When I went to E3 back in 2011, I was surprised like everyone else that there was going to be a new Tomb Raider game. I've never been much of a fan of the series so the announcement of a new game wasn't mind blowing for me. That was until I read about the game being rebooted and saw that first trailer for the game. Seeing that immediately sucked me in, and I became excited for the game. Once I saw the game running last year, I was sold. Tomb Raider was going to be my big game for 2013.
A Story of Survival - Tomb Raider, like most reboots, is an origin story of the hero. Rather than being an established adventurer, Lara is an archaeology graduate who is on an expedition to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai. She’s traveling with her best friend Sam, her mentor Conrad, and a colourful crew that have their own stories that are fleshed out in the comic book based the game. As the ship heads to the Dragon’s Triangle that is east of Japan, a huge storm tears the ship apart causing Lara and the crew to be separated. What follows is a story that has this great mix of paranormal, adventure with some great horror moments and plenty of action. More importantly, we see Lara grow into that iconic adventurer that gamers have come to know. It’s so great to see a character get more development in one game that they’ve had in more than a decade worth of games.
A New Lara - One of the most obvious changes in this reboot is Lara Croft herself. Gone is the unrealistic DDD-cup bust with a tiny waist, and replaced is a younger, realistic version of the adventurer. And she looks amazing. This isn’t just a praise of “OMG SHE’S SO HOT,” but more of a testament to making an incredible-looking character that is able to express her sadness and anger with subtlest of facial changes. It helps make watching her story play out even more entertaining.
Fluid Combat -The Tomb Raiders series has never been one for “amazing” combat. Usually Lara blasts away at enemies with some firearm and that’s it. With this reboot, Crystal Dynamics made the combat so intuitive that it was never frustrating or boring. That may seem like a dumb statement as all good games should have that as a standard, but this game has so many variances within the combat. You have your different guns, your bow, stealth kills, and a cover system that requires a minimal amount of effort on your part get in and out of. In particular, I have to praise the cover system for being so painless for being automated. I also thought Crystal Dynamics did a great job creating a levelling up system that makes earning xp worthwhile as the skills you unlock can really help your progress in the game.
Multiplayer That Works - I, like many people, were quesitong the addition of multplayer to a Tomb Raider games. Interesting enough, I had the same attitude when I first started up multplayer on Uncharted 2, and like just like that game, I enjoyed the multiplayer. Like the Uncharted 2/3 multiplayer, the mulitplayer maps have multiple levels that can be accessed via climbing up and down in the same fashiong that the protoganist does within the game. What's unique is that throughout a map, there are traps that can be set to capture opposing players. Once caught in a trap, a player has to get themselves out or else become an easy target. As seen in other multiplayer games, the xp you receive will level you up and gain access to better weapons. Although I doubt we will be seeing Tomb Raider at a MLG event anytime soon, the muliplayer was interesting enough for me play some games once I had finished the single-player campaign.
Mood Setting Music - At SXSW this year, I attended a panel hosted by Tomb Raider sound designer Alex Wilmer and composer Jason Graves where they talked about coming up with the music for the game. Listening to them talk; I was amazed by all the music made for the game that was designed specially to enhance certain sections. What impressed me the most about the music was that it wasn’t obtrusive as scores in games can be these days. Instead it was subtle yet effective. There would be times where I heard a familiar piece of music and I would begin to get anxious because I knew something was going to happen. The music had trained me to feel a certain way once I heard certain notes. Although the score may not be one that people will buy for casual listening, it was essential to making the game memorable.
Not the Biggest Island But Plenty to Explore - The island you explore is beautiful, and it’s pretty big. While it’s not a huge, completely explorable island like in Far Cry 3, there is still plenty to explore. Throughout the island are various collectibles, caverns, and hidden tombs that will keep you occupied for hours if you really want to explore the land. As you progress through the game, more equipment becomes available that will let you access areas that were previously out of your reach making the idea of backtracking a bit more attractive.
A TOMB BEST LEFT UNDISCOVERED
These are Some Weak Dudes - For about three-quarters of the game, if you die it will mainly be due to a failed Quick-Time Event (QTE) or a misjump. The enemies are fairly simple to beat for most of the game that its almost too easy. It reminded me of how easily Batman disposes of minions in the Arkahm series. Since the enemies take so long to get beefed up, they become more of a boring interruption than actually adding to the action. It's still fun to take them down, but it would have been so much better to have tougher bad guys scattered throughout the game rather than load them towards the end.
Out of Balance Multiplayer - Like I mentioned earlier, I like the multiplayer. It has enough going for it that you can spend several hours in it...except for when you join a game with higher level players. Don't get me wrong, I love playing against high-level competition as it can help you become a better player. The problem comes when you're stuck with a bow and the other team is all decked out with light machine guns making the match a bit unfair, This could be due to a lackluster matchmaking code or a lack of players online, but being so outgunned really made it hard for me to jump back in.
Use Another Button Already - In past reviews, I've mentioned that I don't mind QTE as long as it's implemented properly. Too many developers stick it in thinking that it will make the cinematic moments more compelling, when really it just annoys players. Where Tomb Raider fails in QTE implementation is that almost all the QTEs make use of one button. If you're not going to be creative with QTEs to where you don't even make use of all the buttons on the controller, then why even bother adding it?
The practice of rebooting franchises has become common the past couple of years, and some people are critical that it stifles the creativity within the industry. Tomb Raider, however, is a perfect example of why a series reboot is so welcomed. A series like Tomb Raider has been so ingrained in gaming yet it’s filled with dated elements. With the reboot, we see the series with fresh eyes and realize why we loved it in the first place: It's a game that takes you on an adventure.
Crystal Dynamics did a phenomenal job with Tomb Raider. They made a game that old and news fans will love. It has the soul of the franchise, but with a fancy, new shell. There are plenty of reasons to love this game, and it should played by everyone
*This review was based on the Xbox 360 retail version of the game.*