There are two ways to see Tomb Raider: as a much-needed reinvention of an ageing franchise, or as dumbing down and actioning up of a much-loved series in a sop to the latest fads in a fickle gaming market. It’s a game that is extremely good at what it does, though die-hard Lara Croft fans might not necessarily like what that is.
Developed by Crystal Dynamics, which created the other Tomb Raider games of this console generation, Tomb Raider eschews the precision platforming and the gently teasing environmental puzzles of its predecessors in favour of cinematic action. It’s a template that takes a great deal from Naughty Dog’s mighty Uncharted franchise, which, ironically enough, was once tagged “Dude Raider” for its borrowings from Tomb Raider.
Initial impressions of Tomb Raider are not good. In its opening hour or so, the game forces you as a young, inexperienced Lara Croft through a gauntlet of linear set pieces and annoying quick time-events as it sets the scene. Shipwrecked on a mysterious island that is home to a bunch of crazy cultists, Lara is punished by the elements and hunted by the inhabitants as she tries to reunite with her friends.
The amount of player interaction in these opening scenes feels curiously limited; push “up” to keep going through Lara’s pain and degradation. It helps little that new voice and motion-capture model actor for Lara — Camilla Luddington — overdoes the screeches and howls of pain. In these moments, the class that Keeley Hawes’ dulcet voice brought to the character is missed as are the measured pace and sense of exploratory wonder of earlier Tomb Raider games.
HOW IT SCORES
Eat your heart out, Naughty Dog. Tomb Raider is as pretty the Uncharted games, plus it’s a multi-format release.
Great background music and sound effects, but some of Lara’s yelps and moans are a little over the top.
The combat mechanics are robust and the set pieces are spectacular, but the puzzles are laughably simple, there are a few too many QTEs and the multiplayer is just there to tick a box.
The adventure takes a good 10-12 hours to complete, and more if you scout the island for secrets and collectibles.
Tomb Raider is a slick reinvention of a gaming icon that will ensure her relevance for years to come. But nostalgic fans might miss some of the elements that made the earlier games special.
Stick with Tomb Raider, though, and its confidence grows as quickly as Lara’s does in her transition from frightened whelp to kickass adventurer. Tomb Raider sets out as a shaky attempt to copy the elements that have made Uncharted and similar games so popular, but it quickly turns into a serious contender for Uncharted’s heavyweight belt. The claustrophobic corridors widen out into breathtaking vistas of sweeping valleys and towering mountain peaks, and the game’s iron grasp on the player’s hand relaxes.
One of the many cues that Tomb Raider takes from Uncharted is the way it recasts Lara as a less-than-superhuman figure, far from the unflappable aristocrat of the earlier games and her improbably buxom chest and short shorts. Like Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, she makes mistakes, has fears, and experiences regrets.
Rhianna Pratchett — Terry’s daughter — writes a credible and gritty origin story for Lara. There is a sense of disconnect between the vulnerable, battered Lara of the cinematics and the super-dexterous, cold-blooded killer of the gameplay, perhaps, but that points to the limitations of the medium more than to any flaw in the writing.
And what of the gameplay? You’ll be spending a lot more time killing people than you did in the earlier Tomb Raider games. Luckily, the shooting is tight and satisfying. The game features the same sort of robust combat duck-and-cover combat engine you might find in any other contemporary third-person shooter, complete with melee moves for close-up combat and vicious stealth kills to be used on unsuspecting enemies.
There’s still plenty of platforming — with some vertigo-inducing ascents in the later sections of the game — but it is the sort of simple, automated jumping and climbing you’d find in Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed. Unlike the earlier games, Tomb Raider’s platforming won’t test your timing or your accuracy.
But the game environments are wonderfully designed with a breadcrumb trail of collectibles to follow. Hunting down these collectibles helps you earn experience to boost Lara’s skills while collecting salvage gives you the currency needed to upgrade her weapons. The telltale glint of a relic hidden in the brush or on a ledge above is a tantalising invitation to explore.
Tomb Raider preview (via YouTube):
The puzzle solving has also been simplified, with nothing that will detain you for more than a few minutes. To appease fans of the older games, the game has a few optional tombs to raid (you know, like the game’s name indicates), but they’re one-puzzle chambers that can easily be completed in five or 10 minutes. Like Uncharted, Tomb Raider wants to sweep you through a story with some jawdropping set pieces, and it does so very well.
On some level, Tomb Raider embodies many of the worst trends in the gaming industry. With its dull, tacked-on multiplayer (barely worth a mention) and its focus on narrative over gameplay, it is yet another example of the ongoing homogenisation of big-budget games. (Another recent victim is Dead Space 3.) No longer do we have stealth games, survival-horror games, third-person adventure games — they’re all turning into third-person shooters with cinematic elements.
But Tomb Raider is such a superbly executed game that it brushes these concerns aside, demanding to be assessed as the game it is rather than the game some of us want it to be. The Crystal Dynamics team which has worked with Lara Croft for so many years clearly cares about her a great deal – despite the harrowing ordeal they put her through. Tomb Raider is an engrossing adventure with fantastic product values. Rest in peace, Tomb Raider. Long live the new Lara Croft. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
- Reviewed on Xbox 360. Also on PS3 and PC