The Tomb Raider franchise has gone stale. I know there will be a lot who will argue with this statement, but it’s true. I love Lara as much as any hot-blooded gamer, but the game has gotten tired. Much has ahppened to the gaming scene since the first Tomb Raider in 1996(!). Square Enix’s Tomb Raider reboot was a long time coming, and one that I welcomed with open arms and an eager optical drive.
Along the same vein of movie reboots, the 2013 Tomb Raider (henceforth, simply Tomb Raider) is gritty as all heck, and the game is made so much more gorgeous for it. It outlines Lara’s journey from what seems like a girl who has the time and resources to chase after a wild archeological goose, to a bloody, battered, hardened survivor with a clear deathwish. The story starts with Lara and her expedition hunting down a mythical Japanese island upon which the storm goddess Himiko is worshipped. Going on an educated guess, Lara convinces the expedition leader, Dr. James Whitman, to head in a direction opposite that of the original plan. There, the ship is hit by a massive cyclone, and the crew is forced to ditch. Lara gets separated from the crew, and her real adventure begins.
The presentation of Lara’s growth from ingenue to veteran is a little rushed, given the length of the game itself, but is overall very fulfilling. The change is as gradual as the time allows, and is convincingly expressed through subtle changes in dialogue and demeanor, as well as enemy reactions. At one point, after a very thorough string of battles, one enemy r
uns to cover screaming, “That one girl is killing us all!” That filled me with an odd sense of pride. Graphics are really nice. I played the game on a gaming laptop running 3GB of RAM, a Core i3 processor and an Nvidia 630M video card, and even with the graphics bumped a little below max, I was quite impressed.
Lara has at her disposal, various weapons by which to make her way through the various trials thrown at her by the island, its inhabitants and, on more than one occasion, the wildlife. After a quick scramble to immediate safety, and a few quicktime events, the game begins in earnest, and the player is introduced to the main method Lara develops skills. Experience points are reaped through gathering edible plants, hunting and consuming prey, and combat. Skills allow you to do useful things, including retrieving spent arrows, enduring more damage and executing special combat techniques, all of which add to Lara’s growth into the Tomb Raider we all know and love. The game gives you a quick hand by allowing you what I ended up calling “Lara Sense:’ Hitting “Q” dulls everything in the environment, save for items, creatures and enemies that glow either yellow or red.
A few minutes into the game, Lara happens upon her first weapon: a makeshift bow. This is a very capable tool, and to get the full survival experience, the only way to go. Other weapons are a handgun, shotgun, assault rifle and grenade launcher.
There is also an ice axe that can be used later on for melee attacks through learned skills. These weapons are cool in themselves, but for the full experience, the bow is definitely the way to go. All weapons can be upgraded through scrap and parts that are found while wandering the island. The game is kind enough to give you the necessary items to remain lethal throughout the game, even if you are a little on the lazy side when it comes to adventuring.
The game itself flows really well. Action is broken up into actual combat, which runs more or less like any other third-person shooter with its cover system, and button-mashing, reaction-based quicktime events. While I’m never a fan of quicktime events since people can’t normally complete them the first go ’round, they are spaced far enough apart in the game so as not to cause severe levels of frustration. Controls are done to a pretty fine polish, and at no point in the game was I struggling to get Miss Croft to move the way I wanted. It’s a very easy game to just pick up and play, as long as you have at least a little experience with shooters.
Apart from combat and exploring the map while gathering resources for skills and weapon upgrades, there are also tombs in the map that players will have to explore to”evolve”their arms. The game is helpful enough to offer an auditory cue when you are close to a raidable tomb, so you wont have to spend too much time combing the map for them.l managed to find all the tombs without even really trying. If, however, you are the kind of gamer that wants a good scavenger hunt, the game lets you search for special items in the form of artifacts, documents and GPS beacons that all give you additional content outside the game.
The narrative is driven along quite nicely through cutscenes, in-game dialogue with Lara’s mentor, Roth, as well as interacting with other survivors of Lara’s ill-fated expedition. this side of the game is as interesting to hardcore fans as the actual crawling, running and shooting, as it adds a much-needed explanation about how one girl turns from naive ingenue to unstoppable adventurer. It’s a stretch, we know, but at least you aren’t just expected to take it on faith. Subtle little touches, such as how Lara starts talking, even taunting, as the missions move along add even greater believability to the character, and lets her grow on you, as the player. This makes every fall, tumble, scrape and gunshot even more painful as you try your hardest to keep Lara alive despite the waves of insane islanders out to get her.
The game is mostly combat-driven. You can cut down the number of gunfights (bowfights?) you need to participate in by sneaking around, performing stealth kills with your silent weapons and generally avoiding the bad guys. You can’t avoid all of it however, so expect to go through quite a bit of ammo throughout the course of trying to get out. If you want a bit of a challenge, you can, with a little bit of effort, get through the whole game using only the bow.
Replay value is present through items scattered throughout the island and tombs to explore, as well as gathering more XP in order to level Miss Croft up. This is, admittedly pretty tedious for all but those seeking to hit 100% completion, so more than likely, you’re not going to be picking the game up again very often once you finish the last boss.
As a reboot, and on the whole, the game is extremely successful at drawing you into the experience. The pacing of the 2013 Tomb Raider is really well done, and convincingly woven in with the narrative. At no point does the action feel forced, and things unfold quite organically, despite the occasional stretches your imagination has to make regarding the plot, since it leans towards some supernatural action later on in the game. The graphics are spectacular, motion is fluid, and the enemy AI is sufficiently smart to create a challenge without being too difficult to deal with. There are some points that will leave you a bit frustrated, such as the repetitions you will inevitably have to go through during quicktime events since you aren’t always told what key you have to hit to complete the sequence, at least not the first time, but literally seconds after they conclude, they are forgotten. Jumping puzzles are more or less done away with, save for a few optional tombs, and for this I am extremely thankful to Square Enix.
Despite a few faults, I enjoyed the game tremendously. As a shooter/ explorer, the game gets top marks for staying interesting even between action sequences. As a narrative tool created to tell Lara’s story, it’s even better. My main complaint is that the game is a little on the short side, as I was able to finish it over a long weekend, and maybe 3-4 hours of play a day. Hardcore garners will likely be able to finish the game in one or two sittings, give or take. I do like how they try to add a little replayability, though the effort seems more like an afterthought. I was able to finish the game at about 83% completion, without really going out of my way to look for anything aside from tombs. Still, it was a very fun ride while it lasted, and I imagine I will come back to it, just to start over, before very long. I would recommend the game to anyone who has ever had an interest in the franchise. It’s a pretty cool thing, what they have done to the series storywise.
lfyou’re just looking for another third person shooter to kill, Tomb Raider is of slightly less value, though still a whole lot offun. Grab it if you can find a copy.
Tomb Raider 2013 | Developer: Crystal Dynamics | Publisher: Square Enix | Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3
First Published in Gadgets Magazine, July 2013
Words by Ren Alcantara