Game reboots can be a bit of a touchy subject for fans of a popular game series. They can go oh so very wrong, but there are also attempts that have been developed correctly and breathe life back into a series. Over the years there have been several reboots, but now is the time for a reboot of one of Playstations classic games. Since Tomb Raider’s original birth back in 1996 on the PlayStation, Lara Croft has been back and forth across the world in the quest for hidden treasure and uncovering myths. After several outings the series began to grow tiresome and started to show some age; Lara wasn’t the adventurer she once was. All that said, Tomb Raider has returned and Lara Croft is once again on an adventure. This time, however, we go back in time and take her through her very first treasure hunt. For the purpose of this review, Tomb Raider was played on the Playstation 3.
Lara Croft, this time voiced and modelled by Camilla Anne Luddington, is off to explore the island of Yamatai with crew members of the ship, Endurance. Unfortunately for them, they are shipwrecked on the island that performs the task of being Lara’s playground for the duration of the game. It is in this playground that the fearful and frightened Lara becomes the explorer extraordinaire that she is very well known for. It takes her through the most brutal of beatings, towards the jaws of death itself, but it’s the combination these, and the determination and will to get back up each time, that shape the character of our young ‘academic’ into a mighty adventurer.
Lara’s character is developed to the very core, and this is the game that makes Lara the tomb raider we all remember. This coming of age happens through a plot that calls on the spooky and supernatural. Unfortunately it isn’t something that makes for a great plot; it becomes rather uninteresting in areas and ends up being predictable. It really doesn’t help that the majority of characters, both in a supporting role to Lara and those that play an antagonistic role, don’t feel as rich or deep as our leading lady. To illustrate their back story, the game provides a set of collectable books found around the island that will help shape these supporting roles a little better. This isn’t the best way of providing the extra characters with story and it would have been nice to see a little more life put into the empty vessels.
Lara looks absolutely wonderful through the game. Yes, she is visually appealing, but the wonder being mentioned here is the way Lara’s animation is tremendously silky and smooth. All animations have been fine-tuned and implemented to show off Lara as a realistic idol rather than a robotic action stunt woman. This has paid off except for one instance; leap off towards a ledge and Lara will hold out her arms in an attempt to reach out. This animation happens to kick in rather early making Lara look rather silly, as if she were flying towards the ledge as opposed to a simple jump. Perhaps this is a minor reference towards the Lara Croft of old.
Tomb Raider really stands out as a shining example of getting the correct balance of level design, puzzling, platforming and exploration. There is plenty for players to ravage around for; books aren’t the only form of collectable available. With a great big island to explore, it would have been a shame if it was. But, there is plenty to keep your eyes out for. Collectables range from the books to GPS caches and salvaging items, animals or dead enemies will net you points to use in upgrading weapons or equipment. Missed any of the loot in the game? All that missed treasure, the collectables and hidden tombs are waiting for you upon your return to the island after the credits have rolled.
It is the intricacies in Tomb Raider that make it excel as a great action/ adventure game. Crystal Dynamics have nailed down every little detail to provide a great experience. This even comes down to the shaking of the camera during gameplay to keep the moment alive. Let’s also not forget the other little details such as having no HUD to clear the screen from unnecessary icons and something that made the experience better; no loading screens to interrupt gameplay. Okay, there may have been maybe 2 loading screens, but these were during cut scenes and the gameplay was already interrupted at the time. No gameplay was interrupted in anyway with any sort of loading bar or menu. Transitioning between gameplay and cut scenes was for the most part fluid and because a large majority of the scenes were rendered in-game and this keeps up the pace of the game very well.
The biggest strength about Tomb Raider is arguably the tension and atmosphere that is experienced from start to finish. Not once throughout the game was there a moment that didn’t provide even a bit of magic. This comes with a combination of different attributes, but the biggest of these was the setting itself and the sound work. Never before has silence in a video game provided such a strong feeling of tension. You know what Lara is going through on the island, and being shrouded in a mist of silence with just the whistling wind brushing your ear tells you only that something may be to come, but you just don’t know what. What hits home the most is having, or even not having, the sound. Tomb Raider could very possibly go without any background tracks and the tension and atmosphere would still very much be in place with the sound effects and ambient sounds of the island. However, the addition of the music, which happens to cue at just the right moments, adds to the tone very well.
That’s another thing the game manages to do well; despite the predictable plot, it was still able to provide moments that make you sit back and just think, “…Wow.” This doesn’t just happen on the odd occasion, this happens time and time again, continuing to both surprise and amaze you with set pieces, events and stunning scenery. Tomb Raider has its fair share of explosions, as well as explosive moments, but where there is an explosion, there is no feeling of it simply being inserted for visual appeal, it slots into the scheme of things. The most important thing is that it’s not overdone either, just as you might expect something to explode in your face, the game pulls a fast one and takes a different turn.
Let’s not forget the combat, which takes up a large portion of the game along with the adventuring. The animations once again pave way to come great combat sequences. If Lara is engaged with cover around, she will automatically huddle up behind the cover. Don’t for one second think this cover will keep you safe. Enemies will try to flank you, throw in explosives, and come in for a frontal assault, among other things. It was exciting not being able to hide behind a cover position for more than a few seconds. AI is well enough designed to provide a great challenge, but it seems as though the enemies, when their numbers became dwindled, spent more time hiding behind cover than actually assaulting our young female adventurer. Aside from this, the shooting is very light and simple and nothing overcomplicated. It is the simplicity that allows it to be a strong component in the game that doesn’t feel like a chore but is rather fun instead.
Perhaps the greatest part of not only the combat, but the game itself, was the bow. This is to be Lara’s main weapon during the game, with upgrades available as you progress. Sure, you will get traditional weapons, but they simply didn’t provide the same amount of enjoyment and satisfaction as sniping enemies with well-placed arrows. The sound of the bow being readied for an attack really makes you feel empowered, almost like a leopard ready to pounce. It is also very easy to forget that the game even has a multiplayer mode with how much fun there is to have as a lone adventurer, but rest assured this additional mode provides more of the weapons and combat which you might expect.
Tomb Raider could have gone so very wrong. Being a reboot, it could have very well been the final nail in the coffin for the series. However, rather than death, it rises from the ashes like a phoenix and steadily plants itself as one of the defining games of the action/ adventure genre, and proof of how to get a reboot done right. It’s just a great shame that there was a lack of character depth and plot, but this shouldn’t really unnerve you from what is likely to be one of the best experiences you have in 2013. With an excellent playground for players to journey across, and a trusty bow by your side, this could quite possibly be the best Tomb Raider game to have graced our consoles, and it is a great step for Lara to now hopefully move forward from to continue raiding those tombs.