[Review] Tomb Raider – Not Your Older Brother’s Lara Croft
First it was Dante’s turn to have a complete makeover in DmC: Devil May Cry. This time, Lara Croft is back, and better than ever in this 2013 reboot of the classic series Tomb Raider. I’ll be the first to admit, I never had a chance to check out Lara in her classic garb, but the latest effort from Crystal Dynamics left me nothing short of impressed. It’s a cinematic, puzzle filled, gruesome, adventurous tale of one of the most incredible female protagonists I’ve had the pleasure of playing as. Read on to find out what makes this one of the best games of the year thus far.
Lara Croft is on a mission with other friends and colleagues to discover the Japanese kingdom of Yamatai. On the way, their ship is destroyed by a powerful storm, and they’re left stranded on an island. I think the best part of the entire game is just how human Lara truly is. In the beginning, you’re given just a bow, and wolves are your only threat. Lara trudges through the dark woods in search of her friends, absolutely terrified. You can tell as she’s walking she is exasperated, and the shrillness of her scream when she’s being attacked or killed will haunt you as it does her. When she reunites with her friends for a short period of time, you feel the same sense of comfort. There is security with these people, and the relationships between everyone are incredibly believable. You can really tell Lara and Sam are BFFs.
The fear once instilled in Ms. Croft dissipates, but not easily. The shouting of “Why are you doing this?!” becomes more vengeful and confident. There’s one point in particular where you acquire a new weapon that makes Lara quite powerful, and she knows it. The enemies cower in fear, “Look at what she’s got!” and she basks in this power, screaming something along the lines of, “You better run!” It’s incredible to see the natural progression of her character, and just like the relationship between Lara and her friends, the relationship between Lara and herself is so real. There is still the slight aspect of a once-researcher-turned-mass-murderer problem common to video games, but early on, killing does traumatize as well as desensitize her. Soon enough you will be sneaking around cover, clipping enemies with your bow without even a wince.
Also on the topic of Lara, she controls like a dream. She’s extremely nimble, responding to your every analog stick nudge and press of the jump button. She scales ledges and cliffs and jumps obstacles with ease, which makes the platforming and combat rarely frustrating and always satisfying.The first weapon you acquire is a bow, and it’s what I relied on 90% of the time through my playthrough. It may not have been the most effective, but boy was it satisfying to use. The few other weapons you unlock are the very atypical pistol, shotgun, and assault rifle, which are all just about what you would expect. Through finding different weapon parts and salvage, you’re able to upgrade these weapons to do more damage, better accuracy, etc. I found bow upgrades to be my main salvage expenditure, as the other upgraded weapons really didn’t seem to scale much. It’s just too satisfying seeing a man holding his head with an arrow straight through it; masochism defined. There is also a skill tree with three different branches, brawler, hunter, and survivor, which are unlocked progressively with XP, and very organically with the progression of Lara’s characterization. Most of the more powerful skills will not be unlocked until Lara is a walking death machine. It wouldn’t make sense to unlock the skill where you are able to parry a physical attack, and counter with an arrow to an eye if Lara was still crying over the men she was slaying.
In playing through the main story it’s inevitable you will notice many of its influences. During the many scenes where Lara is running and jumping to avoid whatever falling debris and buildings are in her path, you’ll probably be reminded of the Uncharted series. It even borrows from the Metroid series, in that certain areas early on won’t be accessed until you unlock the proper tools later on. It’s hard to say that this is something that hurts the game since it utilizes its inspiration so well, but there are occasions that are so blatantly pulled from the source of inspiration, it may be hard to look past it. That said, some of the set pieces in this game are absolutely gorgeous.
Wading through forests and canyons there is a heap of collectibles, some of which directly supplement the story, and some of which never make sense. There are GPS caches, which is sort of like the outdoor activity “geocaching,” relics, usually masks, that quench Lara’s thirst for exploration and research, journals of your comrades and foe explaining their feelings throughout their tumultuous experience on the island, and treasure maps to display the location of the aforementioned collectibles. Eventually one of your skills will reveal the location of the treasure maps on your map, but this is not until much later in the game. Using your “Survival Instinct” aids greatly in finding collectibles, and illuminating the path to your next objective, but I often found myself relying too heavily on it, somewhat detracting from the overall immersion. Still, these little trinkets are fun for small story bits, and give incentive to go back and search for everything after you’ve completed the main story.
The multiplayer is totally generic. You get two weapons, a thrown weapon, and two “perks” to fend for yourself in the competitive modes. The modes included do have contextual differences from other games to provide a bit more relevance to the Tomb Raider universe the single player creates, but in reality, we’ve seen it all before; just re-skinned. With that said, the single player is a complete package. If you are buying Tomb Raider for the multiplayer, you are buying it for the wrong reason.
Tomb Raider is a blast. Watching the transformation from a scared young researcher to the audacious Lara Croft is an absolute treat, all of which is tied together with extremely believable character interactions and relationships. There are times when its influence can take over, but if you’re looking for a fantastic action adventure game to lose yourself in, you needn’t look any further than this excellent rekindling of a classic franchise.
[+Gorgeous][+Characterization of Lara is very organic][+Great cast of characters][+Platforming and combat are both extremely satisfying][+Collectibles are interesting and easy enough to obtain][-Borrows heavily from other popular action/adventure franchises][-Multiplayer is unnecessary][-Survival Instinct power creates a loss of immersion]