I remember a specific memory from when I was eleven. I had saved all of my money for some months until I finally had enough to purchase myself a brand new Playstation. The game I decided to buy with it? The original Tomb Raider.
I was very pleased with my purchase. The game had everything I had wanted from a game from the next generation of consoles. It had beautiful 3D graphics. It had action. It had adventure. I was completely taken with the game and happily kept up with the series until it’s forth title. Things got a little shaky from there, and it wouldn’t be until another seven years until the series was brought back to a new glory.
Crystal Dynamics took over the helm. These guys took the aging gameplay and made something new. Tomb Raider: Legends was their first endeavor with Lara Croft, and it turned out great. They took all of the elements of the original title, only they tailored them for the new and changing game market. After three successful titles, they moved on. Moved on to what, though? Well, Tomb Raider. Again. I can only mildly express how excited I was for this. It was THE game I wanted in 2013.
Tomb Raider (2013) was Tomb Raider, only taken in a completely new direction. Where the previous reboot was a new presentation of the originals style, this new vision put puzzles on the back burner and focuses more on cinematics and story. Or as the game attempts to show, survival.
The survival aspect of the game works. For the first hour. Lara barely survives a devastating ship wreck, then a death defying kidnapping in which she is (apparently) greatly wounded. After that, she must then fend for herself in what seems to be an abandoned island. The game suddenly brings you into it’s hunting mechanic. The feeling of survival is set very high. This game is going to be different. How will it use this mechanic?
Then suddenly, it doesn’t.
The problems I have with this game are superficial. I thought I was going to be treated to a new genre-defining game. What I was left with was the gameplay of Uncharted with a story I can only sum up as being a combination of the television show Lost mixed with Japanese lore.
For what the game does do, it does it well. The gameplay feels extremely familiar to that of Nathan Drake’s adventuring. You climb cliffs, you shimmy around ledges, and you shoot dudes. Only this time with a lot less sarcastic quips and falling through stuff. You do fall INTO stuff, and you do that a lot. Crystal Dynamics should be labeled as sadists for what they make poor Lara go through.
The game offers you four main weapons, each presented to you during it’s deus ex machina importance. I couldn’t help but to notice how every item you get in this game is given to you exactly when you need it. ‘I am hungry and need to hunt for food!’ Hey look, there’s a bow coincidentally right there. ‘Oh no, I need to break those barriers I am falling towards, or else I will surely die! Good thing I found that shotgun only seconds ago to blast me straight through them!’ It happens with every item found in this game, and it is easy to chuckle over it. Like I said, superficial problems.
I am getting off track. The combat is handled through your standard chest-high walls and other such scenery that provides cover, from which you pop out and place shots from whatever weapon you feel like using. Enemies throughout the game are easy to take down, so you are never really worried about using whatever weapon you have equipped. In fact, the point in which I lost all hope of the ‘survival’ aspect of the game was during a scripted scene in which I was thrown upside down in a rope trap, but still managed to take out three or four guys with clean head shots from my pistol. I preferred the bow, as the game kind of wants you to go in that direction. (Bows are all the rage lately! I am personally fond of the trend.) Melee is looked down upon early in the game, but upgrading your equipment and skills (more on that later) make it incredibly overpowered to the point where you need not use anything else. Most situations offered the option to go in for the stealth approach and take down enemies one-by-one with silent take downs and quiet bow attacks. It isn’t necessary, but the option is there.
Throughout the game, you yield two types of points; salvage and experience. Salvage is gained by looting item boxes, harvesting animals (they are completely irrelevant otherwise) and checking downed enemies bodies. Experience is gained by completing tasks (most of which are scavenger hunts. Find x amount of treasure/various items placed in area) and killing enemies. What do you do with these points? Spend them at your local camp sites. Throughout the game you will come across camping spots which serve as the hub of upgrading and travel. Only at one of these camps can you upgrade your equipment and character. They are also used to fast travel to previous areas in the game, if you ever feel the need to backtrack to collect the relics (give exp and make you feel like a real adventurer!) and journals (provide back story to the island, it’s people and your crew) scattered in that specific area. More importantly however, you may upgrade Lara’s skills and gear. Skills cost experience and give out perks such as holding more ammo and taking extra amounts of bonuses from loots. Salvage is used to upgrade your weapons to make them more accurate, fire quicker, hold more ammo and all sorts of fine things. As I mentioned earlier, if you decide unlock the dodge and retaliate skill, you can take down pretty much any enemy with a few button taps. There are also upgrades that let you penetrate helmets, a skill that I am nothing but pleased to use against the armoured enemies that show up later in the game.
Platforming boils down to jumping/scaling cliffs and climbing across ropes. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but if you are expending anything resembling previous Tomb Raider games, you will be sorely disappointed. The puzzles are also lacking in this manner. They come up rarely and are usually solved by setting something on fire, toggling a switch or prying something open. This game clearly went for presentation and atmosphere and went more towards the action route.
The atmosphere in the game is fantastic. Everything about the island feels authentic. All of the wreckage, all of the wilderness, all of the insanity blend together perfectly. And it looks good. Damn good. Consoles are no slouch in the visual department but the game truly shines on the PC. Put this game on max (if your system can handle it) and you will not be disappointed. Everything is extremely detailed, from the vast forests to the dark caves. The game also features some of the most realistic looking character models I have seen in recent memory. If you are feeling brave, throw on TressFX. Most systems cannot handle it at a decent frame rate, but it will give you a glimpse of what to expect from the next generation of gaming. It may just render the hair, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t impress. Just… look at the hair!
I went into the game expending a grand survival adventure. I was disheartened by the giant change in direction, but I did not walk away disappointed. The adventure may have mislead me with the survival aspect, but it did not disappoint in the ‘grand’ department. The island was a blast to explore. Nothing in the game felt without polish and the presentation was fantastic. Cookie-cutter enemies didn’t feel out of place, although the variety could have used some work. The story was entertaining and the whole adventure does have some length to it. Overall, I walked away pleased.
One thing I feel that I should mention: Despite the title of ‘Tomb Raider’, tombs in the game are completely optional. Most of the tombs are hidden segments that feature a short puzzle and yield experience and salvage. Just another aspect of the game that I found funny.
- Beautiful Island to Explore
- Interesting Story
- Nice Length to It (Twelve or so Hours)
- Exploring is Delightful
- Enemies are pretty ho-hum
- Some Aspects Feel Tacked On and not Fleshed Out