Game Review : Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider Poster Release March 5 2013

Release Date: March 05, 2013

Developer: Crystal Dynamics / Eidos Studios – Montreal
Publisher: Square-Enix
Platform: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 / Microsoft Windows

Lara Croft has become iconic for a number of people around the world since she first appeared 17 years ago. Often we hear of a woman with a strong personality being compared with the famous Lara Croft. And at some point, some women actually started trying to achieve that. Lara is the whole package: intelligent, strong, sexy, rich and powerful; so why wouldn’t women want to be like her? And for men, she was more than strong, she also was a sex symbol, which was cultivated for generations, from the digital world until Angelina Jolie donned the famous persona. (By the way, was the blood river scene in the game supposed to be a reference to Angelina Jolie in Beowulf? LOL.)

But this time in the new Tomb Raider, this is not the Lara Croft that we have come to know. Ok, she is still sexy, very good looking and can still do some gravity-defying acrobatics; but now Lara is young, inexperienced, vulnerable, naive and, in some moments even too dramatic. All that she wants is to go back home and leave behind the nightmare that she has to face, but of course, this is not an option.

A Survivor Is Born

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my first impressions of the game were totally incoherent to the rest of my game experience. If you were expecting to play a little bit before the whole “ship accident” happens, you are totally wrong— I was wrong too! The game starts exactly with the same cinematic that we have seen countless times since Tomb Raider was first announced long ago. You don’t have time to connect yourself and gain affection with the other characters of the ship Endurance. The game just starts: BOOOM! And you are trapped in the middle of a creepy cavern. Why would you want to risk your life to save someone that wasn’t even introduced to you as a player in the game? That was my first bad impression. And unfortunately, this impression was followed by the next moments in the game’s beginning.

Since the cavern moment was the first part of the game, they try to make it so spectacular that they actually don’t think about how the “new” Lara Croft would be able to face all the obstacles she faces inside the cave. We know that the whole game idea is to focus on how the little girl grows up and turns into a strong woman, but if Lara still needs to grow, how believable is it that, in the first minutes of the game, Lara is be able to do all that she does? I just think that if they want to make her evolve, then allow a little more time for that. All this should be presented and learned with time, when she finally sees herself as a Survivor. And not as the old heroin right from the start.

Besides that? The rest of the game is incredible in my opinion, it totally changed after the first 20 minutes of gameplay.

The whole game runs around the idea of putting Lara Croft into situations that will test her limits. She is a survivor, and to keep alive she needs to defend herself by killing people, and she has learn how to hunt animals, as well as explore, climb and hide in different environments. The game also offers a cool “Survivor Instinct” option, which when used makes the game screen go black and white, highlighting only objective direction, items, enemies and animals. It’s almost like the Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed, and it works pretty well.

Story And Environments

In search of the lost Japanese civilization of Yamatai, Lara convinces the Endurance Crew to enter the Dragon’s Triangle, an area renowned for causing ships to disappear. And of course, the Endurance is added to the list of missing ships when it faces a huge storm and crashes into the island. When Lara wakes up on the beach, she is attacked right away, thus starting the whole first game sequence. After the first minutes of the game you start to understand that the inhabitants of the island are in search of a woman they can sacrifice to resurrect the Sun Queen, Himiko. And guess what? Samantha — Lara’s friend — is the one chosen.

The plot may seem to be a little bit weak or cliché, but it actually works pretty well. With some twists of magic and legends, and with some mature and gore content, all the island and each single environment compliments the game in an amazing way.

The environment’s representation is amazing and it varies a lot during the game. There are forests, beaches, tombs, snow areas and everything else that you could expect. The lighting matches according to the environments, creating an even more appropriate atmosphere. When it is raining you can see the lightning illuminate the environment, while the rain actually effects the game camera, making us believe that we are part of that world.

Some Elements Of The Classic Game

So here we are with this new Lara, then the question arises: Does she face puzzles and explore tombs like before? Does she like it? Well,  I’m not so sure she likes it, considering that in one moment of the game she actually says she hates tombs. But that does not mean that she won’t explore some. In this Tomb Raider, the player has the option to find and explore different tombs — in total, 7 of them — Upon completeion, you are rewarded with some item and XP points, as well as a Treasure Map for an area on the island, helping the player to identify certain items.

Most of the puzzles are presented in these optional tombs. Out of that, the player will probably face three or four different puzzle situations, which makes me feel as though they could have added more and increased the difficulty a little bit. I can count on one hand the number of times that I actually had difficulty with one puzzle in the game.

The relic viewer mode is also here. The player can find and collect relics around the game, and by doing that, you can visualize it up close, zooming in, rotating — and try to find some extra clues. Those clues do not affect the gameplay itself, but give extra information to the main plot. By collecting relics you are rewarded with XP.

And finally, Lara Croft is still a very fast and light character, that can jump very far, hang in platforms, climb and shoot.

New Elements For A New Generation

What new features would be good for the game? Surprisingly — for me at least — the upgrades are one of the nicest part of the game. By collecting relics, killing enemies with headshots, finding treasures in tombs, or even reaching new environments, the player will be rewarded with XP. Accessing one of the camps, the player can exchange those XP for a number of new abilities to Lara, increasing from Hunting Skills to Fighting Skills.

Another upgrade system is related to the weapons and gears. By collecting Salvage — by destroying boxes or taking from enemy bodies — you can use it to upgrade your weapons. Sometimes you need more than Salvage to get the weapon for another level. In that case, the player needs to find more parts of the respective weapon, usually by collecting the treasures that you can find in each optional tomb. In the end, both upgrade systems work very well, and it’s not annoying or hard to understand. Actually, the game makes me want to collect everything, just to be able to upgrade my equipment and skills, which is something new for me.

Hunting is one of the newest elements in the game, but also the most stupid. The idea is pretty nice, but the execution went very bad. Right in the beginning of the game you are “forced” to hunt a deer, to learn how to do it, and to learn how to collect something from their body. But the problem is that after this first time, you can play the whole game without ever having to hunt again. It’s something totally unnecessary and with no purpose, considering that Lara Croft does not have a hunger bar or anything like that.

Level Design And Gameplay

I had loads of fun playing Tomb Raider — Maybe because it features various elements that are present in two of my favourite game series: Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed.

Uncharted, because it follows the recipe of integrating many cinematic sequences while you have a total in-game control, loads of enemies appearing all the time, incredible combat situations, explosions, different types of gameplay — like the one in the parachute or in the waterfall — and a charismatic character. And Assassin’s Creed becaause it considers a whole area that you can “freely” explore, quickly travelling between camps, and even with some screen glitches.

The gameplay and controls work in a very smooth way. Everything is very intuitive and clear. It’s fun to use Lara’s Bow, trying to kill the enemies while keeping yourself in a stealth mode approach. That was actually one of my favourite parts of the game: the use of the Bow.

While the gameplay gives us a very good experience, the Level Design tends to try to convince us of a fake freedom. As I said before, some elements remind me of Assassin’s Creed — for example, when you see that you are surrounded by this big map, full of choices and directions to go in. But all this illusion of freedom is broken by having to follow the right path in the game. The player needs to go ahead to the next point, moving in the right direction, which doesn’t really give choices to the player. They tried to sell us a free experience, but in my opinion is just a linear Uncharted Level Design, with clear objectives and directions. Not that I am complaining — At least I didn’t get lost.

Waiting For The Next One

Finally, Tomb Raider did a good job in returning to this generation, promising something new and being fun to play. With a large and beautiful environment, super exciting gameplay moments and cinematics, it seems that they finally got the right choices for the game and we are assuming that next ones will come soon. It will be interesting to imagine what new ideas and features will come. And if they accomplish at least half of what this Tomb Raider did for us, I’m pretty sure it will be another success.