Tomb Raider Review
By Sean Connelly (@TheSeanConnelly)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: 3/5/2013
The Tomb Raider franchise has been a staple in the video game industry for as long as I can remember (apparently I can’t remember anything before 1996). From her days on the PSX up through the recent download only Guardian of Light, Lara Croft has fought her way in to the hearts of gamers everywhere with her lovable wit, nerdy love for ancient civilizations, or by literally fighting off hordes of enemies with two pistols and her disarming good looks. And she’s always been able to do so masterfully. So when I first heard that Crystal Dynamics was going to reboot the character, taking us back to her origins, my initial reaction was not the best. I thought for sure the video game community was going to get an Uncharted knock-off, only instead of the untucked hero we’d instead be left with an underdeveloped heroine. I was wrong. This is the Lara Croft I’ve been waiting for.
Crystal Dynamics does an absolutely incredible job delivering a compelling story for the player to take Lara through. But it isn’t just the story that you care about while you’re traversing the increasingly perilous and frighteningly mysterious island of Yamatai. It was the journey that Lara goes through, from a light-hearted college grad seeking adventure to the cunning tomb raiding specialist we all know and love. Never before has Croft been more authentic. This was, in part, due to Camilla Luddington’s phenomenal voice acting.
Luddington does a great job making you believe the geeky joy Lara feels when discovering ancient artifacts, the tug on your heartstrings as she pleas to save a friend, and every cry of agonizing pain as the island breaks down Lara’s body. The emotional and physical journey Lara goes through on the island is shared with the player, through Luddington, from every milestone to every loss. By the time you’re two hours in to this game you’ll be rooting for Lara every step of the way.
You’ll also be wondering how the hell anyone can survive the things that Lara does. From the moment the game starts this poor girl is getting beat up. Scrapes and bruises are the least of her worries as getting knocked unconscious, impalement, and backbreaking tumbles are a common occurrence that she must endure in order to escape the clutches of Yamatai. In fact, it honestly felt that the narrative of the game took a back seat to Lara’s survival. When you’re rooting for Lara, you’re not rooting for her to save the day. You honestly just want her to survive it.
Survival is a theme that rings true throughout the entirety of the game. When Lara first arrives on Yamatai she must fend for herself, building a fire and hunting for her own food, apologizing as she cuts open her first kill. However, once the hour long tutorial is over, taking you through things like the basics of climbing and leveling up, these things are largely forgotten. This is a good thing, and helps the pacing of the game tremendously. It was good to show that Lara needed heat and food to eat, but making it a crucial part of the game would have drastically slowed down plot and character development. Escaping Yamatai with her friends and surviving the onslaught of the cultist island natives drives Lara forward.
As Lara carves her way through the leagues of deranged men she’ll earn experience and salvage. The experience points gained by reaching certain points in the story, finding hidden treasures, hunting, and killing enemies will help the player purchase skills that will aid Lara in her escape. The salvage will help upgrade her low tier weapons in to high grade body count factories. Seriously. I hope I’m not the only one who avoids the explosive tipped arrowheads for as long as possible. There was just something so satisfying about taking out wave after wave of bad guys with the nice thwip sound effect emanating from a regular old arrow to the skull.
While the hoards of bad guys don’t come early, they do happen often once they actually start. Luckily, combat is one of the areas that Tomb Raider shines. It’s just fun. Exploding barrels and watching the bodies fly, pulling enemies off ledges with your rope arrow, silently killing an unsuspecting enemy while avoiding detection from one that stands just a few feet ahead, headshots, headshots, and more headshots. You won’t catch yourself sighing when you hear a cultist shout “I found the outsider!” that’s for sure. Even one of the final encounters that is just one giant bullet sponge is fun as you dodge your way to safety and blast him in the back with a finely tuned shotgun. My only gripe with the combat here is that many of the upgrades to Lara’s skill set and arsenal are not entirely necessary and don’t exactly fit the survival themes. Some of the earlier fights with wolves and the crazed inhabitants of Yamatai were so much more “heart in throat” than the larger scale battles with the games more threatening enemies.
Luckily jumping off ledges, zip-lining across the island, scaling large cliffs, and the fear of watching Lara die a horrifyingly gruesome death (I seriously lost count of how many times I had to cringe and turn away from the screen ) keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the entirety of the game. The platforming sections of Tomb Raider are also very well done, and done sparingly enough that they don’t weigh down the narrative. There’s no need for Lara to exclaim that she’s tired of climbing (I’m looking at you, Nathan Drake) halfway through the game. Additionally, the inclusion of one-off tombs throughout Yamatai provides the player with the opportunity to combine the platforming sections with some of their upgraded weapons and skills. While I enjoyed this little nod to Lara’s future as she collects the hidden artifacts, as an avid Tomb Raider fan I didn’t find the puzzles as challenging as I would have hoped. Never the less they are still a welcomed inclusion and a nice break from all the action.
Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider is a fantastic game that needs to be experienced. The breathtaking visuals, sweeping score, and alarmingly authentic voice acting only add to one hell of a game that helps blur the line between Hollywood blockbuster and interactive media. If you pledge allegiance to Game then you owe it to yourself to add Tomb Raider to your collection.
I’m giving Tomb Raider 4.5 out of 5 stars.