Tomb Raider is an anomaly of a game. A reboot of a 17 year old franchise that borrows just enough from more recent games while still managing to keep its identity. Medal of Honor, Bionic Commando, the list goes on of older franchises failing to adapt to this constantly evolving new high definition gaming climate through reboots. But somehow Tomb Raider pulls it off.
While bits and pieces of the Tomb Raider’s story have been revealed in Lara’s past adventures, it’s wonderful to actually play through the heroine’s origins. Lara’s character arc in the game is pretty impressive on some levels, while problematic in others. To start off, Lara is a frightened, and somewhat fragile young woman when she is first stranded and taken prisoner on a small mysterious island. Over the course of the game, we see her grow — and in that we grow attached to her character. We watch her as she struggles to escape her captors, the moment when she is forced to kill a man, and we watch her come to the realization that she cannot save all of the people she loves.
While these moments carry quite a bit of weight Lara’s character-arc, some of them feel incredibly artificial. Particularly the scene in which Lara makes her first kill. You can see the devastation on her face as the gun-wielding man falls to the floor with a bullet wound in his head. As he takes his last breath Lara begins breathing heavily and gagging next to his corpse in complete horror of what she’s done. Quite literally right after that cutscene ends our previously-devastated heroine goes on to kill hundreds of other armed men without even batting an eye. While this moment is still very emotional in looking back at it, it’s a shame that the moral dilemma of killing people — despite their trying to kill you– wasn’t brought up again. It could be argued that because of the nature of the game (it if a third-person shooter after all) that this issue was unavoidable, but I feel it could have easily been fixed with some dynamic “gasp”s or something every once in awhile when Lara makes a kill.
That aside, gameplay is where Tomb Raider really gets it right. As many people who have seen the game in action have said, the game does share some similarities with the Uncharted series. Shooting, jumping, huge set-piece moments, QTEs, while Uncharted certainly isn’t a very original game itself, it’s clear that there are some similarities between it and Tomb Raider. That said, Tomb Raider beats Uncharted at its own game. Not only does Tomb Raider’s formula add more variety, but pretty much everything about Tomb Raider feels more dangerous. For instance, Uncharted’s platforming is notoriously on-rails, while in Tomb Raider you can quite literally fail at everything . And on top of that, Tomb Raider blows Uncharted’s story out of the water. They’re both great games but Tomb Raider is the clear King (Queen?) of the genre.
A departure from past installments, Lara and the environments that surround her have been given a more realistic look. The game looks beautiful, but as is expected this late in a console generation, the game doesn’t offer anything graphically that players haven’t seen before. However, at the same time, the game’s animations feature an impressive amount of detail and variation.
Gear discovery is a big part of Tomb Raider’s pacing. Certain areas will be blocked off until Lara — for instance — finds a climbing axe. This keeps players engaged by introducing a new mechanic every hour or so. In the beginning of the game Lara has a very limited set of skills, but once you get a few hours in you’ll be jumping off of cliffs throwing yourself at climbable walls without a care in the world.
While combat has never been one of the Tomb Raider series’ strong suits, this reboot’s gun-play is some of the best in the genre. While you’ll start off the game without much of anything, by the end of the game Lara has collected a full assortment of weapons ranging from crossbows to a shotguns.
Along with the gradual unlocking of weapons, players can use skill-points to purchase skills that make Lara an even deadlier foe for all of the baddies in the game. These upgrades can allow Lara to carry higher amounts of ammunition, recollect arrows that have been shot into enemies ect.
I suppose this is part of the series’ charm, but in the final hour or two of the game the story goes almost entirely off the rails spouting nonsense about all sorts of magic and things of that sort. With the series’ new — more serious direction I would have thought it wouldn’t have gotten quite as crazy as it did. That said, one of the ending sequences features one of the most satisfying callbacks in gaming history.
Tomb Raider isn’t without its issues. As is pretty universally known by now, it does use a pretty high number of QTEs. Some of its story elements are inconsistent and its multiplayer is quite genuinely uninteresting. But none of those issues keep it from being one of — if not the best — action/adventure games to grace the current generation of consoles. With its emotionally moving story and a new focus on cinematic action, I cannot wait to see what the developers at Crystal Dynamics are cooking up for the future of the franchise.