By Steve Wright
This year has definitely been one of video game reboots, though this isn’t a bad thing with titles like DmC: Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance doing most everything right. With March comes another reboot – that’s one for every month we’ve had in 2013, for those keeping count – Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider. Thankfully, the new (old) adventures of Lara Croft put her in the same league as Dante and Raiden in that this new game is a delight to play.
I was always partial to Tomb Raider, but one thing was always the same, whether I was playing on PlayStation or Xbox 360: at a certain point, I just stopped. I kept buying Tomb Raider titles, and I was always eager to play them, but at about the three-quarter mark in the game, I just petered out. The game’s plots always felt the same, and never deviated from being bland. Climbing sequences – like its combat – always felt the same, from the start of the game right through until the finish… well, my finish, anyways. Even the mansion sandbox, often my favourite part of each game, got old and uninspired as the Tomb Raider titles went on and on. And on. And on.
Booting this iteration of Tomb Raider up, you’ll immediately be aware of a couple of things that I think will be universally agreed upon. The first is that Lara looks more like a human being rather than a Barbie doll toting pistols, and that this true-to-life version of Lara gets beat up like a human pin cushion. Not in some ridiculous way, and not with any clichéd threats of rape simply because she’s a woman (so take THAT, internet people!), but in the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger gets his ass kicked in any one of his action films. Lara builds character with scrape, each bruise… and from what I’m assuming, with each broken rib. Ouch.
The second thing is that the game – whilst looking amazing – will easily draw comparisons to Uncharted. Though, that’s fine; what’s wrong with Uncharted? Apart from its gun combat, and weird storylines, that is. Mercifully, you can stop drawing links there; gun combat is up there with the best third-person shooters around, and close combat is more like Batman: Arkham Asylum in that it’s like a (less quicktime-driven) dance with a rhythm that you can master.
Similarly – and I know a lot of games give you progressively unlocked tools – but the way in which you build up those tools and use them to unlock different sections of the environment really reminded me of playing as Batman as he first began to explore Arkham Island. It’s nothing but enjoyable.
Parallels can also be made to Far Cry 3, as you’re dumped on an island with a group of friends – in this case, fellow archaeologists and crew of the scuttled ship Endurance – as you free yourself and set out to rescue those still kept captive. Tomb Raider deviates from Ubisoft’s title in that Lara’s story is well-written and intricately fleshed out. Tomb Raider has just enough supernatural elements to put it on par with any of the first three Indiana Jones movies… and not as much to place it anywhere near Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Or, Uncharted 3 for that matter. Really? Aliens?
Everyone can take something different away from Tomb Raider. As much as I love the combat and the game’s rewarding plot, I was most enamoured with uncovering its world. Secret tombs are fun to discover, with their puzzles inside ranging from downright easy to head-scratchin’ hard. Each of the game’s set pieces offers a large area to explore, and you’ll be tasked with finding relics and documents that not only help you understand what’s unfolding around you, but offer insight into the relationships between Lara and the game’s supporting characters. The more you play and interact with the world, the more you’ll enjoy it. Best yet, investing in learning as much as you can from what’s around you – and really, being an archaeologist in doing so -- means you really get to understand and care about the supporting cast. Before the end of the game, they really feel like your friends… which is something Far Cry 3 never quite mastered.
While most of the game’s collectibles don’t feel like a chore to collect, having to grab GPS markers sure does. Tomb Raider was almost a game about collectibles being done right, until Crystal Dynamics decided to throw just one more type in there. The story’s quite tight, but does have its flaws – in a couple places in story, enemies would simply decide to cease their aggressions and disappear from sight so you could explore bonds between characters. On top of that, one of the game’s secondary villains is so telegraphed it’s almost painful. Lastly, far too many multiplayer achievements -- a way of saying, “please, PLEASE play multiplayer!” -- and a vanilla listing of single-player ones really show that while Crystal Dynamics have done a great job in making Lara their own, they still have elements to improve upon.
Multiplayer is very polished, and from what I got to play -- which was only three games, sadly, as lobbies were quite dead -- could be quite enjoyable with bouts full of people. It was great fun to zip around going after fellow gamers in Team Deathmatch and Free for All. Rescue -- where one team tries to collect and deliver health packs to their base, and the other team tries to stop them -- will be just as fun if people are prepared to play such an objective-based game. Ultimately, Tomb Raider still feels like a single-player title (and a good one, at that!), which leads me to question whether or not its multiplayer will have any real staying power. It'll at least be popular for a couple weeks, so do yourself a favour and jump on in sooner rather than later.
On the whole, Tomb Raider is a very polished title (as it should be, after a delay) with quite a bit to offer gamers. Whether you’re into third-person shooters, love a great story, or are keen on exploring, you’ll find something to satisfy your cravings. Welcome back, Lara – and nice to properly meet you.