The lights are on
Score: 9.0 / 10
PC - Xbox 360 - PS3
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: March 5th, 2013
Lara Croft has always been the seasoned adventurer that looks danger in the face with two pistols at the ready. She was always confident, headstrong, and fearless; but in the latest reboot from Crystal Dynamics, this prequel shows a younger, less adept Lara. The unsteady hand when she first raises a weapon, the heavy breathing as she sneaks past guards, and the utter fear in her eyes as she narrowly escapes danger time and time again show a more human side to the classic hero we all know. Through it all, the game never paints her as a damsel in distress, but rather showcases the building of one of gaming's most iconic heroines.
One of these boats is bound to have a Band-Aid
Lara's struggle to survive the island is nothing easy, and there are subtleties to the game that really add the appropriate tension. Lara grabbing her side in pain and bracing against the wall as a player moves close to it, quieting herself when guards approach whilst cuing the player that an opportunity for stealth is ahead, or the sporadic breathing when moving carefully across a rusted ledge all bring that extra sense of peril. It is this attention to detail that not only makes Lara more sympathetic, but amplifies the overall thrilling atmosphere.
This attention to detail is not only applied to the mood, but assists in crafting a visual marvel. There is more than one instance where the game will let you look out over a cliff to your destination, and oftentimes I would forget that I could control my character with the misinterpretation that I was in a cut scene. Textures are finely detailed, and the lighting's play with shadows brings memorable moments in cave exploration where your only source of vision is the torch at your side. It is the blockbuster set pieces that bring everything together. Climbing a burning skyscraper while being fired upon by the enemy as debris and bullets fly past your head, all while backed by a fully original and very fitting soundtrack is a common occurrence that gets your heart pumping and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
How did they find a helicopter?
The campaign is an evolving adventure that plays on the unexpected. Alternating between cover shooting gunplay, scripted set pieces, and seamless platforming you never know what could be around the corner. A firefight could erupt and before you can finish everyone off, you find the platform you are on will shake and tip sideways turning into a timed platforming climb. There are consecutive upgrades and new enemy types also thrown your way, which keeps you trying new tactics and new gear in both terrain traversal and shootouts. The minor inconveniences of the campaign were the quick time events, in which the timing and display take a few attempts to adapt to. The unfortunate result of failing these is a surprisingly gruesome death sequence. I found myself striving to never miss a QTE due to this facet, as watching Lara thrash and and convulse is like transitioning from an action movie to a horror film.
The collector at heart will find that despite a linear path, Tomb Raider does not feel like a closed off string of rooms. Exploration of each area reveals plenty of collectibles, optional challenges, and even hidden tombs; assisted by the helpful "hunter vision" that highlights enemies in addition to objects of interest. These tombs offer a challenge room usually involving a physics puzzle to progress. Sadly these puzzles are fairly straight forward with only a few that actually take time to solve, and for being labeled a tomb they are awfully small. Regardless of your optional task, you are rewarded with scrap metal that can be used to upgrade weapons and unlock new secondary firing modes for most weapons. There is also a leveling system to specialize in certain skill trees, but you tend to fill out all three branches by the close of the game, missing an opportunity for the game to offer players a chance to outfit Lara to their preferred method of approach.
I am channeling my inner Katniss
A competitive multiplayer is also available, featuring the expected four survivors vs four scavangers matchup. These includes deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag inspired game modes. The interesting twist in each map is the ability to rig traps for your enemies, involving various rigs that can crush your opponents or set them on fire. Slight differences between the factions like the Scavengers ability to zip up rope lines will matter little as you swap after each round; giving even time with both allegiances. The mode comes complete with unlockable characters, weapon modifications, and player loadouts. It can be fun to play around with, but feels very cookie cutter to what you have seen before.
Crystal Dynamics took a risk in going back to the beginning, but it was a risk that paid off. Tomb Raider looks and feels like the adventure game its daring heroine deserves. I found myself asking what they could do to a top a particular sequence, only to turn the corner and find one just as thrilling. Lara's new voice and look is a perfect fit for this reboot, and the attention to detail in both gameplay and look give an incredible, seamless display. Daring shootouts, frantic scrambles across collapsing structures, and relentless foes push Lara in every chapter, and you find that as her resolve strengthens, so does your determination to see her through to the end.
Nice review. I'm getting through the meat of Tomb Raider right now, and despite some wonky QTEs I'm having fun with it.