The most inaccurate title since Second Life
Tomb Raider is the 2013 reboot of the series, following this crazy trend of re-using game titles for no real purpose (I’m looking at you Need For Speed: Most Wanted). It goes back to re-establish the origins of the story, with Lara Croft simply travelling to do some archaeology and exploring before she gets mixed up in some mass murder and animal cruelty. While closing comments are usually saved for the end. I’d just like to establish now, I adored this game, and you should too.
Anyone who’s seen the game in action immediately draws comparisons to the Uncharted games, a series which was surely inspired in some way by the Tomb Raider games of yore. The graphics are stunning with broad vistas although you only get to explore small sections of those for the most part. Fantastic lighting and texture effects do give it a similar feel to the last two Uncharted games and a heavy use of dipping in and out of water only take it further. The combat too is superficially similar, with Lara scampering in and out of cover, picking off enemies with surprising precision given how traumatised she appears to be by everything. But while this comparison is valid, it doesn’t detract from the game at all. The Uncharted series was mostly fantastic, with Uncharted 2 being one of the best action adventure games of this generation. Tomb Raider has obviously taken cues from what worked in that game, but then it’s also gone further and turned into something unique and exciting
It’s quite a long game, falling in the region of 10-15 hours depending on how many collectables you want to grab. On medium difficulty it took me just over 12 to get 100% found but that was without any multiplayer and missing many achievements.
The game’s opening is purposefully slow-burning, taking you through some exciting escape scenes and then a more carefully paced section where you start to develop the skills necessary for survival. This is no DayZ, and surviving is more about gather ‘scrap’ by killing enemies and discovering items that you can then use to improve your weapons and equipment, but it feels like survival. You watch Lara shiver and steady herself as she explores, taking shelter and nervously looking around in the darkness. She recoils from dangers and unpleasantness, but she keeps going, and you too will want to keep going. There’s always something worthwhile to drive you and this is one of the game’s major strengths. Whether it’s simply finding a way to stay safe, trying to get rescued or helping a friend, there’s always a believable reason to be doing whatever you’re doing in the main plot. Of course at times you’ll want to cut loose and go murder some deer or raid some tombs, but this is optional and a welcome choice. The game is fairly open world and you’re welcome to go back and fast travel to any area you’ve been to previously to find collectables and otherwise explore. This takes a lot of the pressure off the feeling of missing something, and even adds some Metroidvania type qualities, as you unlock new abilities and find yourself able to access more of the map.
The settings are diverse and interesting, from dense forests to mountaintop bases and even a beach. Tomb Raider’s trademark mysticism does come in to the story, but it’s mostly handled in a mature way and suspension of disbelief is easy to achieve as the game builds up to its climax. There are some tombs in the game, but they are hidden mini-dungeons that each focus on a single puzzle. They’re a lot of fun and reasonably challenging, without getting tedious thanks to each one only taking ten minutes or so to complete. The only problem is there aren’t enough of them.
It takes a long while to get a gun, so when you do it feels almost intimidating. Lara’s first kills are shocking to her, and therefore to you as the player. Once you grab a pistol, it suddenly seems almost too easy. Much has been made of the violence in the game, but I think it’s been handled well. You go from meek student-on-a-gap-year to bloodthirsty killer within the space of the game, and you can see how it happens. Lara gets more confident with each kill through the beginning of the game, and as she sees atrocities committed around the island and her friends are taken she can justify her actions. By the end of the game she explicitly doesn’t care and her dialogue and animations reflects this, taunting enemies and striding into dangerous rooms armed to the teeth.
There’s always another thing to do, another weapon to find or create, a secret to uncover, or a section of map to traverse to, the pacing is kept up well throughout. At no point did I get bored, even when hunting down the last few collectables, thanks to some clever design decisions. You have a kind of sixth sense scanning mode that lets you look around for collectables, which are highlighted in yellow, and can be added to the map with certain upgrades. This makes finding the collectables relatively easy, it’s just a matter of getting to them.
Thankfully Tomb Raider hasn’t gone all out Gears of War just yet and jumping around is as vital to the series as it has ever been. Traversing the terrain is an absolute joy and Lara’s animations are convincing and solid, almost up there with Assassin’s Creed. You have to hit X to hammer your pickaxe into a wall that you leap out and it lands with a satisfying thud into the rock.Little touches like that add some weight to the proceedings, and a tiny bit of physicality that’s important in connecting the player to the environment. The physics engine is also used to great effect, with man of the puzzles based on rope physics and even wind. It’s all very simplified, but it feels convincing when you’re under the pressure of time and gunfire.
Multiplayer is less impressive, and has taken much more inspiration from Uncharted. It’s passable but I can’t imagine it will hold many people’s attention for long, especially with the insta-killing bows making most games into an elaborate game of cowboys and indians. There’s fun to be had but it’s no reason to buy the game.
A much better reason to buy it is the price tag, at £29.99 currently on Steam (and often available for less) it’s almost a steal, and a must for any fans of the franchise, or for that matter Uncharted. I’m looking forward to seeing what else can be done as the series moves on, but I’m a little worried that the drama and tension created in this due to Lara’s development into the Tomb Raider we know will be missing. From the first night cowering in a cave around a tiny fire, to the moment you pick up a second pistol, you’ll have a hell of a ride.