Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix, Eidos Interactive
Release Date: March 4, 2013
Systems available: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
I’ve been on a bit of an indie-RPG kick for the past little while and thought I would mix it up with a AAA title with a nice fat budget to see if they can still make a worthwhile game or if the smaller developers are our last hope. Tomb Raider has been sitting in my Steam library since the winter sale and, after hearing repeatedly good things about it from others, I decided I would finally give it a try to see if it lived up to the hype and, more importantly, if it was a worthy successor to the long-standing franchise.
Tomb Raider is an action adventure game that includes puzzle-solving as well as cover-based shooting. It was released for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 on March 4th. Development was handled by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix with the help of Lara Croft’s original creator Toby Gard. The game also features the writing talents of Rhianna Pratchett who has such credits as: Overlord, Mirror’s Edge, and Bioshock Infinite.
A sample of a pretty typical quick time event.
You begin the game as young Lara Croft with her crew of friends in search for a lost civilization in the Pacific (sadly no Kaiju make an appearance). I say young Lara for a reason, as this game is meant to be a prequel, featuring a Croft unfamiliar with some of the darker sides of archaeology. Long story short, a sudden storm causes their ship to crash and Lara is separated from her friends on a strange island where she must survive amongst the islands less than welcoming inhabitants. Please, don’t take my brevity as a means of dismissal. The story itself is interesting, particularly when you include all of the characters who show detailed growth as you progress. But I’ve found that stories like these are better experienced than explained.
Starting off Tomb Raider I found myself a bit worried. The Lara Croft I was seeing was a far cry from the adventure-hardened tomb raider I was familiar with. I knew this was supposed to be a prequel, but she seemed so unsure of herself, completely willing to hand over all responsibility to someone else, and utterly lacking in the “laugh in the face of danger” attitude so prevalent with her adventuring comrades. Her feelings are more than understandable for an ordinary person thrust into her situation, but Lara Croft isn’t supposed to be ordinary. Personally, I’ve always seen Lara as one of the few early examples of strong women characters in video games. Someone you could look up to, male or female. I thought they had turned her into something less than the symbol she was. But then, slowly, you see Lara begin to grow. Stripped away is the shocked and intimidated researcher and instead we are faced with a survivor. The young girl who huddled crying over the fire in the beginning of the game turns into the woman who charges the enemy, guns blazing, swearing vengeance for her fallen friends. That slow evolution of character is one of my favorite aspects of Tomb Raider as it lets you see the Lara who was and the Lara we are all familiar with.
These shots were taken during the beginning and near the end of the game. A striking difference.
Now I’m not much of a fan of the game industry’s latest fascination with implementing quick time events (QTE’s) into every damn thing they can. More often than not it’s clunky and resembles nothing more than shoving a square peg into a round hole. Tomb Raider manages to make the events (while perhaps not seamless) more than tolerable. The events are evenly spaced and, as the name implies, not drawn out sequences where you’re forced to get five consecutive button presses or face horrid dismemberment and a frustrating reload. I will say that they are unforgiving and can come at unexpected times, such as having two seconds to dodge the pointy branch of a fallen tree or else be impaled. But I’ll give this point in favor to Tomb Raider as it forces you to think quickly in order to survive, a common theme throughout the game.
A familiar trait among the Tomb Raider games is the presence of puzzles. Solving the grand traps set millennia ago by ancient civilizations who apparently didn’t have anything better to do than dick around with levers and pulleys. The newest incarnation of Tomb Raider follows this path and, as you journey through the game, you’ll find puzzles to solve throughout the main game as well as hidden tombs to explore. Personally, I found the puzzles a bit on the weak side. Most of the time they were single room puzzles where, after pulling a few levers, you were presented your prize. Perhaps I’m just a world class puzzle solver, but it definitely felt like the developers dropped focus on the puzzles in favor of implementing more cover-based shooting.
The first night. Wolves howling in the distance.
I enjoy collectables in games. They’re a nice little treat for those of us who are anal-retentive enough to insist on exploring every little nook and cranny before continuing on. Tomb Raider’s collectables are especially rewarding. The artifacts you find give you little tidbits about history (I’m learning) while the journal entries give you a glimpse into the lives of the other characters and a deeper understanding of the story as a whole.
Visually, Tomb Raider is one of the most impressive games I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Now I don’t mean just the graphic work (which is quite stunning, particularly in the cinematics) but I mean specifically how it was, for lack of a better term, shot. Little visual cues and nuances. Laura, straight off the boat, just barely holding herself together, huddled under an outcropping over a sputtering fire. It manages to deliver an emotional punch not often seen in video games. Throughout playing I found myself constantly taking screenshots as I continued to see more and more scenes that I found simply breathtaking.
No, that’s not Kool-Aid she’s wading in. Hint: It’s blood.
After beating the main storyline there isn’t much to bring you back for repeated playthroughs. There are different difficulty levels, if you feel the need to test your mettle, as well as all of the collectables to track down to get that precious 100% complete on your save. I should also mention that there is a multiplayer mode available, but I make it a point not to review the multiplayer experience of video games as it is largely subjective. Though I didn’t feel there was much value in repeated playthroughs, it did take me over 16 total hours to play through the game, which I feel is a respectable amount of time for a AAA game’s main story.
Tomb Raider really surprised me. I went in expecting something similar to the Uncharted games but walked away with a different, though very familiar, experience. Absolutely stunning visuals, slick gameplay, deep character evolution, and an interesting story. My only real complaints revolve around the lackluster puzzles that the developers seemed to toss in and what seemed to me to be an overabundance of cleavage-y shots. Granted, I admit the latter could be my own sensitivity to the rampant trend of oversexualizing female characters in video games and not an active move on the developer’s part. As it stands, Tomb Raider is a thoroughly entertaining experience and a more than welcome addition to the long-standing franchise.
Tomb Raider for the PC: 5/6
Hey guys look, I found Indiana Bones!” *Crickets*