Tomb Raider Review

In the opening moments of Tomb Raider, the one thing that stood out to me was the vulnerability of its main character. The new Lara Croft does not start off as the sassy adventurer of past games, but as a scared and vulnerable woman, fighting for her survival. Much like the Tomb Raider series itself, Lara has to adapt to her environment to survive. Let’s face facts, a lot has changed since the original Tomb Raider was released back in 1996. Fortunately for developer Crystal Dynamics, their hard work has paid off. In a game dedicated to reinventing its iconic main character, Tomb Raider succeeds in finding its own identity.

The story is a simple one, Lara Croft and a friendly group of stock characters journey by boat into the Pacific ocean in search of a “big’ archaeological discovery. The ship sails into a storm and crashes onto an island, stranding the crew. They are not alone however, the island is ruled by a radical cult who seem content to hunt down anyone who comes across their path. The primary goal for Lara (and the player) is to escape the island. Unforunately none of the characters (besides Lara) are interesting and the story isn’t going to win any awards. It’s not bad per se, it’s just not very good. The story succeeds only in managing to provide Lara with a short-term goal and it moves at a brisk enough pace. All in all, it’s a passable tale.

There’s gotta be at least one Jeff Probst easter egg somewhere around here.

While it may not have the sparkling dialogue of Uncharted, Tomb Raider’s biggest strength is its gameplay. It plays somewhat like a third-person-shooter except for the organic cover system. Lara will take cover behind anything that she can crouch behind, no button presses required. This separates Tomb Raider from the countless third person shooters currently flooding the industry. The game is designed with a hunter versus pray mindset, and Lara can be both, depending on the player. Enemies are quite good at flanking or otherwise forcing you to move out of cover. Lara can fight back a with a variety of weapons including a bow and arrow, a pistol, a shotgun and an assault rifle. Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses for example the bow is great for stealth kills, but not so great in an all out firefight. At times Lara can sneak up on her enemies, taking them out one at a time (though most encounters will quickly turn into a firefight). Tomb Raider doesn’t reinvent the wheel but all the elements of the gameplay come together quite nicely. It’s a game can be fully completed in just under 20 hours, though your mileage may vary.

The best moments are when the things calm down and allow Lara to explore. There are many secrets to discover, collectibles to collect and of course tombs to raid. Previously visited areas can be accessed via fast-travel and certain parts of these areas can only be accessed after acquiring a certain item or upgrade. At any point the player can abandon the main story, which is odd because Lara always has a reason to move forward; it feels a bit strange for her to deviate from the main goal so she can explore and island. (aren’t there lives at stake?) The tombs themselves consist only of a single puzzle, however the puzzles are well designed and the atmosphere is very good.  If you ever get stuck, there’s a intuitive hint system that’s only a button press away. The quiet moments are easily the most immersive and the most enjoyable. Inevitably the game will throw a few Uncharted-style set pieces at the player coupled with an occasional quick-time event, not to worry though, both are used sparingly.

Probably the biggest focus of this reboot is the development of its main character. Lara Croft starts off as a frightened young woman, but by the game’s end she has become a fierce adventurer. Now before I talk about her development I’m going to address the one thing that’s probably on all of your minds, “the attempted rape” scene. For the sake of keeping this review completely spoiler free let me just say that not a single aspect of Lara’s characterization has anything to do with her sexuality. That being said, let me continue. Over the course of the game Lara will acquire experience points which can be used to purchase new abilities; she also acquires salvage which can be used to upgrade her weapons (it feels a lot like Resident Evil 4 actually). The leveling system makes sense within the context of Lara’s development. As she becomes more skilled at surviving, she becomes a stronger person, which is matched by the player becoming better at killing bad guys. This is the triumph of Lara’s characterization; her empowerment matches that of the player, both become stronger at the same time.

Better move over Nathan Drake, the new Lara kicks ass just as much as the boys do.

Unfortunately Tomb Raider is not without its faults. The biggest issue  is the gap between the story and the gameplay. When Lara makes her first kill, it’s a pretty big deal for her but less than minute later she’s killing other people left and right without batting an eyelash. The story doesn’t seem to notice that in between cut-scenes Lara kills countless people in order to survive. In one scene she reluctantly loots a dead body, despite the fact that she’s been freely looting enemy corpses for the past few hours. Lara’s empowerment comes at the cost of being forced to kill a lot of people, but the story doesn’t seem to notice this. It doesn’t ruin the narrative, but it’s a missed opportunity.

The multiplayer is also not a particularly strong part of Tomb Raider. It’s very basic, very barebones. People who play it will enjoy it, people who don’t aren’t missing out on anything. The best thing I can say about the multiplayer is that its inclusion doesn’t seem to have come at any cost to the single-player story. So at least there’s that.

Tomb Raider is a decent game. It will not blow you away by any means but it will definitely satisfy you. It’s difficult to say whether or not it’s worth a full sixty dollars but I can say for certain that you won’t ripped off if you buy it at that price. Let me conclude by saying this: Tomb Raider is not a giant leap forward for the franchise, but it’s definitely a solid step forward.

Final Score: 3/5

Version Played: PS3
About my scoring system (please read before commenting on my score).
I use a five point scale to review games for several reasons. It allows me to clearly distinguish good games from bad, it also allows me to use the full range of the scale from 1 to 5. I previously used a ten point scale but I noticed that I never scored games below a six, meaning I was essentially using  a five point scale already.
This means that my system can be a bit misleading when comparing it to a ten point scale. A 3/5 does not equal 6/10 like you might think. Because of how I came about my system, the proper score is achieved when you add five to both numbers. So 1/5 becomes 6/10, 2 becomes 7 and so on and so forth. This allows better comparison between my score and the more prominent 10 and 20 point scales that other reviewers use.
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About Sam Hale

Autistic, young adult and lots on my mind.

Posted on March 7, 2013, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hey! Great write up you have here. I’ve wrote my review on the new Tomb Raider here http://thedavidryan.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/review-tomb-raider/ would love your comments 🙂

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