Publisher: Square Enix / Eidos
Developer: Crystal Dynamix
Release: March 5th
Genre: Action Adventure
As one might have expected, I was extremely pumped, as well as apprehensive, to play the new Tomb Raider reboot. After voicing my thoughts on the franchise, along with some friends, in a documentary styled video mini-series, I was not shy in mentioning my concerns about the reboot. My fear of the game being nothing more than a torture porn fest, as we watch Lara Croft getting beaten and battered as she learns to survive in a brand new origin story, was something I was truly concerned with. Thankfully, throughout the game, that wasn’t the case, although Lara still does get quite roughed up throughout her journey. So how well did the new Tomb Raider go about giving birth to a new Lara Croft?
To be completely honest, Tomb Raider delivers a great gaming experience, save for a couple of forced add-on features that were completely out of place. Tomb Raider is an incredibly gorgeous and immersive game. There’s an insane amount of heart pounding nonstop action sequences that are sure to fill the void in many adventure game enthusiast. However, in a big way, the game fails as a whole to connect with the players, but we’ll get into that a bit later on.
So, just to get this out of the way, Tomb Raider, graphically, is an amazingly breathtaking game. From start to finish, the tropical island that Lara and her crewmates became shipwrecked on is simply stunning. The amount of detail in everything is great, and at times, when you’re not being forced to fall down dirt slides, or get swept away by raging river currents, you can marvel at the beauty the island has to offer. Even the more grotesque areas of the island, like bloody rivers full of body parts, have some kind of arcane vibe and are impressive as well. The local flora growing all over the island is incredibly impressive as well. Tons of growing life, like vines, trees, and bushes are everywhere, and don’t even feel out of place or just thrown out there. Everything just seems to fit into place perfectly.
The local ancient ruins and World War 2 bases that are all over the island are amazing in their own right as well. You can just see the amount of detail that went into making each location aged, decaying and desolate. The ruins are full of creaky old tunnels and passages that look like they will crumble at any second. Candles and small holes allow the lighting in Tomb Raider to give off such a great atmosphere in the game. The bases and research centers look great as well, as they are dusty, poorly maintained, and falling apart. In fact, just about every location in the game is truly impressive, including the wrecked ship’s interior and the shantytown made up of metal parts taken from such wrecks. Easily the most impressive area of the game is the windy ruins in the Temple of Ascension. The area is covered in a thick dusty wind that makes it hard to see where one could be heading, and the temple shows signs of damage from all the dust and debris that has been blowing around.
What’s just as easily impressive is how beautiful everything looks when stuff is falling apart or being destroyed. The destructible environments are literally second to none to any game that has come out at this point. Using giant bells to make a passage through the floor of an ancient ruin, watching the ship fall apart around you as you try to escape for your life, even an exploding temple and the connecting bridge crumbling are just pure eye candy. As much as I enjoyed traveling the island and checking out how beautiful it is, it’s just as magnificent watching it get blown the hell up.
Now, our heroine and other cast members are equally impressive, although a bit generic in my mind. Lara’s new toned down model is a welcome relief, since Crystal Dynamics decided to retire the old buxom beauty model for a more realistic one. Nonetheless, Lara is still a gorgeous looking young woman who still has a way to catch your attention even if she’s covered in dirt, blood, bandages, and god knows what else in her travels throughout the game. As you go through the game, you can literally see all the damage done to her as she allows herself to get beaten up, chewed, hanged, stabbed, and tossed during the course of the game.
Lara’s companions that she spends quite a bit of time rescuing look great as well. Each of them comes with their own unique, albeit stereotypical, look and design. The Oni, an enemy you’ll face near the end, are an impressive looking bunch as well. Their samurai armor and weaponry are detailed really well and look incredibly authentic. Unfortunately, the main enemies of the game, the other island inmates as I call them, are rather generic looking and serve as nothing more than to be Lara’s cannon fodder. This includes their leader, Mathias, who is so original that he dons a staff and hooded outfit to remind everyone he’s the boss.
Aside from being a graphical marvel, Tomb Raider is also really impressive with its voice acting talent. Crystal Dynamics did a great job casting Camilla Luddington as the new voice of Lara Croft. Her soft voice gives way to showing off how young Lara is. However, there are times where she tries to give Lara an aggressive side, but it really comes off as forced, and I found it hard to take her seriously. Robin Atkin Downes also lends his voice as Lara’s mentor/guide Conrad Roth. He does an excellent job showcasing his feelings of concern as he tries to lead a distraught and green Lara to reach her goals.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast just doesn’t work as well. Jonah sounds like a stereotypical Samoan-ish man who is very gung-ho about Lara’s suspicions of the island, and Angus Grimaldi comes across as just another angry Scottish sailor veteran. The head villain/prophet Mathias comes off as another run of the mill psychopath who has the deep booming voice to match. While he does come off as threatening, he sounds just like any other villain you’ve faced before in other similar games.
Other areas in Tomb Raider‘s audio are incredibly well done aside from the voice acting. The environmental sounds as you move about are well done. You can hear the wood creak as you try to cross old rickety bridges, the metal clang and bang as you try to climb up old radio towers, and rivers sound so peaceful and serene when you’re just exploring the land. You can hear the echoes of the wind as you make your way through the game’s various tombs and tunnels, and even hear the voices of your enemies from far away as they try to talk to one another from great distances.
Of course, Tomb Raider doesn’t win you over with its stunning graphics or its impressive audio. That goes, hands down, to the well-crafted game that is laid out before you. The world of Tomb Raider is an intense experience from start to finish, and you will want to see it to completion. The game is a brisk twelve hour romp if you do some minor savaging and tomb exploring. One of the things I am happy to see implemented was a tutorial system that actually doesn’t slow down or interfere with the flow of the game from the very beginning. This is an issue I had with Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, which thankfully ended with Angel of Darkness.
Much like in the Cyrstal Dynamics trilogy(Legends, Anniversary, and Underworld), Lara controls very nicely and has a good free range of motion, allowing you to easily react to anything that comes your way. Lara is incredibly free flowing, which makes her easy to navigate during the course of the game. Whether you’re scaling mountains, being swept away by raging currents, navigating through a thick patch of trees while parachuting, or anything in between, moving Lara about has never been easier.
Lara has also been given a bunch of new moves and a new arsenal to accommodate her environment. She has the pickaxe, which allows her to climb the sides of certain mountains and assault her enemies in melee combat. She can even use it to open locked doors blocking her path or pry open crates that she can salvage for parts. Lara’s arsenal is mostly comprised of a shotgun, pistol, assault rifle and her trusty bow and arrow. In honesty, I found myself only using the shotgun at the end of the game, when Lara is constantly being assaulted by groups of enemies, as it helps to clear the area quickly. The pistol, on the other hand, I have only ever used when forced to, like when I have stumbled onto a trap that left me hanging in the air.
For most of the game, however, I found myself using the bow. This is the go to weapon for both stealth and traversing the island. Stealth kills are easy to do with the bow, since it makes no noise unless you make a habit of shooting walls. Even if you find yourself surrounded by numerous assailants, I’ve still chosen the bow to take them out. You also come to rely on the bow through upgrades to open up passages, move huge objects, or make zip lines to get almost anywhere on the island. The bow is literally the universal tool in this game.
Other gameplay mechanics I found myself enjoying were the minor free roaming exploration elements and finding artifacts and GPS trackers. The game’s exploration, while small, does offer quite a bit of free roaming and it rewards you adequately. These rewards usually come in the form of experience points that build up into survival points or salvage parts. The survival points can be used to level up Lara in areas that will allow her to grow and adapt in the game. Unlike in Angel of Darkness, this RPG like system is well implemented and not clumsy in any way. The salvage parts can be used to upgrade your arsenal, allowing everything from extra damage, to quicker reload times to even steadying your aim. The system works perfectly, and you can find yourself easily upgrading your arsenal at almost every campfire you come across, since there is plenty of ways to scavenge for parts.
Now, as for the main game itself, the locations are extremely diverse and challenging in their own right. Every area has a good mixture of minor puzzle solving and action to be had. I say “minor puzzle solving” loosely because, quite frankly, that is one thing that is kind of non-existent in this game. I guess the proper ways to describe the “puzzles” is “obstacles that require minimal thinking to get around”. Places like the tombs that you get to explore require very little brain power to beat to earn the reward at the end. Some other areas fair slightly better, like the windy ruins that make you use the environment to help you escape or to just move into the next room, but this is uncommon.
Aside from the minimal brain scraping, the game’s action is almost a near constant, save for the moments when you have the opportunity to explore. There’s plenty of combat throughout the game, to where you can never get bored of the game. The encounters are actually balanced throughout the game, allowing you to not feel like you’re constantly having to watch your back. They also don’t last that long as well, as there’s always the right amount of baddies to shoot down wherever the encounter takes place. Usually, patrols don’t have more than two to five guys in the area, while places like old World War 2 bases and the shantytown have a bit more traffic. During the final leg of the game, they start to throw everything at you and it’s one hell of ride. It gets your blood pumping, and you’re definitely on an adrenaline high as you try to take on the mobs of Oni and stranded islanders out for your hide. Overall, the gameplay experience is great from start to finish.
Now, there are a few big issues I have with the game, and one of them is with the game’s characters, especially Lara. As told to us by the developers, Lara was created in a way that we can easily connect with, as she supposedly grows on her journey. To be frank, they failed completely in every aspect of this. Not only did I not connect with her, I actually started to dislike her more as the game went on. From the beginning to the very end, all she does is doubt herself and her abilities. She blames herself constantly for getting everyone in the situation they are in. Worst of all, she fails to make us feel anything for her even when it’s forced upon her.
One such situation was when Lara killed someone for the first time. Not wolves or deer, but a human being that was looking to possibly have his way with her. Not only does the scene come off as forced and anti-climactic, but following the scene of her freaking out about killing that guy, she easily pushes it to the back of her mind within moments. Seconds later, she is taking out dozens of armed men like she’s a trained soldier with no remorse. You can’t turn off emotions that easily, especially ones that involve killing a person for the first time.
I also find it incredibly pathetic how, in one scene, Lara was scrambling in a crashed helicopter for a med kit to seal an open wound. All she finds is a lighter, and she uses it to heat up an arrowhead. Next thing you see is an exterior shot of the helicopter as you hear her scream. Now, this scene might’ve worked better if you actually showed her in pain as she puts the hot iron in to sterilize her leg, but instead, they decided to cut to an exterior shot for dramatization. This ails in many ways, because we have already been desensitized by many of Lara’s incredibly gruesome death scenes, like getting impaled by a pole in the head, smashed by rocks, watched her ankle get caught in a bear trap, her arm getting bitten by ravenous wolves… you get the point.
Later in the game, Lara tries to show her murderous side by actually screaming at her assailants, which as I’ve mentioned before in the voice acting area, comes off as sounding forced and not very intimidating. Even at the very end of the game, when she tries to convince her surviving companions about her plan, she comes off as soft and not confident that her plan will work to rescue someone. Hell, her plan doesn’t even sound convincing at all, and yet they went along with it. Lara’s delivery, her presence and her growth are all weak. By the end of the game, I felt like all I saw was a woman crying a whole lot as she constantly doubted herself. To be truly honest, it hurts the game when it’s centered on this person whom we are supposed to grow with, but fail to because they do a horrible job of making a connection.
Aside from this big issue, I still found Tomb Raider to be an incredibly great game. The game mechanics work great and are well laid out. The combat is very engaging, well done and keeps you on your toes. The open world exploration and reward system are pretty damn good and they give you incentive to keep moving around and even come back to the game. Tomb Raider has a good amount of challenge to it, and the action gives you a great adrenaline rush, as whether you’re on the run from murderous islanders, crumbling structures or sliding out of control down a hill.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Even though Tomb Raider fails to connect you with the main heroine, you will find yourself enjoying the game regardless. That’s a big nod to the game’s design, as it does a great job of making you continue on despite this amazing flaw. Tomb Raider delivers with heart pounding action sequences and a very rewarding gaming experience. It’s is a great game that, if you can get past the cry baby antics of the weak main character, gives you one hell of a ride. I definitely look forward to a sequel, and I hope that in future installments they try harder to have Lara grow as a character.