One of the most anticipated games of 2013, the latest installment in the Tomb Raider series promised us so much, and indeed delivered beyond our wildest dreams. A complete reboot from the ground up, tackling everything from the archaic movement mechanics to the weak storyline and mundane combat (or lack thereof), Tomb Raider has become great once again.
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved ogling Lara as she made her way through impossible situations as much as the next guy (yes, women are allowed to appreciate the -very disproportionate in this case- female form too) but after a few installments of exactly the same type of gameplay, even transcending generations, I had all but given up hope on Lara. It felt as though the developers were clinging to the dated glory of the 2000’s, when Lara desperately needed to step into the next generation.
Enter 21 year old Lara, bright eyed and pony-tailed, and ready to take on the world of expeditions exploring the mythological and sometimes supernatural.
Before I begin, I would like to point out something of pivotal importance to anyone who isn’t familiar with our new Lara and her major rival, Nathan Drake. Now when Tomb Raider was still in development, many fans feared that it would turn out to be a carbon copy of Uncharted, simply swapping characters and environments. I am pleased to report, ladies and gentlemen, that the ONLY similarity Lara’s game shares with Nate’s is the aiming system during combat, which hardly counts seeing as myriads of other third person games use the same kind of system, albeit with little tweaks here and there.
Lara’s new adventure is thoroughly enjoyable, utterly engaging and beautifully crafted. The only downside I encountered during my playthrough was that there were some annoying glitches which could potentially halt the game, though these were thankfully rectified with patch releases.
“A famous explorer once said that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. I’d finally set out to make my mark – to find adventure. But instead, adventure found me. When all seemed lost, I found a truth, and I knew what I must become.”
As these words are spoken, we see Lara aboard a sinking ship, the Endurance. She ends up being separated from the rest of the crew and washes up on the shore, but before she can do anything she is knocked out. She awakens hanging upside down in a cave filled with skeletal remains and manages to break free, injuring herself in the process. Dazed and hurt, she begins her seemingly never-ending escape from the island of Yamatai.
The story is centralized around Lara’s struggle for survival, seamlessly intertwining with adrenaline-pumping action sequences, plot twists and a shocking truth about Yamatai, concluding with the mystery behind Himiko, the “Sun Queen”. The game features an amazing score by critically acclaimed composer Jason Graves, as well as solid voice acting from the cast. I loved Camilla Luddington‘s rendition of Lara, who does her motion capture as well. She brought Lara to life, made her accessible and relatable to the player, and successfully allowed Lara to find a space within the cockles of your little gamer heart. Gone are the days of a superhuman Lara who could leap tall buildings in a single bound. She feels so much more real now. Before you didn’t really care if you fell into an abyss and died (damn movement controls!), but now you feel a strong desire to keep Lara alive, thinking twice about those jumps.
Combat is an absolute pleasure, with responsive and intuitive controls. The fluid changeover from exploration or a nerve-wracking action sequence into the heat of an intense firefight is just delightful, and never feels forced. You can choose to play the game stealthily, using the bow and sneaking up behind enemies, or go out guns blazing and bring on the heat. I liked this dynamic, though I tried to stick to the stealth aspect with my trusty bow, a welcome addition. It is definitely my favourite weapon, though I’m never against blasting away the bad guys with a good ol’ shotgun.
The Skill Point system is an innovative aspect that allows you to upgrade your skills as a survivor, hunter and brawler. Skill Points are earned through gaining XP, by hunting animals, combat, completing chapters of the game, successfully raiding tombs and acquiring all collectibles in a specific area, making the player want to strive for 100% completion. The four weapons (the two I mentioned above plus a handgun and an assault rifle) can also be upgraded by locating weapon parts and using salvage points to add new functions to them.
The nifty Fast Travel option available at certain campsites eliminates boring and time consuming backtracking across the vast island when searching for documents, relics and the like. The Survival Instincts Vision (somewhat akin to Batman’s Detective Vision in Arkham Asylum) also helps to spot those well hidden secrets in large areas.
To be honest, this game had me hooked. I would sit up until 4am on many occasions with reckless abandon for the fact that I would have to wake up for work later that morning. It’s a decent length, averaging between 8-16 hours, just depending on your play style and your sense of exploration.
There is a multiplayer component –as is compulsory in all titles these days- in which players can participate in a Free For All, or compete on opposing teams to complete various objectives split into three different modes: Team Deathmatch, Private Rescue and Cry for Help. There is also a range of downloadable map packs available for the online component. Tomb Raider has always been a single player experience, so the addition of this multiplayer mode felt a bit unnecessary and as more of an afterthought rather than a part of the game.
Tomb Raider succeeds in creating beautiful yet desolate environments and realistic, relatable characters. There are many memorable moments, and throughout the game, a sense of urgency and worry keep pushing you forward. The menu interface is stylish and easy to navigate, combat is fluid and fun and Lara’s story captivates the player. The pros far outweigh the cons, and this is definitely one of the best games I have played on PS3.