Tomb Raider is latest title of the iconic series. Casting aside the legacy created and starting afresh, with the rebooted and re-imagined Lara Croft, Crystal Dynamics brings a new perspective to the famous and symbolic heroine. This title revives the series with a new Lara and bringing a new insight into how she becomes the well-established bad ass players will be familiar with from the first video game released in 1996. Unlike that of the predecessors’ title, this game brings to light, the journey Lara takes into becoming a legendary tomb raider.
As a huge fan of the series, I was not expecting such an in-depth plunge into Lara’s character and giving us a first-hand look into her thoughts, feelings and motivations for doing what she does, and not purely for the fun of it as prior incarnations of Lara had led us to believe. As a reboot, the game will certainly be placed under the attention of all critics out there. However the true question is, does it live up to the legacy of Tomb Raider or has it trumped the iconic franchise?
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Genre: Action-Adventure//Platform, Survival
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: 5th March 2013
Just finishing university and casting out to gain independence, series protagonist Lara Croft (Camilla Uddington), along with other members of the Endurance ship crew, set out to find the lost ‘Kingdom of Yamatai’. On the journey to find Yamatai, the Endurance is thrown to the rocks by a violent lightning storm and Lara awakens to find herself a captive, deep in a cave. Lara frees herself to find that she is being chased by an unknown islander and goes through an adrenaline-fueled chase through the caves. The protagonist is challenged with finding her ship mates and getting off the island, until strange events start to take place and Lara finds that there are others stranded on the island.
The general characteristics of Lara stay true to the original creation of the heroine. Players will be able to take control of an athletic and agile character with boundless energy in climbing, jumping or running. The ability to traverse your surroundings is greatly encouraged and fun. Obstacles can be tackled in a variety of alternatives, whether it be utilizing any available ropes in the environment, finding a path or going back to basics and climbing up a cliff face. Each method of exploration is fun and gives the player new ways to explore an area and then come back and tackle it in a different way.
With all the fun going back and forth trying to traverse levels in different ways. One major disappointment is that there is no introduction of a water level or region in the game that the player can access with an underwater or swimming aspect in mind. The game purely focuses on climbing as the main form of exploration, with the player being set on an island, the absence of a water-themed level which should be an obvious inclusion, is baffling and should have been introduced to truly take advantage of the great visuals put into the detailing of the water.
Exploration is something that is key to the game and will entice players with the abundance of items and challenges to be collected and completed by players. Once a certain region has been completed by reaching a relevant destination or completing an objective in order to continue with the game, the player has the opportunity to backtrack and collect any treasures or raid any tombs they may have missed out on.
In order for players to backtrack, campsites are scattered throughout the region however, with main sites allowing the player to ‘fast travel’ between them and access the ‘skills’ and ‘gear’ menus. The ‘skills’ menu outfits Lara with ‘survival’ and ‘hunter’ categories which grant the player the ability to do things such as traverse faster, retrieve arrows, carry more ammo, etc… The upgrade system is fairly thorough and has very realistic experience requirements with better skills being unlocked after entering a new ‘tier’. A category that requires a certain number of skills be purchased before ranking up to a new tier.
Everything to do with upgrades and skills relies on ‘resources’ or spare parts collected from chests scattered across the world or collected off enemies. However this goes hand in hand with experience points as they are required for the player to level up in order to gain one extra skill point which is independent of the weapon upgrading system and exclusive to the ‘skill’ menu.
While experience points aren’t stringently given out, they are still almost worthless unless players make it a point to collect treasure and explore the world. Hunting is also a viable means of earning experience points, unfortunately, this is one aspect of the game that Tomb Raider seems to disappoint. Hunting can be fun and a good method of gaining loot and experience, however there is a limit to how many different animals there are to hunt and the amount of experience gained from hunting animals is capped after stripping the area clean.
Combat was a major concern as previous Tomb Raider titles have kept it virtually the same since the first release in 1996 with a few alterations in terms of accuracy, style, and visual changes. This rendition of the franchise shuns the older style of combat and gunfighting, and instead, gives the player and over-the-shoulder (OTS) view which is engaging and requires a little more skill. While the OTS-view is quite slow, it grants more realism and allows players to make precision shots.
What comes with this new style of play is the loss of being able to jump in the air and backflip while firing two pistols. Instead, players will be given a more fitting experience which caters to the theme of Lara being ‘new at this’, so naturally, players cannot expect her to be firing pistols from crazy poses.
When it comes to exploring, there is nothing better than jumping into the mystery of the game and exploring the tombs. Across the game, tombs are hidden and white wall paintings give them away to any players that notice – alternatively players can just wait until they unlock the skill that allows the player to see all the tombs on the map.
Tombs are hidden deep within the cave entrances that hint to them. Each cave is similar but ultimately different, giving players a different experience with each cave they enter. While looking around and exploring the caves, the game forces the player to equip their torch and the gameplay shifts into a slowed down state whereby you cannot access your weapons and are limited to just walking around. There are times where you may have to maneuver around a wall but there isn’t usually anything too taxing on the player which is a shame.
The tombs and cave explorations had potential and could have utilized the absent water level to provide a variety in gameplay and offer something different to the gameplay and challenge the player as tombs are generally thought of as tougher areas to access as they have greater protection, both naturally and man-made. The latter, is a theme that does not show up much in the cave exploration in terms of traps to give the player that ‘Indiana Jones‘ feeling.
The game boasts an orchestral score by Jason Graves, that truly mimics the environment of a mystical island and is the final element that brings the game to life. Flowing together with the scenery and providing a rich experience that reflects the situation the player is in and is reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies with a slight tinge of the style Jason Graves used in the Dead Space series of games to bring the fear of being stranded alone on an island, to light.
The most impressive aspect of Tomb Raider is the ability to break the fourth wall in terms of emotions and being able to really connect with a character. Unlike the previous titles, Lara is introduced as quite a regular 21 year old who is breaking out into the world and trying to make a name for herself. When confronted with what seems like the inevitability of her death, we get to see what drives Lara into becoming the amazing raider that she is.
Not only is the storyline rich with mystery and the setting being on an isolated part of Japan, an addition to the adventure, but players will get to see Lara develop emotionally and become the slightly colder killer everyone is accustomed to. The game shows Lara’s first kill and shows her reaction to it and being uncomfortable about taking a human life. It is this element of innocence that is the key characteristic of Lara and players are shown how it is taken over by survival and doing what is necessary.
Online multiplayer is a new feature brought to the Tomb Raider series by Eidos Montreal, and may have been too early to implement such a feature in a reboot. The series is known for the fun-invoking gameplay and rich storyline, however the multiplayer aspect has not received many players and that is probably due to the lack of advertising and drawing of attention to it.
With just five maps and four modes for players to choose from, the multiplayer already doesn’t look like it will gauge the interest of many players who are accustomed to in-depth and highly developed online shooters. In retrospect, due to the surprising lack of interest in Tomb Raider’s online counterpart, the developers should have focused their efforts into providing more in terms of replayability and full utilisation of the island space as the map indicates many areas that aren’t even used in the campaign and may have been able to provide fresh perspectives on the gameplay and introduce even more features. Perhaps include a bonus level where players could fight the T-rex from the older games as a nice easter egg.
Overall this reboot of a popular franchise and revival of Lara Croft was made possible by Camilla Uddington; who’s emotional undertone represented in her voice acting can be rivaled by no other. With such a deeply personal insight into the start of the legendary Lara Croft, players will be given a front seat ride experiencing the same emotions as Lara and feeling protective of her — an emotional response the developers wanted to create and have done so exceedingly well.
This reviewer is truly glad that this reboot has not suffered the pitfalls of others and has managed to create an intricate detailing of the protagonist instead of being one huge no-brainer action game. That said, if Tomb Raider 2 is in the works, developers should be wary of instantly making Lara a bad-ass and forgetting her innocence as that is what shapes the very foundations of this game and allows so many players to connect with her.