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.
A 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.
Tomb 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.
Some 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.