Mar 12, 2013

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Tomb Raider Review

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Finally. The reboot of a game franchise that was the spectacle of the 90s. It had incredible marketing and even put forth the idea that a female heroine could stand among the other video game stars with just as much fan fare. Simply called Tomb Raider, it sets off to tell the story of Lara Croft and how she becomes the character we all know and love later on.

So what exactly is Tomb Raider about? You are Lara Croft, young archaeologist out on an expedition to find the ancient Japanese kingdom of Yamatai. You and your crew are headed in one direction, but Lara insists on going to the Dragon’s Triangle, a place full of mystery and danger. As it turns out, your ship and crew get shipwrecked on a mysterious island, where she soon finds more than meets the eye. Hidden dangers, a dangerous group of cultist,s and other strange things are happening on the island, all while Lara and friends are scrambling to survive.

You spend the game mostly traversing around the island, going from point A to point B, with some cinematics in between. There are a number of optional areas to explore at leisure, and some places are inaccessible altogether until you have the right gear to access them (as Lara will unlock various new skills or gear as she progresses). This adds a Metroid like feel to the game, of which I was quite pleased with.  Most of those areas are tombs that will allow you to get some extra salvage and experience points that will go to your upgrades. You’ll also encounter some minor puzzles (especially in tombs), that usually require careful use of your tools and some platforming. As your progress, Lara levels, at which point–as long as you can make it to a camp–you can assign your skill points to one of three categories: Survivor, Hunter, and Brawler.

Also as you play through the game you gain “salvage,” which can help you with upgrading your various weapons and equipment in the game, such as making your guns more powerful, or adding an attachment to your shotgun, pistol, bow, or rifle. Much of the salvage can be scavenged off of the corpses of your enemies or hunting animals while you are out in the wild, as well as found in boxes scattered throughout the island.

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You’ll also have the chance to collect various items scattered throughout the environments, such as documents (which tell the story, audio-log style); relics (which you can examine up close and hear Lara talk a bit about them); and GPS locators. In addition, you can also partake in various challenges, such as lighting a set number of statutes, burning banners, or collecting mushrooms. All these things are optional, but are fun if you enjoy exploring and/or are a completionist. All these elements make the game’s replayability high, as the player can go back and collect any items or explore areas that they may have missed previously. There are a number of collectibles, tombs, and challenges to complete in each part of the island.

Despite the title and open world, a majority of the game is spent fighting and shooting it out with plenty of the other people that were left stranded on the island. And while the game handles well in these situations, I found the number of shooting sequences to be a little grating on my nerves, especially towards the end of the game.

On the graphics side of things, the game looks beautiful. I found that there was very little wrong with the game. Lara takes a beatin, and it looks incredible to see in action. She gets dirt, mud, and blood all over herself, all in the name of survival, and it looks convincing. Weather effects and the environments look good too, whether scaling the side of a cliff, or standing on a mountain summit and watching the rain come down. There were a few sections where I found the effect of water splashing against the “camera lens” hindered my ability to see what was happening on screen. Granted, this may have been the intended effect; however, I died a number of times because of this.

The sound of the game is another aspect that stands out. Whether it is the sound of your bow pulling back an arrow and hearing the string strain against the limbs, or the grunt of a fallen enemy, it was all a part of making me feel like I was there on the island. The soundtrack kicks up at just the right moments, amplifying the tension that one might feel if you were there with Lara.

Although I enjoyed the story–Lara desperately trying to survive and save her friends–I found a narrative conflict with what Crystal Dynamics was trying to achieve. While the story is dramatic and emotional, at least from the young Lara’s perspective, I found it hard to believe, especially when one minute she is an emotional train wreck, and then the next moment, she turns into a killing machine, mowing down 20 enemies like it was nothing. It also struck me that a group of other survivors have so much ammo to spare? You would think they would want to save as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I think the story is great. In fact, I appreciate the story that Crystal Dynamics was trying to tell. I just felt the narrative had a bit of a disconnect with the rest of the game, which was more or less just a bunch of shooting scenes with some traversal thrown in between.

You would think that a largely single-player game would not need a multiplayer mode. However, it is there, available right from the start in the game. The mode offers your standard progression of leveling up, unlocking perks, weapons, upgrades and such. The multiplayer offers several modes, a standard deathmatch or “Free For All” as they call it, team deathmatch, Cry For Help, and Rescue. Rescue is perhaps the most notable of the modes, where one opposing team must get med kits, while the other must stop them from getting them. Cry For Help is a mode sort of similar to King of Hill, where teams must activate radio towers for rescue, the opposing team taking the batteries from the radio tower. However, the multiplayer is rather unbalanced, not taking into account the skill of the player, as I found myself paired against several level 40+ opponents. Also, unlike the single player, I found that the mulitplayer controls were clunky and not very well tuned to how the rest of the game is played.

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Overall, Crystal Dynamics did a great job with this reboot, though I it really stands out to me that while the game tells a story of survival and character growth for Lara, the human side of her completely washes away the second she starts shooting arrows or pulling the trigger. I also felt the multiplayer was completely unnecessary and isn’t very well put together, seemingly tacked one without much thought.

If you are looking for a great single-player experience and are interested in the origins of Lara Croft, this is a great game to get into and play. Just be aware that the rest of the game is not as stunning as the work put into the single-player campaign. In the end, it felt like Tomb Raider had a bit of a crisis of identity, unsure of what it wanted to be. A shooter, open-world game, or cinematic experience.

Tomb Raider
Platform: PC, PS3, 360 (Reviewed)
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
MSRP: $59.99


8

Second Opinion: Rebecca Quintana

Overall, I found Tomb Raider to be an exciting, enjoyable experience, and one of the best looking games I’ve ever played on console. I would have liked more emphasis on exploring/tomb raiding and less on gun fighting. The game was also gruesomely violent at times, which did feel a bit discordant to the emotional journey they were trying to portray. QTEs were not as well designed as they could have been, and platforming could have been a bit tighter. Still, it felt awesome to play as Lara, to finally have a female video game character I can really be proud of (even if the game does revel in focusing on her breasts and ass from time to time). It’s easily playable in a weekend, too, which is great for the busy adult gamer.  8/10.

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About Benjamin Baker

A gamer for nearly 24 years, he was hooked the second he started playing Metroid on NES. Now he is aspiring to write about video games, is a bit of a tech geek, and an amateur experimental photographer.