Release Date: March 5, 2013
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Raiding tombs hasn’t been as profitable as of late especially when compared to years past. Lara Croft’s erratic quality and draining relevance has led to her valued name to gain tarnish over the multiple console cycles. As if that wasn’t enough, the Uncharted series single-handedly stole the spotlight from Lara, leaving the teacher as the one getting schooled. To stay relevant, the Tomb Raider series has undergone a reboot. Simply named Tomb Raider, Lara has returned but with a completely different atmosphere. Having no prior field experience and lacking her signature dual pistols, this reinvented Lara must survive on a hostile island in a game that doesn’t completely nail any one aspect, but does enough right in each area to yield satisfaction.
Fresh out of college, Lara has somehow avoided being employed at a coffee shop and already has her first expedition all chalked out to explore the lost kingdom of Yamatai. At least, that was the plan. The ship being used to carry Lara and her crew to their destination is (of course) ravaged by a cluster of storms, cracking the ship in half and deserting the crew on a mysterious island located in the deadly Dragon’s Triangle. Survival becomes first on the to-do list, but spooky mishaps display that the locals and island aren’t what the initially appear.
The tale itself is a by-the-numbers ride, containing its share of “wow” moments and predictable twists, but the incredibly bland characters drag it far below its potential. Each forgettable face checks off certain stereotypes, which is fine, but they don’t ever surpass that. We aren’t given enough reason to care about the majority of the crew because of their unmemorable dialogue and utter lack of character depth. Since we don’t care about these pixel people, we also don’t care when they are in danger or inevitably get picked off, which deflates some of the drama. Lara tries hard to save these dumb chums, but most players will have to feign interest at best to muster any sort of goodwill to the shipwrecked crew.
The antagonists don’t fair much better. The central villain is pretty stupid in all senses of the term, but he doesn’t compare to the “other” set of bad guys. Without spoiling it, something occurs out of the blue without much thought or justification. It feeds into the ending, which is incredibly contrived and comes off as odd just for the sake of being odd. A thin line must be walked when dealing with this subject matter and Tomb Raider doesn’t pull it off with the best grace.
Despite the earlier criticisms, the story isn’t a complete stumble. The steady pacing carries the game well from story beat to story beat and Lara’s character growth, while not perfect, is noteworthy. Some may not be able to look past her nearly instant switch from green soldier to bloodthirsty killer, but the latter half’s Lara is different from the first half. Her whimpering and whining was pathetic to listen to, making the switch to strong, badass Lara that much more engaging. She doesn’t have that cocky disposition yet, but this is a solid build up to that point.
The combat better have that same excuse too. Locking on to targets is a thing of the past, being ditched for a far more modern cover-based third-person shooter. “Cover” is thrown around loosely since there isn’t a button to stick to walls, leaving this mechanic to be automatic. While it isn’t the worst offender, automatic cover systems never have the visceral oomph associated with games with a dedicated cover button. It can also lead to instances where you thought you were in cover but, alas, you were not.
It doesn’t stop there though. Aiming doesn’t have any acceleration speed, which can lead to an inaccurate, herky jerky aiming system. Despite the upgrades, I didn’t really ever feel like I had pinpoint accuracy with any of the multiple weapons all because of the aiming. Coupled with the mostly narrow corridors that don’t allow for experimentation, the combat doesn’t reach its full potential.
It’s a shame too since you can see where it could have gone especially since the steady weapon progression is addicting. Disregarding the collectibles (of which are boring but easy to find), discovering weapon parts opens up the upgrade system. Since it starts Lara too far in the underpowered direction, these upgrades start out as a vital part of the game but then evolve into a pleasing aspect that I wanted to delve deeper into. Lara also gains new equipment at a gratifying clip, meaning you’ll always have that next new thing right around the corner (which is always awesome and a sign of good gameplay pacing).
Although to a lesser degree, the negatives that pertain to the combat can also be said for the puzzles. Brain teasers are usually a one-room affair and rarely take longer than few minutes to “solve.” Some are a little clever but only a few of them felt like I was actually completing anything of note. It’s almost as if the designers didn’t trust players enough to throw anything challenging their way in fear of slowing down the pace. Tombs, which are optional puzzles that give huge rewards, exemplify this since they are solved without even breaking a mental sweat. Again, they aren’t bad, but they fail to make good on all of their potential.
Platforming doesn’t try to mark any new territory, but it stands out the most. Climbing can best be, again, compared to Uncharted, allowing Lara to scurry about cliff faces and walls like a jungle gym. It doesn’t break ground and isn’t all that challenging, but the grand spectacle is a riveting window dressing to an otherwise tried and true mechanic. Ledges break in a spectacular fashion and look absolutely incredible each time as the environment convincingly crumbles beneath Lara’s weathered boots. These titanic and hectic moments are sprinkled well throughout the campaign and, despite the frustration of some, make jumping and climbing a memorable experience.
Memorable would never be applicable when speaking about the game’s online multiplayer. It has a few basic modes and the typical RPG mechanics but it’s only remarkable in the fact of how bad it is. The aiming problems present in the campaign are stretched out and look even worse here so, at a basic level, the game isn’t enjoyable to partake in. Everything else around it is bland or just broken. Matches get too chaotic and not a drop of fun is to be had amidst the constant gunfire and network code can be, like the aiming, unwieldy at times. Besides the back of the box quote, there is literally no reason for this online mode to exist.
While the mentioned online mode looks flat, the single player visuals are remarkable. In all of the different vistas Lara visits, each holds up a striking sense of quality rife with detail and small touches. Textures are of a high quality and the destroyed beauty aesthetic is beautiful throughout each level, especially when you witness each getting obliterated. Character models don’t hold up to that sort of scrutiny due to a small tinge of wooden animations and lower texture quality, but Tomb Raider is a visual marvel.
When broken down, Tomb Raider doesn’t sound too appealing. Each system isn’t perfect and Uncharted does everything more elegantly, but Tomb Raider proves that you don’t need to beat the competition in order to be a good experience. Tomb Raider is solid on its own merits even if it doesn’t take home the gold treasure in any particular category. Lara is still in second place but a silver medal isn’t a disgraceful piece of hardware.
+Rich, beautiful visuals
+Impressive set pieces
+Strong weapon upgrade progression
-Combat lacks a cohesive, satisfying cover system and doesn’t have enough wide play areas
-Puzzles are overly simplified
-Characters are flat, trite, and uninteresting