Tomb Raider is one of those franchises that has been around forever. Whether you are a lifelong fan, or someone who buys different installments periodically, there is always something to do with Lara Croft on her insane adventures. This time we take a look at the plainly titled Tomb Raider, a reboot by Crystal Dynamics that hopes to bring the franchise back to level of glory it had on the original Playstation. I can only hope that there is something as silly and exciting as locking the butler in the freezer to keep me entertained.
Game: Tomb Raider
Published By: Square Enix
Developed By: Crystal Dynamics
Review Sample Provided By: Square Enix
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (Review Sample)
Genre: Action Adventure, Platformer
Release Date: March 5th, 2013
Written By: Brennon
Screenshots By: Brennon
The story of this game follows Lara Croft on her very first expedition. She sets out with a small crew of a television reality show on a ship called Endurance. The final goal is to find the lost city of Yamatai, which Lara believes to be located somewhere in the Dragon’s Triangle near Japan. The ship is caught in a storm on the way their and completely demolished. The crew is then stranded on a strange island and left to survive. Immediately it is apparent that there are strange happenings on this island as Lara is chased by a weird being and dragged away from the rest of the surviving crew. After she escapes Lara wanders around the island finding more evidence of a culture currently living on the island. Lara wanders around, finding more of her friends and discovering more of the secrets of the island. During her exciting adventures she learns more about the elusive figure named Himiko, who legend has it, is a very vital part of the island.
The gameplay in Tomb raider is much of what we have come to expect and love from the series. There are plenty of weapons and enemies to use them on. There are also tons of tombs to explore and treasures to shove greedily into your pockets. Another interesting addition this time around was journals. The journals are just books that you can locate and collect around the world that come with audio clips and text attached. Each person’s journal has several entries scattered around the ruins of Yamatai. Each entry reveals a little more about that persons personal story and a little more about the overall story of the game.
There are a few different things that this Tomb Raider game has to offer that I haven’t seen previously. The first is the fact that the game is entirely open world. There is a storyline, and you do have to follow it, but you can go back and explore previous areas to get ahold of artifacts or journal entries that you didn’t have the tools to get ahold of previously. Another new addition has to do with the open world part of the game as well. The game now has a built in salvage and upgrade system. The salvage system just allows you to gather parts as you explore the map and loot the corpses of enemies, and the upgrade system allows you to use these parts to upgrade your weapons, and tools to help with doing more damage and being able to get your hands on things what were previously out of your reach. The final addition is the skill points that were added. The skill points can be used to upgrade one of three different talent trees to help with different things ranging from survival to weapon deadliness.
There are both things I wish there were more of and things I wish there were less of in the game. The things I wish there were less of are the quick time events and the silly cut scene events where you must hold forward to progress. I will cover these both a bit more later on in the review. The thing I wish there were more of is puzzles. Puzzles are what really make the Tomb Raider franchise one of the greats. The stories are all fine, and the gameplay as far as gunfights and jumping around is fun enough, but I want more puzzles! There are plenty of puzzles hidden away in the form of tombs to explore, and with the open world format of the game, you can easily stumble upon these at any point while playing, but I want more puzzles in the game. Make me work for the story. I can appreciate that it isn’t too difficult to just progress in the story, and someone who isn’t particularly interested in puzzles can progress without encountering many (if any, I don’t know I haven’t completed the story yet) puzzles. Like I said though, puzzles are an integral part of the franchise and I feel that introducing people to them, even just the tiniest bit throughout the story would make them fall in love.
This Tomb Raider game does include multiplayer, which at first I was very excited about because I believe it is the first game in the series to do so. There are a few different game types, the obvious team deathmatch, a mode called rescue, a mode called cry for help, and a free for all mode. I was excited to try out the rescue and cry for help game types because they sounded interesting and unique. Unfortunately after 30 minutes of trying to get into a rescue or cry for help game I was unable. I attempted to both ranked and casual game modes to no avail. This is really frustrating because I was for once looking forward to playing a multiplayer mode and was left out in the rain when it refused to put me into a game.
I did test the team deathmatch mode. There was a decent amount of customizability in the multiplayer. First up you are able to pick your skin for both factions in the game. As the “good guys” you can select from any of the main characters in the game. On the Solarii side you can pick from any of the enemies that you happen to come across during the main storyline. This gives a good amount of variation on character models and allows for a more visually appealing multiplayer experience. You can also customize the weapon load out and specialties that your character has between games. Better weapons, abilities and character skins will all cost you points however, and you will be playing for quite some time before you can start slaying people as Lara Croft.
The gameplay itself was quite generic in my eyes and it felt like another multiplayer mode that was tacked on to appease the masses. It certainly isn’t bad, and I enjoyed myself playing it, but I didn’t find it too special and probably wouldn’t waste away the nights killing hordes of enemies. Plus, with the difficulty finding any matches in the other game types I don’t think that I would keep coming back just to play death match over and over again.
This installment in the Tomb Raider franchise, much like the others, is a third person shooter. It is certainly aimed at being an arcade type game rather than a realistic one, and thus handles as such. The controls are much as you would expect, W,A,S,D move Lara around the map and the mouse aims her different weapons and tools. Spacebar is used to jump and shift is used to dodge enemies during combat, while E is used to interact with just about everything you come across. Q is used to use Lara’s unique ability called “Survival Instinct” which is basically a hint system. It highlights areas that can be interacted with in a yellow glow for easier identification.
The one annoying bit about the controls is something I talked about in the gameplay as well. As I mentioned, the game is littered with quick time events. Normally I don’t mind them, but they occur way too often, and seem somewhat sporadic in nature. For instance, one time I was meant to hit left and right repeatedly which was done on the A and D buttons, and the next time I was meant to do the same thing, it was done with the left and right arrow keys. I haven’t the vaguest idea why it switched which keys I was meant to hit, but it was extra annoying when I failed the event three or four times before I found out I was supposed to be hitting different keys. The other thing about the quick time controls is that they often require you to hit the F, E, or mouse button. Sometimes you are meant to hit the key repeatedly, sometimes you are meant to hit it only once, but with certain timing.
I don’t mind quick time events, just don’t overuse them. I’d much rather play the game than do constant events that don’t allow me to enjoy the game. This applies for the events where it is basically a cut scene and I have to hold a button to progress it. If I am climbing a ladder, let me feel like I am in control and go up and down the ladder as I please. Hell, let me jump off to my death if I am feeling crazy enough, but this nonsense of one way cut scene-esque gameplay that I have little to no control over is just annoying. I didn’t mind it in Heavy Rain, but that’s because Heavy Rain owned up to what it was, it embraced the fact that it was a giant movie with quick time events, and it worked because it was honest with us. I just feel that quick time events, especially too many of them cheapen the gameplay experience. Video games are art, and a quick time event is just like a five year old throwing paint at your masterpiece.
The game does also feature gamepad support, and will instantly detect a gamepad when it is plugged in. It allows you to switch from gamepad to mouse and keyboard on the fly which is awesome for someone like me who switches back and forth repeatedly to take screenshots and play the game. And while the mouse and keyboard controls are fully customizable, the gamepad controls cannot be edited at all. When I say that there is no customizability, I mean it. You literally cannot edit the gamepad controls in the options menu; in fact it seems as if the game doesn’t even recognize that you have a gamepad plugged in. Everything still functions properly, and the game obviously has a preset button configuration, but there appears to be no way to change it whatsoever.
Graphics and Audio
If one thing is for sure about Tomb Raider it is that it has some of the most brilliant graphics I have seen this year. I actually played the game with two different video cards and two different settings. With the GTX 460 and the game on mostly medium graphics the game looked good, and ran fine, but it certainly wasn’t anything to write home about. The game also still looked fine on low graphics, but many of the things that made the game great were being missed out on.
With the GTX 660 and the settings all on ultra the game looked amazing. The biggest difference I noticed was with the minor details and oddly enough the hair particles. NVIDIA and Crystal Dynamics put a lot of work into the TressFX system that really takes Lara’s hair to that next level of realism. It does take quite a bit of processing power to turn TressFX on however, so if your video card isn’t the best and you are experiencing framerate lag I would suggest turning this off.
The one complaint I do have with the game is that the scenery always seems to be the same. I get it, its Tomb Raider, and she is out raiding tombs, but please give me a little bit of variability. I can only look at the same trees, rocks, and corpses for so long before I crave something more. This is probably me just being picky at this point, but I did find the scenery to get a bit dull after a long session.
The audio in the game is surprisingly pleasing. The voice acting is all very good and even though the cast isn’t very well known I was pleasantly surprised. Normally there is a weak link or two that really stands out to me when playing a game with a lot of dialogue, but I have no complaints in this particular game. Even the journal entries, which I kind of expected to get less love, were of awesome quality. The ambient noise was also acceptable, but would probably get a bit stale after a while if it was all you heard. Luckily there was plenty of dialogue and not a stale moment for me. The guns did sound a big generic, but in a game where all other audio did well, I found myself not hearing the gunfire as much.
Overall and Final Verdict
Overall I think Tomb Raider is a good game. I love the graphics and audio, and the story was interesting enough to keep my attention. The gameplay was pretty good for the most part, but the overuse of annoying quick time events frustrated me to no end. The open world style of play was a welcome change to the franchise and I enjoyed going back to uncover artifacts that I previously didn’t have the tools to obtain. I wish there had been more puzzles directly entwined within the storyline. Sure I can go and explore the island and find the different tombs with the puzzles hidden within, but I want them force fed to me in the true Tomb Raider style. I would say that it is worth buying. I enjoy the game, and I think others will too, but I don't think it is a game of the year candidate that everyone must own.