Tomb Raider Review by Andy Urquhart (PS3)
Cast your mind back to 1996 in a world before the Internet was popularized when everything was
new and exciting a little game called Tomb Raider heralded the arrival of Lara Croft,
the impossibly portioned heroine, and a franchise was born. But even without the titular
Lara this was a fabulous game full of wonderment!
The puzzles were enjoyable and tricky, ammo was limited, enemies were
sparse so when you came up against, even a simple wolf, it became an intense battle to the
death. The game threw you into a world and locked the gate leaving you totally immersed.
Sadly the series very much struggled to recapture the charm of the first game and after
umpteen entries was put out to pasture.
Fast forward to 2013 and the dawn of a new age for Tomb Raider. A complete series reboot
taking place before the events of TR 1996 and serving as an origin story for Lara, the game
sees a young Ms Croft and her motley assortment of ship mates set of in search of treasure on a
ship heading towards the dragons triangle (picture the Bermuda Triangle but much worse).
Before they make it there is a storm and the ship starts to break apart and eventually sinks
but not before we have to run climb and jump our way to safety. Eventually Lara finds herself
on dry land on a beach only to then be knocked out and strung up upside down by parties
unknown but judging by the surroundings (picture skulls and fire and lots of blood) they
are not the friendliest of folks!
The initial part of the game is fairly linear while you get to grips with the controls during
exploring and fighting, however you are still completely free to explore the environments as
you wish and happily there is plenty to discover tucked away in caves, bushes and old military
equipment like trucks and bunkers left there from a previous regime. We discover there were
others who also survived the wreck and through locating a short wave radio manage to contact
them. The backstory of the crew is told through a video camera Lara finds with some of the
crews belongings and serves as a great mechanic of, rather than having forced in flashbacks
as she meets the characters again, Lara sitting at a fire covered in mud blood and soaking
wet clinging to the last normal thing she can remember as her world spirals out of control.
She is really put through an emotional wringer during the first hour of the game and has to
come to terms with everything so fast you really do feel as if you are undertaking the journey
with her. This is a feeling I have been trying to recapture in gaming since the original Tomb
Raider came out for the Sega Saturn that wonderment and genuine anxiety at what is round each
corner but the courage to face it and to come out the other side.
The game is very dark and gritty but does have some lighthearted moments (the banter with the
crew in particular the Scottish guy is very funny) and the overall tone if the game is geared
more towards survival than locating a treasure. This adds a hell of a lot of realism to the
game that is somewhat missing from similar action adventure games (cough uncharted cough).
The qtes in the game are not obtrusive at all and while in most games they almost take you
out of the moment altogether here they intensify the severity of the situation (miss one button
press against one of the games many wolfs and you are dead). The gameplay is very instinctive
and easy to get to grips with and you really do fear for Lara's life especially when someone
gets up close to you as Lara has no real hand to hand combat skills and her only option is to
shove her opponents. Now this felt weird at first as we are so used to having some kind of
melee attack but it makes complete sense as whilst Lara has some training in shooting bows and
guns she is a complete novice when it comes to hand to hand fighting. We do have stealth elements
to the gameplay both metal gear style sneaking past enemies and assassins creed style silent
stealth kills using Lara's bow to strangle the enemy. We also have environmental kills like
blowing up exploding barrels and shooting lamps to spread fire around, the game leaves it
entirely up to you how you want to take out the enemies.
In addition to this we also gain xp for kills, discoveries, finding treasure and completing
Segments of the story xp adds up and once you level up you get a skill point to invest in a
new ability so you can tailor Lara to how you want to play the game (the options are not vast
however and I'd say that this feature could probably have been fleshed out more, note to
developer - use this more in the next game!) as well as the skill mechanic we can also use
salvage collected from various crates strewn around the island to upgrade our weapons
(and yes the upgrades are believable, it's not like we are making a silencer out of a bamboo
shoot, like taping 2 magazines together to make reloading faster or making a longer butte for
the gun to steady aim)
Graphically this game is stunning the characters are all rendered beautifully (inaccurate mouth
movements aside) and the environments are lush and varied with possibly the best use of lighting
I've ever seen in a game. And for the first time a game has managed something first hinted at in
Final Fantasy VIII - seamless cutscene into gameplay segments, there is no difference here at
all (and no loading screens either for that matter!) it all adds up to being one of the most
immersive games in a long long time.
Lara has also had a major redesign since her last outing and it absolutely works she looks
stunning, they have gone for a more toned frame this time around and her previously ridiculous
assets have been scaled back to a more realistic size and the actress they have playing her hits
the mark every time her delivery is flawless and is one of the best video game performances of
recent times. The supporting cast is also excellent, from the crazy Glaswegian Grim who loves a
scrap, Lara's pal Kim who is utterly hapless but loveable, Jonah who is a big burly tattooed,
mohawked guy who has a ponytail and still manages to look like a badass (I hope we see more of
him in the next game), the scheming documentary maker Alex, the only forgettable character is
Reyes who spends most of the game being pissed at Lara for choosing the direction that eventually
led to the boat crashing. And finally Roth who is equal parts Liam Neeson and Sean Bean and plays
the mentor/father figure to Lara helping her through the early parts of the game with advice and
help most notably in the scene where he uses a sniper rifle which turns out to be one of the best
moments in the game.
Story wise Tomb Raider is fairly straight forward - you and your crew are searching for lost
treasure the ship you are on ends up in a crazy storm and the crew ends stranded on an
island, slightly reminiscent of the island from the tv show Lost, only much much darker, and
everything goes to shit from there. We find Lara alone hanging upside down in a room full of bodies
and skulls upon escaping she is chased by a man determined to do something to her (he looks hungry).
Lara has to act purely on instinct for this opening part of the game and You really get wrapped up
in the desperation of it all feeling that one false move and she is dead (which is often the case
with the QTes here) this all adds to the tension and grounds the game entirely in the real world
even later in the game where one or two things are a little more fantastical (after all it is a
tomb raider game remember) it is still entirely believable. The game throws you into an island
full of violent sunworshipers who are essentially a cult entirely full of men (we can only assume
they sacrificed all the women to the sun goddess in attempts to free her soul, perhaps that is
why there are so many skulls on the island) there are many events and adventures (which i will
bot go into here but safe to say it is immensely engrossing) along the way to the conclusion
which is definitely an apt ending for the game and the nod to past tomb raiders was very well done
indeed. When the game is finished you can return to the island to mop up any of the collectables
you may have missed first time around, this is likely as there are literally hundreds of GpS
locators, relics and documents to collect
I must also give a mention to the numerous death scenes in the game which are for the most part
very well done (except for the falling ones which happen alot, with Lara crumpling into a heap
and screaming when she hits the deck , seriously no one falls like that, all the other deaths
however are extremely well done from being choked out during the infamous "rape" scene (which is
certainly nothing close to rape but certainly implies that, the guy is definitely after more
than a cuddle, but as we know Lara struggles free and nothing happens) to the superb water
deaths where Lara is sucked under by the current and impaled on rocks and who could forget
being stabbed through the neck by a giant pointy stick! Torture porn simulator it may well
be but it does all this in a realistic and believable way and every new death scene leaves
you thinking holy crap I'm glad that's not me rather than how daft does that look.
the Multiplayer is for the most part frantic and fast paced the maps are vast and varied and
it is genuinely great fun to play. through levelling and acquiring salvage you can improve
you skills and upgrade your weapons as well as buy different character skins so there's plenty
to keep you going here. though occasionally when all the spaces are not full the maps seem to
be almost too big and you will spend alot of time running around trying to find the enemy.
Though this has a only happened a couple of times and as more people start playing it will
likely become less of a problem.
Its actually tricky to find to much wrong with the game without being very nitpicky but there
are a few things which could be improved for the inevitable sequel, such as the ability to set
a custom way point, we are simply so used to these from the Assassins creed series, that its
actually a shock that there is not one included. I would also say there were almost too many
enemies in the game and the balance was skewed slightly more towards shooting than exploration.
I came across a few odd glitches in the sound as well where a guard would shout and the sound byte
would repeat over and over like a crazy Swedish Dj shouting over some thumping bass, very bizarre.
The tombs were also rather short essentially each one consists of one puzzle and a chest, for the
next game I would suggest that Eidos follows the example set in Assassins creed brotherhood with the
huge climbing puzzle tombs as well as adding in more genuine puzzles to the game but like I said
I am being very nitpicky here this is a fantastic game and easily the best game of 2013 so far,
expect it to be in plenty Game of the Year lists come December.
It is inevitable that this game will be compared to the Uncharted series (and rightly so!) but this
game is so much more than just "Uncharted with tits" while you shove Nathan Drake relentlessly down
a linear path towards treasure or away from enemies with little to no exploring along the way, with
Lara Croft we finally have an opportunity to explore a vast and varied (mostly) open world
environment to do with what we choose. The game also draws parallels with the TV show lost and
captures the feeling that you are indeed stranded on a deserted island with nothing but savage locals
and some kind of dodgy militia presence for company separated from her crew Lara must adapt to
survive and that is where this game ultimately succeeds so spectacularly. It utterly immerses you in
Lara's world on this island in a way adventure games have failed to do (for me) since that first
encounter with those wolves in that cave back in the Saturn days. This game is better than every
entry in the uncharted series to date and Naughty Dog will have to do something very special indeed to
reclaim its place at the top of the tree.
Move over Nathan Drake, you have been an apt steward but the queen of video games has returned to
reclaim her crown and she won't give it up without a fight!
Overall Score - 94%