say that Lara has been cast into the fire, and she must learn to be a survivor if she’s to overcome the perils that now face her on this whacked out island full of ancient lore and nut jobs.
This in here lies the heart of Tomb Raider’s overarching tale. There’s a great story in Hollywood blockbuster terms, but the true magic of this experience is watching Lara go from a naive girl; to a hardened survivor hell bent on fulfilling her family name. Along the way she’s presented with some precarious situations that both excited me, and lead me to feel for Lara and all that she had been through. Through the narrative, and the action taking place on my screen, I could almost experience the hell Lara was going through.
Lara faces life threatening situations throughout the campaign
More importantly her transformation from a feeble young girl to, in my opinion, one of the strongest lead video game characters of all-time (male and female), is portrayed in a manner that is completely believable (for a fictional piece of entertainment). Crystal Dynamics didn’t try to shove the new Lara down our gullets. They told her story with action and flair with a pinch of personality, and it’s the perfect mix for a bang up video game narrative.
Like I mentioned above Tomb Raider has a perfect balance of story and action, which by the way, never stops. This game isn’t purely a girl power tale, but rather it features some situations that Indiana Jones couldn’t even get out of. Other games have used Tomb Raider’s particular style of mixing scripted scenes with actual gameplay, but I found it to be just as good, if not better than the likes of the Uncharted franchise.
I hate to make the comparison, because it’s not fair to Tomb Raider, or the other games like it, but for the most part the gameplay is very similar to Drake’s adventures in Uncharted. You control Lara in a third person view as you guide her from hub world to hub world as she jumps, climbs, and slides her way to victory. At any moment the gameplay can switch to a scripted scene and back again, so you always have to be on your toes to avoid missing a jump, or getting impaled in the throat while floating down a raging river.
Tomb Raider controls very similar to other modern platformers in where you shoot with the left and right triggers, while you perform actions with the “X”, “Y”, and “B” buttons. Lara can perform acrobatics with the best of them, and by the time you get her automated rope pulley she almost feels like Batman. Just like the Dark Knight she can use her tools to scale cliff faces, pull down obstacles, and zip-line like a flying squirrel.
She may not believe in Batman’s philosophy on killing, but she can wield various weapons like a champ. Lara can both use melee and ranged attacks with deadly accuracy, and by the end of the game she sports an arsenal that would make Rambo jealous. Best of all, the controls during enemy encounters feel natural, which makes any combat situation she encounters a blast to deal with.
Lara’s combat skills progress throughout the campaign
Once you begin to level up your various skills and gear, Lara becomes a trained killer who basically takes on an entire island of savages by herself. You can upgrade her survival, hunter, and melee skills through an RPG-lite component, as well as upgrading her weapons with salvage you collect on your adventure. You can upgrade her bow, handgun, shotgun, and rifle to turn them into formidable weapons of destruction, which drives your motivation to search for treasure, salvage, and other XP yielding collectibles. I appreciate this aspect of Tomb Raider, and it definitely lead me to sink more time into exploration than I probably would have committed .
Speaking of which, exploration is still a big component of Tomb Raider’s gameplay. The game world is broken into a series of hubs that each feature main missions, tombs to explore, and collectibles to find. You can fast travel between these hubs via camp sites, which serve as your home base and customization menu.
Mixed throughout these hubs Lara faces various puzzles that you need to solve to advance to the next location, and they provide a nice challenge without forcing you to go online for help. I hate action games that mix in puzzles that require you to remember some random codes, or ones set to a time, so I appreciated the clever puzzles in Tomb Raider. Most of the more difficult ones are located in tombs, but even they shouldn’t cause your brain too much struggle.
If I had one big complaint about Tomb Raider’s gameplay it would be the fact that it relies on QTE’s to do nearly any monotonous action such as opening doors, or turning cranks. I don’t mind QTEs if they’re mixed in with actual gameplay to make the action seem more hectic, but I can’t stand it when I have to incessantly mash my controller buttons just to open a damn door.
You should expect anywhere from 15-20 hours of gameplay, which could be extended or shortened depending on your skills and penchant for achievement hunting. I didn’t face a serious challenge on the normal setting, nor would I expect to on the hardest setting, but that didn’t really matter to me. Tomb Raider’s gameplay and cinematic action were enough of a thrill to make it an excellent gameplay experience, so its minor shortcomings didn’t affect my opinion of the game one bit.
Tomb Raider sports some fancy visuals, but I didn’t see anything that made my jaw drop. I truly believe that Halo 4 set the new bar for Xbox 360 graphics, and I haven’t seen a game top it since. That’s not a dig at Tomb Raider either. It’s more praise for 343 than anything.
Regardless, Tomb Raider still looks fantastic on the 360 (check out the cinematography video after the break), and I imagine it looks even better on a high-end gaming rig. All of the character models look realistic and do convey emotions in their expressions. This is especially evident in Lara Croft, who more often than not related her mental state to me via facial expressions and painful grunts, rather than talking about how difficult of a situation she was facing.
Notice how you can feel Lara’s pain through her facial expressions
I believe her animations and proportionate design helped to sell her new image, and they fit perfectly with the mantra of the new Tomb Raider. Lara is now a believable strong female lead character, and part of that turn around is due to her graphical stylings. I’m all about gawking at women in short shorts who have extremely large breasts, but when you translate that look to video games it completely cheapens the validity of the character. This is not the case in Tomb Raider, and I think you’ll agree when you lay your eyes on the more natural looking Croft.
In addition to quality character models and animations Tomb Raider’s environment is also rendered beautifully. The island of Yamatai features all sorts of different locales that each have unique weather patterns, which provide variety throughout the games campaign. The textures are clear and realistic (most notably in caves), and never once did I experience any frame rate issues. Like I mentioned earlier, Tomb Raider won’t blow you away with its visuals, but they don’t detract from the gameplay experience, which is all you can really ask of a game’s graphics.
The sound profile of Tomb Raider is a thing of beauty. Each character is brilliantly voiced, and the game world comes to life with a symphony of sound effects you’d expect to hear on a remote island full of mystery. The character of Lara Croft is given even more life via her soothing voice, as well as her sounds of pain and anguish. This combination with her visual emotions only helped to convey the fact that she is a believable character who is experiencing a tragic event that causes her to do things she never imagined.
Tomb Raider’s world comes to alive through sound
I also took a liking to Tomb Raider’s musical stylings. I loved the menu music, as well as the in-game tracks. Each one perfectly accented the action taking place on screen, and just like a good movie they enhanced the overall Tomb Raider experience. I didn’t hear any sound glitches, or other audio problems throughout my entire campaign, so there’s nothing I can bitch about when it comes to this game’s sound design.
Tomb Raider does feature a fully fleshed out multiplayer component, but it seems more like an after thought than a fully planned out competitive arena. The characters move as if they have wire frames inserted into their rectums, and their point of view seems like they hold their weapons at an angle. The pace of play feels very slow, and nothing about the multiplayer feels natural.
Like other multiplayer games you can customize your character and weapons, but I just didn’t care to do so because I knew I wouldn’t be spending serious amounts of time playing Tomb Raider multiplayer. The phrase “Tomb Raider multiplayer” doesn’t even flow from the tongue smoothly, and that translates to the finished product. I know its the new thing to do in gaming, but not every single player game needs to also have a multiplayer mode, and Tomb Raider definitely falls into this category.
Multiplayer just doesn’t have the same level of polish as the campaign
Lara Croft is back and better than ever in Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot. This iconic video game character gets the rebranding she deserved, and for the first time in gaming I can say that we have a strong female lead character that is believable, and not just a Barbie doll for male gamers to drool over. Her coming of age tale is full of trials and tribulations that you must guide Lara through on her way to becoming the infamous tomb raider that we know her to be. I had a blast experiencing this transformation, and towards the end when an iconic scene takes place I couldn’t help but let out a “F*ck yeah!”, because it signaled that the real Lara Croft had finally arrived.
I had a few minor complaints about Tomb Raider, but outside of some annoying QTEs, I couldn’t find many faults with this reboot. For all of its excellence I have to give Tomb Raider an impressive 9.8 out of 10 Buddhas. It’s a game that you should definitely plan on playing in 2013, and I can almost promise that it will still be talked about in the Fall when its time to declare the best games of the year. Yes, the new Tomb Raider is that damn good!
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