Tomb Raider – Review
Follow Genre: Adventure, Action
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Tomb Raider – Review

Site Score
9.3
Good: An almost perfect reboot of the franchise, an example of the enormous strides the gaming industry has made.
Bad: Puzzles are far smaller in scale than they used to be.
User Score
9.0
(2 votes)
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Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)

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It’s finally here, the new Tomb Raider, a game that asks you to forget roughly sixteen years of in-game history. A game that takes an icon, notorious far outside the bounds of gaming culture, and gives her depth, charisma and a real personality.

Story

The game kicks of with Lara’s first real trip. Together with a ragtag group of co-adventurers she’s set sail on the S.S. Endurance to find the legendary Yamatai. For those not in the know; Yamatai is a mythical country from Japanase legends, which was once ruled by Queen Himiko. Himiko is said to have had shamanistic powers, giving her control over the weather amongst other things.

Yamatai actually existed, real-life Chinese historical records, dating from as far back as the third century, speak of the country.

Of course, things in videogames hardly ever start off well. Lara’s own hunches on the whereabouts of Yamatai get the crew caught in a brutal storm, ripping their ship apart and leaving them stranded on an island where the same vicious storms prevent them from leaving.

Turns out they’ve reached the very same Yamatai they’ve been searching for. The bad news? It’s inhabited by a bloodthirsty cult made up of others who fell victim to the storms.

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Let’s get one thing straight; if there ever was a bar that decided whether or not a game’s story was up to par, it just got raised several miles.

This reboot manages to tie games, storytelling and decent camerawork together in such a wonderful way, that it’s difficult not to get involved.

Lara has yet to become the cold-blooded adventurer we all know from her previous escapades. Right now she still a young woman, one who’s just left her last days of school behind her. I probably don’t have to write the next bit, every single trailer has emphasized what I’m about to say, but this new Lara is fragile, lost and very afraid.

The first time she has to kill, leaves her shattered yet determined to have herself and her friends survive.

The story’s aided by phenomenal camerawork that takes cues from the Uncharted-series. And improves upon the formula. In short: you’re playing a movie and it’s one of the major blockbusters of the year.

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Graphics

Let’s continue talking about the influence of the movie-industry on Tomb Raider. There’s just no denying the fact that everything was set in motion in order to create one of the most filmic experiences in gaming to date.

The shaking camera aids the suspension of disbelief, a trick used in many modern day movies, giving you the feeling you’re actually following Lara.

There’s more to say about the camera, about how the scenery pans at the exact right times, how, save for the few, uncomfortable close-combat fights with enemies wielding full-body shields, there’s just no refuting that developer Crystal Dynamics did one hell of a job.

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When taking a look at the graphics themselves, or more precisely the art direction, it’s hard not to be impressed. This is a far grittier version of the Tomb Raider-series. Heavy winds blow ancient Japanese shrines to mere chunks of wood, World War II-era constructs are tainted by rust and the local woods are as dense as you’d expect them to be.

This has got to be one of the best-looking games of this generation. Throughout my time with Tomb Raider I found myself wondering if we actually needed a new generation of consoles right now. Yamatai looks and feels alive, the vistas are breathtaking and clever use of lighting makes for a very atmospheric game.

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Sound

I’ll be honest with you, I always have trouble when this part of the review comes up. Sound is just not my area of expertise. Sure, I can like or dislike a soundtrack, but observing the more subtle undertones of a game’s music I something I always have trouble with.

That being said, it’s easy for anyone to spot how, yet again, Tomb Raider borrows heavily from a pool of techniques used in films.

Bombastic tracks accompany Lara during her climbs, when sneaking past enemies, the environment gets either eerily quit or the pace of the music fastens to respond to Lara’s own anxiety.

Little sound-cues even inform you when you’ve reached an area of interest or the next important point in your journey.

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Gameplay

When it comes to gameplay, Tomb Raider could be best described as a mixture of the old Croftian adventures, the shootouts and thrilling climbing from Uncharted and a fondness for exploration that’s more commonly found in metroidvania-styled games.

Initially Lara starts off with nothing more than a bow. It can shoot arrows into unsuspecting enemies’ heads, nothing more and nothing less.

Soon enough though you find more equipment, opening up new paths, and you start salvaging abandoned supplies to upgrade your weapons. Even when the end of the story is in sight, you’re still finding new gear that allows you to reach previously unreachable spots.

In most cases it’s never actually necessary to backtrack. If you don’t care about getting all the upgrades for your weapons, or if you’re not interested into finding all hidden diaries and relics (something I’d recommend you do since it deepens the story even more), you can just follow the main path to the finish line.

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The two biggest changes that this reboot brings to the franchise is that, A; there are no more levels, the entire island is one giant playground with hundreds of things to discover and, B; puzzles are less intricate than they’re used to be.

For example. Early in Tomb Raider: Underworld, one of Lara’s ‘old’ outings, had you solving an enormous puzzle-room, guarded by a giant octopus. That particular puzzle required you’d navigate several floors, triggering switches and pulling levers as you went along. Fast forward to the present, and you’ll find that tombs (as they’re now called) are far smaller in scale.

While this makes it easier to keep track of what has been done and what part of the puzzle still needs to be solved, it also reduces tombs to mere diversions on the way to the next climb.

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Yes, climbing, not solving puzzles and not combat are what this game is about. Lara’s quest is to survive. Sure, to do that she has to murder an entire cult of madmen trying to murder her and her friends. Yes there are plenty of moments where you’re pulling the trigger way more than a human finger could realistically handle, but they’re just a side step, an intermezzo that merely announces the next towering structure that needs to be scaled using whatever means possible.

The several areas of the island can be gigantic. Not just on a horizontal plane, but often even vertically. It’s astonishing then that such large, open areas cause no stuttering at all. Every action, from mowing down rows of enemies to scaling mountains happens fluently.

In other words; a lot of well deserved praise for Tomb Raider.

Conclusion

Tomb Raider shows that sometimes a reboot is necessary to breathe new life into a character. For years Lara Croft has been an icon of gaming culture, a sex-symbol whose cup-size seemed to grow with every number added to the title.

But forget about that Croft.

The new Lara has far more personality than the old one ever did, she’s more realistic, more believable and as such a more engaging character than we had hoped for.

While the franchises departure from enormous and intricate puzzles, might not sit well with long-time fans, the new focus on surviving insurmountable odds along with impressive storytelling and some of the best camerawork in gaming up till now, turns Tomb Raider into a praiseworthy successor.

Tomb Raider is dead, long live Tomb Raider.

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Tomb Raider - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

3 Comments

  1. saboterr
    March 9, 2013, 11:05 pm

    Nice review, I want to try this game now 😀

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    • Gromple
      Gromple
      March 9, 2013, 11:17 pm

      You should, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical before playing it. All the trailers just seemed like the usual overhyped stuff. Yes, for some people the change to a focus on scaling buildings, might not be all that welcome, but still, I’ve been with the series since day one and to me this is just one (necessary) reboot done really well. 😀

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  2. ThaMofo
    ThaMofo
    March 11, 2013, 4:37 am

    Well to be honest, I always loved seeing my friends play the older TR games, but never really had an interest to try them myself.

    This one I really want to play. :)

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