Tomb Raider (2013) Review

By: Jimmy Kovalski

Developer: Crystal Dynamics (Multiplayer: Edios Montreal)

Publisher: Square-Enix

Players: 1 (1-8 Online)

Rating: M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Strong Langue) 

Platforms: PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360

Move over Nathan Drake

The past decade or so has not been too kind to Lara Croft. Several bad/mediocre games have pushed the iconic character to the brink of irrelevance. Enter Tomb Raider (2013); the game that reboots the series in hopes to bring it back to the top of the gaming landscape and a game that tells a very dark, grim and violent origin story of a newly designed Lara Croft. Does the new Tomb Raider resurrect an all but dead series or does it seal away the franchise’s fate in gaming’s graveyard of failed franchises?

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Tomb Raider tells the origin story of a young Lara Croft that sets off to find the ruins of a lost civilization. Lara and crew set sail on a huge ship called the Endurance. The ship wanders into the dangerous Dragon’s Triangle and is caught in a giant storm that shipwrecks the crew on a mysterious island. Lara washes up on the shore only to be knocked out and kidnapped. She awakes inside a cave only to escape and find out that her friends have been captured by a strange cult and it then becomes up to Lara to rescue them and get off the island. This is a pretty standard Indiana Jones type tale but it does a great job of holding your interest and ends up going to some really interesting places.

The game builds up the notion that we will be witnessing the birth of a survivor. A young, inexperienced girl turned into the iconic “kick-ass” heroine that we all know and love. The game puts her through absolute hell throughout her journey and puts her into some dire situations. The first hour of Tomb Raider is literally scene-after- scene of Lara getting the hell beat out of her. I found this to work well in watching a young girl mature fast and making you care for the character. However, some may find these scenes to be a bit much. The real disconnect that happens here is that the transition from “young, inexperienced adventurer” to “hero” is so abrupt and jarring that it can call the overall goal of the story into question. Everything Lara does in the opening moments are built up to be these emotional moments or turnings points in her life. The build up to her first human kill will definitely last in my mind as one of the best gaming moments, but is quickly stripped away when not even five minutes later Lara is mowing down dozens of enemies with little resistance or thought.

The game also builds up that Lara needs to kill animals to survive, but it only requires you to hunt one animal. Hunting then becomes completely optional. Sure, a “you-must-eat” mechanic may not be the best solution here, but at least something that makes hunting worthwhile.

Outside of the opening moments, this game doesn’t at all feel like the survivor game that Tomb Raider was billed as. Instead, it’s a third-person action adventure game with all the tropes of said genre.

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Lara herself is a wonderful character that I found very enjoyable to play as. The voice acting for her is downright impressive and I love the new look. Gone are the days of looking like a Barbie doll, Lara now looks like a real believable person. My only issue here is that her character is so good that the other characters just come up kind of boring. Out of all the other crew members, only Roth can even be considered good. Roth is an old family friend who promised Lara’s father we would watch over her. He has some really awesome moments. The rest of the crew, however; are pretty bland and boring. The game does have a certain collectable that does flesh out these characters way more than the main story accomplishes. They are small diaries that tell a bit of back-stories as well as what is going through their minds as all these horrific events unfold. These are great and they add a ton to the story but still never bring any of these characters out of Lara’s shadow.

To say the game is open world would be a lie but it’s not exactly a linear game neither. The game has many different levels that you work your way through but you always have the ability to back track and explore. The game does a good job of keeping you moving and some access areas to levels do become block off after certain story moments. However; littered throughout these levels are campsites which let you fast travel to any other campsite.

Also at these campsites you can upgrade your weapons and upgrade Lara herself by purchasing skills. You earn XP for just about everything you do and once you reach a certain amount you earn a skill point. There are three different skill trees in which you can specialize in, however; by the time the end of the game rolled around I pretty much had every skill. These skills can make Lara a better fighter, hunter and scavenger by giving here more ammo, unlocking new counter abilities and even lighting up animals or loot in an environment.

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Upgrading your weapons is also a major part of the game. You will have access to only a handful of weapons but each can be upgrade many times over. Throughout the game you will loot many different boxes, chests and enemies and acquire salvage. With this salvage you can upgrade many different facets of your weapons. It’s really cool to watch a rusty old sub-machine gun turn into a bad-ass commando rifle over time. All weapons can have many secondary uses as well. The bow, for example; can be used to not only silently take out enemies but also pull doors off their hinges or even shoot a rope to create a makeshift zip-line.

Some abilities and equipment only become available after certain points in the game. You will also notice many various paths that can only be accessed by having a certain weapon or equipment that you may not yet have. To describe this best we must use the term “metriodvania.” For some of you younger gamers, it reminded me a lot of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Once you’re done with the game you can even go back and freely explore the island and access all those alternate routes with your new equipment. I love this style of game and it works great in Tomb Raider.

Another mechanic that Tomb Raider does great are controls. The game is just a blast to play. The shooting is tight and responsive and the plat forming is very well done. The game does about a 60/40 on firefights to platforming and I felt that was more than sufficient.  There are a few puzzles but most of them come by way of optional challenge tombs for you to explore. These puzzles aren’t that difficult and if you so happen to be having a hard time, Lara will begin talking to herself. No she’s not going crazy, she’s letting you know what to do! Longtime fans may be a bit disappointed in the lack of puzzle solving but I hardly missed them amongst the great firefights and satisfying platforming parts.

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On the presentation front, the game is an all-out assault on the senses. The island is gorgeous and the game takes you to some great areas. There are quite a few times you will lose yourself in one of the many beautiful vistas the game has to offer. Character models look great and believable and the voice acting is good, though Lara’s is the major winner here. The animations are also some of the best around. It truly was a pleasure to watch Lara gracefully leap through the air from platform to platform and the game just nails the little things. When Lara walks by the fire she will shield her face. When she walks close to a wall she will run her hand on it. It’s the attention to detail that really stands out to me. The score is nothing extraordinary but it sets both the mood and tone appropriately.

The game also comes packed with competitive multiplayer. All your standard game types and progressions systems are here but the multiplayer is by-far the biggest blight on this astonishing game. The visuals are downgraded and it runs very poorly, dropping frames constantly. This mode is the prime example of a “tacked on” multiplayer. Not sure why the developers thought it was needed. I get you want people to play your game for a while but this is unacceptable. Yeah, it’s that bad.

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One thing to note. The game is extremely violent. The game has many various kill animations to not only Lara but also the enemies. These animations are so, for lack of a better term; well done that they will make you wince. You will watch as a spike impales Lara through the stomach and watch as she takes her last gasp of air and that’s one of the more mild ones. Some of these animations may be drawn out a bit much and some are unnecessary but I don’t feel they drag the game down in anyway. This is not the Tomb Raider kids grew up with on the Playstation so parents, be warned.

Tomb Raider is an absolute great way to reboot the series. It’s doesn’t exactly nail the whole “survivor” aspect as there aren’t any real “surviving” mechanics in the gameplay and the turn from innocent adventurer to kick-ass action hero is also way too quick and a bit jarring. Even with these two minor flaws this is a game you should not miss. The main story will take you 8-12 hours and there is plenty to do on the island long after the credits roll. Just stay away from the multiplayer.

Pros:

+ The new Lara Croft is fantastic

+ Visually stunning

+ Smooth and responsive gameplay

+ Entertaining Story

+ Great upgrade and skill point systems

+ A ton of collectibles that you WANT to collect

Cons:

- The turn from innocent adventurer to hero is way to quick and can be jarring.

- No real surviving mechanics (eating, resting, medical, etc.)

- Horrid tacked on multiplayer

Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Value Verdict: $60 when reviewed

Well worth every penny. Story will take 8-12 hours and there are plenty of collectibles and secrets to find. Don’t miss out on this fantastic game.

**This game was reviewed with the PS3 version bought by reviewer**

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