Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: March 5, 2013
ESRB: M for Mature
This review is based on the PC version of the game
Ten to fifteen years ago, the name Lara Croft meant something different. Starring in the much-loved Tomb Raider franchise, Lara was a buxom heroine, adored by male fanbases all around the world. She was a potent killer with what many considered a perfect figure. Fast-forward to 2013 and Lara Croft is an entirely different person. She's every bit as strong, if not stronger, than the Croft of old but she's a new heroine for a new age. Gone are many of the objectifying elements that are archaic. Lara has been reborn in what is one of 2013's first surprise hits, Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider opens with a slickly produced CGI montage that details how she comes to be stranded on a mysterious island. Her ship is sunk in a freak storm, killing a number of the ship's crew in the process. Alone, with only a few scattered survivors hidden about the island, Lara is vulnerable and beaten. In fact, the early chapters of Tomb Raider seem to revel in pummeling Lara to a pulp. It can be hard to watch, but it's through Lara's pain that we see her develop into the true Croft descendant she is.
In this lush paradise, Lara finds herself beset by both natural and human enemies. The abandoned Japanese civilization is teeming with numerous cult-like survivors, wolves, environmental hazards, and other dangers. The old Tomb Raiders seemed to offer violence as the only recourse for working one's way out of a pinch. The new reboot, however, is a bit more hesitant to turn Lara into a soldier. Her first kill is shocking, gruesome, and necessary to prevent an attempted sexual assault. While jarring, it's realistic and rather mature for a series that focused on Lara's physical assets rather than her character.
Once Lara kills her first survivor, she becomes a hunter. Lara has access to a bow which she can use to kill animals and enemies for weapon upgrade resources. She can also use conventional firearms that are found throughout the environment. Each weapon has a powerful kick and tears apart foes with relative ease. Weapons can also be upgraded to have higher damage outputs and bigger magazines. At first, Lara also won't be able to access certain areas until she unlocks equipment like the ice pick. Once she gets access, she can then backtrack using various campfire fast travel save points and explore the hidden ruins for treasures. It might seem silly to force backtracking but it encourages creative exploration and rewards the diligent with unique finds.
That said, Lara is still very susceptible to gunfire and can only take a few hits before she dies. Enemies will also flank and use molotov cocktails to flush her from out of cover. The AI isn't brilliant, but bullets are lethal enough that the combat isn't a pushover. Every target is a potential killer if you don't manage your ammo and cover carefully.
Lara can also stealth-kill and melee enemies using brutal execution moves. I don't buy that she becomes a stone-cold killer, but given her circumstances, I see few other ways she could go. Eventually, Lara will face enemies that go beyond the average foot-soldiers and require dexterity to dodge their attacks. I won't say what they are, but trust me when I say the first encounter against them is very frustrating. These battles aren't the worst, but they aren't my favorite either.
Narrative wise, Tomb Raider is more akin to an M-rated Uncharted game. Lara journeys to find a lost Japanese civilization that was potentially ruled by a shaman-queen. You can see where this is going, I'm sure. Plot aside, the most impactful element is watching how Lara develops. She starts as a vulnerable adventurer and quickly becomes a powerful hunter.....a powerful tomb raider. She's the highlight of the story and stands among some of my favorite heroines, something the old Laras could never achieve. This Lara has real depth and maturity, unlike her previous incarnations.
To say Tomb Raider is beautiful is an understatement. Though textures and some objects don't look great up close, the stunning vistas and massive amounts of detail provided are fantastic. The audio and voice work are equally strong. Lara's actress is especially strong, adding emotional weight to her struggle. The atmospheric sound design is top-notch, pushing Tomb Raider into psychological horror at times. It's a different, unique approach to the franchise that breathes fresh life into the series.
If there was one part where Tomb Raider falls apart, it's the multiplayer. While serviceable and fun with friends, the competitive matches rarely inspire more than frustration due to laggy matches and some poorly implemented mechanics. The included maps are based on campaign levels but don't feel as open or fun as the main game. There are a few token modes to choose from, but don't expect to spend a whole lot of time in the multiplayer. Tomb Raider is a solo experience, and that's the way it needs to be experienced.
From the start, I knew 2013 was going to be a good year for gaming. Tomb Raider was an unknown factor, though. It looked great, but the numerous changes and mature material put me at unease. Luckily, it is easily one of the best action games to come out this year. Filled with great set-pieces, satisfying combat, and compelling character development, Tomb Raider is a real treat for those looking for that next kick of adrenaline.
+ Strong character development
+ Incentive for exploration
+ Fun combat that never feels unfair
+ Slick production values
- Later enemies can be annoying
- Multiplayer is lackluster
Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)
Tomb Raider is a great entry to the action-adventure genre. If you have a pulse and like great games, I can't recommend it enough.