Review: Tomb Raider

So Tomb Raider is back, and that’s always something to be excited about because who doesn’t love platforming, puzzle solving and gun-slinging with Lara Croft, one of the longest-standing heroins in video game history? The most notable revivals of this classic franchise in the past were Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) and the spin-off series Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light which I actually found to be very enjoyable but did lack the intimacy of the third person experience by resorting to an isometric gameplay style.

I was really apprehensive when I saw the previews for this game at E3 over the summer – because it seemed Crystal Dynamics was trying too hard to make Lara Croft’s adventures like those of Nathan Drake, whose Uncharted trilogy had blown up over the past years and overshadowed Ms. Croft’s adventures.

203160_screenshots_2013-04-09_00009A lot of people, myself included,  thought this was just going to be a female-themed Uncharted game. After the previews showed a bunch of set pieces and QTEs with little to no gameplay, it was difficult to determine what this game was going to be about. In fact, I think a lot of us felt it was just going to be a third person shooter, though I’m happy to report after playing the game that this is not entirely the case. Although Tomb Raider was definitely inspired by the cinematic action from Nathan Drake’s adventurous romps, it also does a whole lot more. Tomb Raider 2013 is a superbly told origins story in a survival shooter setting that still manages to be a decent Tomb Raider game.

Tomb Raider 2013 was a great step forward for Lara Croft as a character and for the franchise in general. Crystal Dynamics introduces her to us as a college archeology student who overcomes amazing odds when she and her research crew are stranded on a mysterious island; the game doesn’t slow down for a minute.

Rhianna Pratchett’s writing made Lara’s ordeal very believable and the characters did not feel fake or too forced.  Varied, quality voice acting and very impressive character models and animations give the presentation an extra layer of shine not always present in games.  Tomb Raider looks amazing too. The PC version looks and runs great on medium settings for most video cards but also comes with a host of other graphical options for those with higher end video cards.

cliffTomb Raider has some insanely cinematic and frankly over-the-top set pieces and is a very action-oriented game with robust third person shooting mechanics, cover and upgrade system. That being said, it also draws the proper inspiration from the platforming and puzzle solving of previous Tomb Raider titles that made this franchise successful in the first place. Searching for collectibles and adventuring into tombs feels very genuine to the Tomb Raider experience and the game shines during moments of exploration and discovery in its larger spaces and puzzle rooms.  The survival feel and improved shooting mechanics make this game all around fun to play.

Tomb Raider succeeds when the player is left to explore the lush zones and glorious vistas Crystal Dynamics has put together. Yes, the fast-reflexes of set-pieces are fun, but this game is at its best when everything slows down and the player is left to explore. There are a lot of collectibles in this game and I had to explore every nook and cranny of each open zone to find all of them.

203160_screenshots_2013-04-06_00001Some provide more insight into the characters, others educate on the history of the island and some secrets make Lara more powerful. A fast-travel system allowed me to travel back to previous zones at any point in the game so I could continue to seek out these treasures and secrets with my newly acquired skills and tools.

This collection and exploration stands out to make the high points of the game and I think Tomb Raider would have been better if there was even more focus placed on these elements. The game looks and feels great and that’s a big plus. The contextual menus for everything keep the HUD to a minimum allowing your eyes to be dazzled by the amazing scenery. I rarely came across an area that didn’t feel like it had gone through multiple stages of polish, and combined with outstanding sound work, the world really comes to life.

Overall, the game is fantastic, but sometimes I could not tell if I was playing a third person shooter featuring Lara Croft or a genuine Tomb Raider game. This game tends to linger between the two and it suffers overall. I know this is a reboot of the franchise, but had Crystal Dynamics decided to put even more emphasis on puzzles and adventuring gear rather than weapons, this would have been the Tomb Raider game of my dreams. Instead of Lara vision, there could have been a map, and instead of the modern “bloody-screen” health system, there could have been first-aid that Lara had to use to heal. I spent a lot of time salvaging for supplies anyway, so this would have been a logical choice.

That being said, the game was still very enthralling to play and I intend to give it a full second playthrough later in the year. For the future, I think Crystal Dynamics can make Tomb Raider more about puzzles and treasure than ever before now that they have re-established Lara Croft in this amazing adventure game.


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About Alex Boccia

An undergrad at DePaul University, Alex has been playing games since the age of four, when he received a GameBoy Color as a Christmas gift. Ever since, he's been playing whatever games he can get his hands on. Email with any thoughts:

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  • matt666

    I know this is a reboot but its nothing compared to the originals, the originals were more difficult, had a longer story line and where her duel signature pistols and where her hot shorts?

    • Alex Boccia

      My disqus is being stupid, I dont know why, see my response above!

      • matt666

        that’s my problem I am usually skeptical, most of the time when they do a reboot or try a new approach with a game I usually find it boring or over the top like MGS Rising, put I respect your reply, I was brought up on the originals from when I was 4 when I first got my first PS1, and in my opinion the further the tomb raider games went on the further it got easier (so I fount the tomb raiders on the ps1 the best) (yet again my opinion) I like that with a lot of games, my girlfriend tells me to try it, so I might get a second hand copy and I guess I could give it a go

        • Alex Boccia

          Yeah that’s very much the landscape of games these days, quite a shame. I’m definitely more lenient and it’s allowed me to roll with the changes pretty easy but you’re still standing pretty firm on what you expect from your games. I think a secondhand copy would definitely do you well. In the meantime, keep fighting the good fight. Here’s to hoping Crystal Dynamics really pushes the limits with Tomb Raider in their next title, they’re definitely capable of it.

          • matt666

            I heave to tell you when I played the reboot of what my opinion of it is then

  • Guest

    Yes I realize the limitations of this game, most of them are because of the fact that Tomb Raider 2013 is a reboot. I think Crystal Dynamics did a very good job, however. I was very pleasantly surprised by the Tomb Raider moments that shone through in this game because I came in with the assumption that there would be absolutely none. That being said, this game has far too few puzzles (although I guess you could sort of justify the overworlds as massive puzzles) and too little enemy variety for its large focus on action, I will give you that because I agree.

    I tried to include a bit of recap on the past few Tomb Raider titles because let’s be honest they were pretty poor, with the exception of guardian of light. I think Guardian of Light was definitely the better “Tomb Raider” game because that game had a heavy, heavy focus on the puzzles and some pretty insane combat against some zany enemies. That title was definitely a favorite for me and it’s unfortunate that CD won’t be making anymore of those.

    As for the shorts…I think her pants are better, really. Lara still looks nice and she’s still a badass and that’s what matters to me at least. Crystal Dyanamics did make clear that they wanted to focus on her as an adventurous archaeologist instead of a backflipping bimbo from the 90s, which I think was a good move. However if you’re a shorts guy, I understand your pain completely. Dual pistols will come back with the next game, they foreshadowed it in the final minutes of the game so don’t despair.

    This game is very much like Resident Evil 4 in that it is a superb action game with occasional horror-esque elements and an overall mystery, which I found was good enough to keep my interest, and for that reason I enjoyed this game a lot. For me that was a winning formula, regardless of whether or not it stuck to franchise tradition but I agree with you, the puzzles need to be harder.

    If you’ve yet to play Tomb Raider I recommend picking it up on sale for 25 dollars or something if you’re feeling skeptical. Despite its obvious limitations you may still find the game enjoyable if you’re a fan of action/adventure.