It is hard to believe that the world was first introduced to Lara Croft and Tomb Raider in 1996, nearly two decades ago. Since then, there have been numerous sequels and iterations, spanning various platforms and genres. The long-standing series has spawned comic books, novels and even two feature films, starring Angelina Jolie. Lara Croft is an icon of the video game industry, and in the latest title developed by Crystal Dynamics, Tomb Raider has never been better.
Commonly referred to as a reboot, 2013’s Tomb Raider follows a younger Lara Croft through her first harrowing adventure to a mysterious island. At the beginning of the game, Lara is portrayed as an amateur explorer, with a fresh and soft demeanor, and a quiet but untested confidence. Lara has the face of a Disney character. She is naive, innocent, youthful, and stunningly beautiful. Indeed, even the in-game model feature describes her as “innocent.”
Lara dons her trademark blue-green tank top, with pants instead of her traditional shorts. And unlike in other Tomb Raider games, Lara is not hyper-sexualized this time around. The artistic take in creating this new Lara is tasteful, proportionate, and realistic.
The focus of this game also notes an interesting new direction from a storytelling perspective. In prior games, the puzzles and platforming challenges were the focus, but this game brings gamers’ attention to Lara and her journey and growth from amateur adventurer to a hardened explorer.
Lara has a look of desperation early on in the game, and the danger the game takes her through have an authenticity that make seeing her in peril resonate with the player. Lara’s abilities shine through the despair, but not without a tremendous amount of suffering. There are numerous moments in the game where Lara takes a hard fall or a brutal beating, and yet she finds the will to survive.
Thankfully, our heroine is quick, agile, and above all, resilient. The platforming elements that are in the game are done without much frustration. Climbing, jumping, and zipping down ropes can be performed quite easily, and many of the big moments in the game are conveyed through quick-time events.
I have never had any real dispute with QTEs in games, and Tomb Raider relies on them for big cinematic moments. The camera angles and intensity in action mean that the QTEs in this title are rather satisfying to get through. Even failing a QTE is interesting – missing a button cue results in a cinematic that shows Lara suffering a horrible death.
There are large areas on the island for Lara to explore, but the game is by no means an open world title. There is certainly a path that the player must go through in order to progress with the story, but there are many sections in the game where the player is encouraged to take the time to explore.
Finding hidden stashes rewards the player with unlockable extra content that reveal more of the story, as well as in-game rewards, such as weapon and skill upgrades. Naturally, there are actual tombs in the game that are surrounded by cavern-sized puzzles, but interestingly, none of them are required to be explored to complete the storyline. All of the tomb raiding is purely optional.
Combat is a big part of the game, and is pretty exciting to engage in. Lara (and her enemies) can take cover, but the cover can either be destroyed or overcome with fire-based projectiles. And despite Lara’s ability to stealthily take down enemies in a close-combat move, most of the fighting involves open combat. Fortunately, Lara becomes a formidable predator, being equipped with a melee weapon, a bow, and several guns.
Graphically, Tomb Raider hits a homerun on the consoles, but it particularly shines on the PC. When running with maximum details and physics options, there are very few other titles that match its visual fidelity and clarity. There are incredible vistas and gorgeous settings in Tomb Raider. A storm-ravaged cove, filled with shipwrecks, candle-lit caverns, and snow-littered cliffs are just a few settings that border photorealism like no other game on the market.
The detail on Lara herself is off the charts. The TressFX graphical setting makes her hair move and behave mostly realistically, adding to the immersion. And despite the steep hardware demands of all of the graphical details, they are worth the price of admission.
Writing and Story
If there is any weakness in this game, it is the overall plot about what Lara’s expedition was about. Without revealing any spoilers, let’s just say that the writers could have been a bit more intelligent with the island’s secrets. But there are some great moments of dialogue between the characters during cutscenes. One of the characters, Roth, has an awesome discussion with Lara over the differences between loss and sacrifice.
There are also hints at Lara’s relationship with her late father, and how her Croft pedigree is one that she can be confident in to bring her through any trial.
It is clear at the end of the game that Lara has grown into an amazing character, and seeing her growth through the gameplay and the dialogue is hugely satisfying.
Part of the charm of this game was seeing Lara grow as a heroine, and I hope future sequels don’t abandon that personal aspect of this title. Lara should always be seeking to grow and find new things, without ever being satisfied on her achievements, and players should always be able to see that side of her.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer aspect of this game are largely forgettable, and detract from the platforming and exploration aspect of Tomb Raider. Multiplayer seems like an afterthought here, but thankfully does not take away anything from the single-player campaign.
Tomb Raider surpassed all of my high expectations with fun gameplay elements, superb graphics, and a great, intimate look at Lara Croft’s vulnerable side. The homages and nods to “The Descent,” a survival horror film, are wonderful little Easter eggs.
Purchase Tomb Raider from Amazon, available on PC, Xbox and PS3.