In Review: Tomb Raider 2013 (PS3) ★★★☆☆
Developers Crystal Dynamics and Publishers Square Enix (Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy) reincarnate the dual-wielding, blood and/or dirt soaked dream that is the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, in their 2013 Action-Adventure release of the multiplatform game, Tomb Raider. The tagline, "A Survivor is Born," justly indicates that we're about to experience her origin story- at least one of them. If you're not familiar with Lara Croft and her many Tomb Raids, don't worry, this is a whole new take on the character so you won't be left in the dark. Not with all these torches around!
I'm not going to lie. When I received this as a gift I felt very intimidated by it. I had heard so many great things about it's adventure gameplay and graphics and thought I might be in over my head. However, I actually finished the main story within just 5 days of starting it with little to no controller throwing and guttural screaming.
Voiced and based off of the motion capture provided by the angelic Camilla Luddington, this rendition of Lara Croft is far more fleshed out than her previous versions (pardon the expression). Her rigging and movements feel strangely closer to anatomically correct than ever before, and her practical outfit (complete with full length pants) begs for dirt, blood, and treasure to fill it up.
The game plays as a hub and spoke exploration model that centers on young Lara Croft after being shipwrecked and stranded by an intense storm on an ancient Japanese Island in search of answers to the mystery of the "Sun Queen." She and her crew must fight through the dangerous wilds, bandits, and psycho overlords that now inhabit the island and make it back to safety without turning on each other.
The game's setting is a beautiful landscape with gorgeous natural and man-made architecture and mysterious scenery that truly transports you while you're butt-kicking, tomb raiding, and rescuing friends. Like many large platform games, it takes you through a tutorial objective to start out with after a Spielberg-esque cut-scenes and set up is over. It's surprisingly free form in it's directive and provides hints only if you ask for it- using your "survival instincts" trigger button. They're very helpful, but not dead-giveaways of how to complete the task at hand.
Throughout the game you learn tidbits, ancient history through artifacts, and progress the story by reviewing diaries from various characters via treasure boxes sprinkled and hidden around the entire map. If you're really into story development in your games, you might actually feel a bit slighted as the story itself is wildly underwhelming and fanciful in comparison to its gritty and grand, realistic feel. The stakes in this game aren't unreasonably high, but are unreasonably boring. The game play and combat, interestingly enough, are the winning factors for me.
Unlike the very first Tomb Raider game where the campfires hurt you if you got too close, campsites are now your refuge where you can upgrade and build your weapons, redeem skill points for rewards, increase your combat and survival skills, and fast travel as well. The menu interface is easy to use and follow and does most of the work for you. You just have to decide things like whether or not you want to be able to blast a guy to pieces from a farther distance, or tear him up faster with an arrow. Decisions, decisions. Fast traveling and upgrades are super helpful for your subsequent play-throughs when you'd like to get somewhere quickly and pack a heavier punch when you get there.
The weapons Lara finds and builds throughout the first half of the game look and feel amazing in Lara's hands. Their execution and accuracy may depend on the mods you've committed salvage to ( which are found in crates and on corpses), but could be a little more realistic in mechanics to match the aesthetic. At times it seems like the weapons fluctuate in damage and helpfulness, depending on the enemy, which is normal, but when battling a hoard of bandits, Japanese soldiers, wolves and stationary objects, you want useful options when you run out of ammo.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not throwing shade on the weapons available. We're talking grenades, flaming and roped arrows, egregious shot guns, pistols, rifles, and climbing gear to the face. Although the enemies have superb Artificial Intelligence and are at times downright ornery, winning a challenging stand off is it's own reward and the best part of the game for me. You also get extra ammo and useful salvage parts from the carnage.
In comparison to other adventuring games where you'll need to scale walls, solve puzzles on a small and large scale using timing and wit, and sneaky snake around camps (such as the Uncharted franchise)- the actual action of controlling Lara's character is very advanced. Grabbing, climbing, rolling, and swinging in this game are far better than most adventure games. It's intuitive and autonomous when the time truly calls for it. I never once needed to look up a walk-through, which is almost unheard of for most games. That doesn't mean it will be easy to complete each puzzle or objective. You'll find that your teeth will be on edge just as much while setting up the perfect headshot as they would be scaling a radio tower or gaining access to a higher ledge. Be forewarned, there is a massive amount of button mashing to complete many tasks. This game is not for weak thumbs.
Now here this: You will die. A lot. Sometimes the same way over and over. I will say that as gruesome and gory as the death cut scenes are, they're still very enchanting and well animated. Lara can be killed in a seemingly endless number of ways, yet the load screens for respawning back to the last save are incredibly short lived, no pun intended. Additionally, the game has an Autosave feature which doesn't bog down or interfere with active gameplay and does it often enough where you don't lose a lot of mileage after each and every mistake. This is a great advantage for an adventure game such as this.
As I mentioned, the landscapes and locations are incredible- they were also repetitive and stagnant. Although every chapter of the game had a different feel and mechanic to them, the unchanging visual theme and the mechanics of how you progress through each location became redundant towards the second half of the game.
The saving grace is how interactive the world is. Through the aid of near-perfect auto orientation, beautiful in-game cinematography and responsive music and scores, you feel like you're really living every moment. At times, it was hard for me to differentiate whether I'm watching a cut-scene or live playing. I found it fascinating to watch her life-like animations even while she was idle and waiting for me to move. Almost every second of gameplay there's a feeling of urgency whether action is happening or not.
Multiplayer is only available online and is in a deathmatch setting. There are various characters that can be unlocked at different skill levels and different environments as well. It's not amazing and can sometimes be chaotic, but it's a fun way to show off your Croft skills with other players.
Overall, Tomb Raider is a stunning work of art and well worth the first play through. It's a short first play through that gives you just enough varying Lara Croft-brand action and acrobatics without being laborious in getting to finally finishing the main objective. Although the end of the journey went out with a fizzle, and parts in between then and the beginning were a little lackluster, I feel Tomb Raider was a successful and solid game that should be in the library of any level gamer- from Beginner to Advanced.
The greatest moment of this entire adventure is most certainly the full circle created by Lara's impromptu dual-wielding of her and the end boss' pistols. That certainly put a smile on my face. And in the end, they've set up a possible setting for the next journey in the new Tomb Raider series, to which I look very forward to.