I feel like Tomb Raider was one of those series that really needed a clean slate. I wasn’t old enough to really appreciate Lara Croft back when she took the third-person shooter world by storm in ’96. To me, she’s always just kinda been “that Indiana Jones girl with short shorts” and never really felt like an enjoyable character. It should say something about my experience with Crystal Dynamic’s reboot of the aging series when the first thought that went through my head as the credits started rolling was, “Damn, I can’t wait to see what’s next.” Lara is stripped of her ego and obnoxiously large breasts and has them replaced with a more innocent, relatable demeanor. And in a decision that I’m sure the Internet will be very divided on, Lara Croft has been outfitted with actual pants this time around.
Obvious Uncharted Inspirations
There are going to be obvious comparisons to the Uncharted series, and those are valid as the games do share a lot in common. Both have people running around raiding tombs and shooting dudes in the face. Even with those similarities, Tomb Raider still feels like its own experience and brings enough new features and an enjoyable – if slightly cheesy – story into the mix.
Tomb Raider was quite obviously designed to be played with a controller due to the less awkward quick time events and more comfortable platforming with the analog sticks. The gunplay proved to be a royal pain in the ass to actually shoot people while playing with a pad on the PC version due to the lack of Aim Assist. However, that shouldn’t be an issue for the console versions or for any PC player who’s comfortable enough to be able to aim properly and not get fed up with vague control prompts while playing third-person shooters.
Slightly Supernatural, Slightly Serious Story
Generally, when games start off with reasonable stories then delve into things involving the spirits, aliens, mutants, demons, or zombies, I tend to groan and have flashbacks to aliens mauling me in Crysis. Tomb Raider managed to base a story around the supernatural island in The Dragon’s Triangle, a place where all vehicles are inexplicably knocked out with storms, resulting in most of the survivors disappearing onto the island full of mysterious cultists. The craziest part is the writers managed to both keep the story serious and enjoyable at the same time.
The game’s story starts out with young-blooded Lara Croft, the up-and-coming archaeologist, and her crew sailing in the Devil’s Sea with the intent of recording a reality show. Their voyage takes a turn for the worse when Lara decides that sailing into a deadly bit of ocean where hundreds of people go missing would be a great idea. Soon after, they end up crashing on shore of the island and getting dropped into the craziest Mormon block party ever where they’re kidnapped and imprisoned by the island’s occupants. The story could have been really campy and cringe-worthy but the writers behind it pulled it off pretty well.
I’m the sort of fellow that gets pretty bored with having constant narrative thrown in my face. Some people may refer to that as ADD, but I think I just tried to play Metal Gear Solid at too young of an age. The good news is that Tomb Raider‘s story and characters were so well put together that not only did I not skip a single cutscene, I also went through and read almost every journal I could find. I can think of a specific point in the game where I’d been playing for hours and hours on end and was just barreling through when I came across a journal that was written by a character named Jonah and I stopped. I decided to open it up and found myself sitting there reading the whole thing for a good few minutes before resuming my trek to find more faces to blow off with a shotgun. It was these story bits that really fleshed out the characters and got me a lot more invested in seeing how the story wrapped up.
Smooth, Flowing Visual Locks
The visuals in Tomb Raider are stellar, especially when you find yourself on high places like radio towers and tall cliffsides. Here, you have a distant view of the entire island. Barring a few moments, the characters and environments are rock solid and look even more impressive when you’re playing it on the PC with the settings turned up. The real neat feature that’s been tacked on and seems to be a PC exclusive is a little something called TressFX. The downside of it is that you’d probably have to sacrifice your rig to the devil to even get it running smoothly – my brand new PC was running the game at about 15 FPS with it enabled; ouch. It’s just a little treat for the PC enthusiast crowd out there and will remain ticked off for 90% of people until higher tier computers are cheaper.
Middling Gunplay and Platforming
It’s kind of a problem when the thing you spend the most time doing isn’t very fun to do (i.e. shooting dudes in the face). I wouldn’t go as far as saying the gunplay is bad – it’s functional – but it’s more of an obstacle than something that makes the game more enjoyable. The gun upgrade system seems really long-winded and in-depth for something you’re going to ignore. And, as long as you have enough arrows, you wont need any of the other weapons anyways.
The platforming can be pretty finicky sometimes, especially when shimmying or sliding across ropes is involved. Sadly, this is an important aspect of map traversal after you unlock the ability to fire arrows with rope attached to them a few hours in. Also, the edges of cliffs can be kind of ruthless when it comes to moving around them. There were a few times when Lara would just slide sideways and fall 50 feet to her death when I was trying to jump up a ledge or grab onto a rope, though it didn’t happen often enough for it to be any sort of major flaw with the game.
The multiplayer is … not good. Think Uncharted’s multiplayer, but in a very early alpha build. It’s clunky, unresponsive, unimaginative, and it’s been done a million times before, bringing nothing new to the table. It’s hard to keep getting excited about perks and leveling systems when it’s not 2007 anymore and we aren’t currently having our socks rocked by CoD4. I shouldn’t be too harsh on it, though; it doesn’t take away from the overall experience of the game as long as you aren’t a multiplayer junkie looking forward to months of gameplay from it. If that is the case, however, then I heavily suggest looking elsewhere.
If you’re a huge Uncharted fan, buy this game. If you’re a huge Tomb Raider fan, buy this game. If you’re looking for an engaging story in the lieu of Indiana Jones, with plenty of crazy but believable supernatural plot twists, buy this game. Overall I had a great time with Tomb Raider and I don’t regret picking it up one bit. It’s not a terribly long game, clocking in at about 8 hours, but it didn’t overstay its welcome either. I was engaged from beginning to end.
It’s a solid third person shooter with plenty of collectibles and puzzles that make me feel like an actual tomb raider (ya know, without having to touch gross bugs and stuff). It reinvigorated a classic gaming icon and brought the series up to speed with the current state of games and their stories. I wholly recommend it to any fan of Lara Croft or Tomb Raider who’s interested in seeing something new.
Review Platform: PC