Tomb Raider Review
By Max Roberts
I remember the first time I saw Lara Croft. It was in the fourth Tomb Raider game, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. As a nine year old kid, the game blew my mind. Exploring tombs and temples, fighting bad guys with dual pistols, Lara was the ultimate explorer. I loved it so much that I traded my exclusive Pokémon Mystery Dungeon booklet for my friend’s copy, which I still have to this day. Flash forward ten years to Lara’s latest adventure and you will find that Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider has made me feel nine all over again. While Tomb Raider is not perfect, it is one of the year’s best games and has plenty to offer. There are temples and tombs to explore with a superb combat system, all propelled by an excellent story.
“A Survivor is Born.” The tagline for Tomb Raider promotes that this game is the tale of Lara’s origins. Fresh out of university, Lara sets out to sea with a crew full of mentors and friends in search for the lost kingdom of Yamatai and its Sun Queen. Shortly after a decision is made to travel through the treacherous Dragon’s Triangle in search for Yamatai, a freak storm comes out of nowhere and destroys the ship. Lara, separated from the crew, washes ashore on the mysterious Yamatai. From here on out, Lara’s goal is to find her friends and get off the island. Quickly she discovers that the task is easier said than done. Island natives take her and the crew hostage, threatening to kill everyone. Not long after being captured, Lara escapes, which leads to her first kill. The kill is a close, intimate, and emotional experience; for both Lara and the player. Her journey is to fight everything that Yamatai has to offer, which pushes her to the limits and tests her in every way imaginable.
The pacing of Tomb Raider‘s campaign is excellent. At no point does the story feel rushed or too slow. Characters are greatly developed. As the cast experiences the dark horrors of Yamatai, they find the answer to how far a man will go to survive. Especially Lara, who is coming from a place of complete innocence. She is molded by the island and her circumstances, causing a survivor to be born.
Graphically, Tomb Raider is excellent. Environments are rich and immersive. There is a lot to explore and see on Yamatai. There are tombs and caves, riddled with treasure and unlockables. While not a dominant feature in the game, outdoor areas have animals for Lara to hunt and skin. It adds a sense of realism to the lost island that is ruled by nature.
The gameplay of Tomb Raider can be broken down into two categories: Navigation and combat. The overall navigation of the game is solid. Lara can climb up and down buildings and rock walls using her pickaxe, which later on, can be used as a weapon. A noticeable issue while climbing ledges or, in particular, climbing ropes, textures would pop in and out frequently. This glitch definitely interrupted the flow of gameplay. There are some environmental puzzles that will keep players from progressing until the right tool or skill is acquired. Players have to think about their arsenal and what is around to light up a tomb or breakdown a wall. As more tools and skills are found, the more dynamics the puzzles may have. When a player is stuck on what to do next, a simple tap of the secondary left shoulder button turns on “Survival Instinct”. The game goes black and white, highlighting the target in a gold hue. It acts much like a directional button that puts players on the right path.
Throughout the game you will see all sides of Yamatai, but it is not an open-world. Each area is linked together through passageways or caverns. To help make the world more accessible, Crystal Dynamics added Fast Travel at the game’s “rest points”. These are campsites Lara finds all around the island. At these campsites, players can level up Lara through three skill categories; Survivor, Hunter, and Brawler. Skill points are acquired through experience points players earn through combat, plot points, or raiding side tombs. To keep these three categories balanced, the game has tiered skills. So many skill points have to be used to unlock the next tier, causing the player to choose from all three categories to unlock the next tier.
Also at campsites Lara can upgrade her weapons and equipment through the use of salvage, the in-game currency. Found in boxes or off dead enemies, salvage is a universal item that is used specifically for upgrading items. With salvage, an average wooden bow can become an elite competition bow with napalm arrows. An old World War II shotgun becomes an assault shotgun with fire spread shot. Some of the upgrades get pretty intense, making them all the sweeter.
The combat itself is unique for a third-person shooter. It gives the player an option on how they want to play; stealth or guns blazing. Lara’s arsenal is only four weapons. She has a bow, a pistol, an assault rifle, and a shotgun. Players change through her weapons with a tap on the d-pad, each direction assigned to a different weapon. Lara’s weapons don’t start out top notch though. Parts have to be found to upgrade to the next best level, unlocking new upgrades. A wooden bow goes to curved bow and so on. In addition to all the possible weapon attachments and upgrades, Lara’s tiny arsenal becomes quite dynamic.
The only real shame in Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider is the multiplayer. It features four modes, each with a casual and hardcore setting. Two of these modes are typical of any multiplayer; free-for-all and team deathmatch. The other two sound unique and cool, they just don’t pan out. They are “Cry For Help” and “Rescue”. These modes pit Yamatai natives against Lara’s survival crew. “Cry For Help” has the crew try to establish a radio connection so they can escape. The natives must take the batteries and kill a certain number before a radio connection can be established. While intriguing enough on paper, the mode itself is stacked in favor of the crew. The survivors only have to collect three radios, while the natives have to rack up 25 kills. “Rescue” suffers from the same feeling of a stacked round, when survivors must collect a 5 medical kits and the islanders need 25 kills.
On a technical scale, the multiplayer is horrendous. It is slow, lag ridden, and complicated. Rounds take a minimum of 30 seconds to load and textures and map elements lag constantly in-game. It is a real shame because Crystal Dynamics tried to bring some of the single player elements, such as dyanmic weather and sliding into new areas, into the multiplayer to make it unique. Again, a cool idea on paper, but never fleshed out in the actual experience. Weather can be more distracting and literally blinding, as sandstorms cover the entire map for a minute or more, then reappearing less than a minute after stopping. The sliding mechanic is quick, but won’t let you fire until out of the animation, leaving you easy prey for an enemy waiting at the bottom. Overall the multiplayer had potential with it’s unique ideas, but that is it. The multiplayer never launched to a fun and satisfying level that would keep players coming back for more.
Tomb Raider is a full realization of who is Lara Croft and where she came from. Starting as a broken and beaten student and ending as a brave and strong explorer, Lara becomes the hero everyone knows. Despite the faulty multiplayer, Tomb Raider has rich, gorgeous temples and tombs to explore, a superb combat system, and an excellent story that will engage you to the very end.
Disclaimer: The high resolution images (Show of Strength, Dance With The Devil, A Woman Scorned, and Eat to Live) came from Dead End Thrills. They were shot by Duncan Harris. Check out his site to see more high resolution shots of plenty more games. Click any of the images in this review and they will link you to his Tomb Raider archive.