Grave-robbing is at its finest in Tomb Raider

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After a long overdue hiatus, Lara Croft returns to the video gaming forefront in ‘Tomb Raider’ and reinvents the classic franchise with quite possibly one of the most stunningly engaging video game experiences to date.

 

As a loyal Tomb Raider fan and follower since day one back in 1996 I can honestly say that while the series has had its highs, there was sadly more than a fair share of lows. Why? Well, that’s because after years of advancement and breakthroughs in gaming technology the Tomb Raider franchise has had a hard time adapting its rather primitive and archaic gameplay formula to the modern conventions of today’s mainstream video games. The Tomb Raider games were simply stuck in the past while the gaming industry kept evolving around it.

The series’ development team addressed the issue of a waning interest in all things “Tomb Raider” when they decided to wipe their slate clean and start over again with a completely new “reboot” of their video game. It was a desperate move, but a bold one. And it paid off.

So without going into a verbose and elaborate sentence that sums up this game and how spectacular it is, let me just throw it out there now that Tomb Raider is a smash hit. Here’s why.

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Lara Croft is back, but this time around she is a perky college grad who is on an archaeological expedition that’s filming a documentary regarding ancient Japanese culture. The game begins right away when the salvage vessel Lara and the film crew were navigating the seas with traverses into the Far East’s version of the Bermuda Triangle and wind up shipwrecked on a mysterious and uncharted island off the coast of Japan.

Tension ramps up rather quickly when Lara and company find out that they aren’t alone on the island. They soon discover the island’s savage natives are actually a cult-like coalition of men who have been marooned on the island themselves who don’t take kindly to newcomers – especially badass women like Lara Croft. Without spoiling too much I will just say that adventure ensues and within Lara “a survivor is born.”

Tomb Raider is a beautiful looking game. No seriously, I’m not kidding.

Tomb Raider is a beautiful looking game. No seriously, I’m not kidding. Crystal Dynamics really outdid themselves with their new “Crystal Engine” which they used to build the game upon. The game brandishes magnificent fire, lighting and explosion effects and sports majestic vistas of the island. The game’s frame rate never hiccuped or bogged down when many things were happening on screen at once either. One segment of the game that really impressed me with its graphical power was when I was ascending a mountain during a brutally violent wind and lightning storm all while bad guys are shooting at me. It. Was. COOL! And the game ran it smoothly.

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Tomb Raider … keeps the tension and energy flow of the game constantly on the up and up.

Now the gameplay is where Tomb Raider truly flexes its might and distinguishes itself from the rest of the Tomb Raider titles. Aside from being the first Tomb Raider game to be rated M for Mature audiences due to the violence and some of the language, Crystal Dynamics’ major overhaul of Tomb Raider’s gameplay centered on the game’s approach to action and exploration. The older Tomb Raider games felt like clunky, boring and solitary experiences with brief glimmers of excitement thrown in just to keep our interest, whereas the new Tomb Raider flips the script and keeps the tension and energy flow of the game constantly on the up and up.

Also unlike previous games where Lara travels to various locales around the world this game takes place entirely on the mysterious island. This lends to there being a lot more depth to the game’s environments and also gives the player the option to backtrack all the way to earlier parts of the game in order to explore areas that you previously didn’t have access to. Scattered throughout the island are several campsites where you can take a breather and use experience points to learn new abilities and use scavenged salvage to upgrade your weapons. The leveling and upgrade system incorporated into the game along with being able to travel back to previous areas is a first in the Tomb Raider franchise.

The combat has been the biggest overall improvement to Tomb Raider by far.

The game handles very well in terms of its controls. If I had to draw any comparisons, Tomb Raider actually feels like a mix of the newer Resident Evil games with a dash of Gears of War style gameplay (minus the clunky-ness). There weren’t any camera issues (the original Kryptonite to a Tomb Raider game) and jumping and climbing have been simplified in this game and made more fluid. However, the combat has been the biggest overall improvement to Tomb Raider by far. A manual aiming system has finally replaced the terribly outdated lock-on targeting system and I couldn’t be happier. In the past I loathed fighting enemies in Tomb Raider games due to the monotonous combat design, but in this game? Hell, I look forward to the next fight! Lara sports weapons like the surprisingly fun and efficient bow and arrow, rifle, shotgun and handgun. By picking up salvage these weapons can be upgraded to do anything from carry more ammo, do more damage or fire specialized ammunition.

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The biggest thing that could be held against any single player game is its replayability. Is Tomb Raider worth the money? I think so. For starters the game isn’t short and turned out to be a lot longer than I originally anticipated by offering about 15+ hours of gameplay. You could even spend more time in the game finding hidden items and artifacts as well as searching for all of the tombs that are hidden in the game.

Tomb Raider also comes bundled with a multiplayer component that offers several different gameplay modes to satiate your need to play Tomb Raider competitively. The only downside to the multiplayer is that it was outsourced to a different developer while Crystal Dynamics focused solely on the single-player campaign … and the difference in compassion for the project shows. I just wasn’t too impressed with the multiplayer to be honest.

To be honest, the only real blemish on this game is the tacked on multiplayer mode.

So you might be wondering if there are any glaring flaws in this game — as I’ve given Tomb Raider nothing but praise. To be honest, the only real blemish on this game is the tacked on multiplayer mode that just didn’t feel as captivating as what it could have been. But other than that? I’m just disappointed that the game had to end. And that it’ll most likely be a couple years before we see Lara’s next adventure which is bound to happen, especially with the game selling so well after having only been out for a couple days.

I’m not a betting man but my guess is a “Tomb Raider 2” release for 2016. Right around Tomb Raider’s 20th anniversary. Now that would be awesome. Just like this game.

Hurry up and pick up Tomb Raider! You can find this gem for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

FINAL VERDICT: 9.5 out of 10 (blame the multiplayer for keeping this game from being perfect)

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Photo Credit: SQUARE-ENIX / Crystal Dynamics

10 Comments on “Grave-robbing is at its finest in Tomb Raider

  1. it’s not a mix of resident evil and Gears of war… it’s just uncharted with a girl, nevertheless it’s a very good game

  2. last time I checked Tomb Raider was around for two gaming consoles before anyone ever knew what Uncharted was. As a fan of both franchises I could lean either way as far as which is better. But get the facts straight…Tomb Raider came first. I want to do an article on this debate now that the game is finally out.

    Tomb Raider channels the gameplay style that Resident Evil 4 introduced with the level of exploration you had with the revamped combat system. The staged battle sequences are top notch and play intensely like Gears. Combat in Uncharted is a chore quite frankly and kind of bland as it is a game better suited for putting the lead in amazing set pieces and action sequences.

    • it doesn’t matter which one was first, every games are copying each other at some point.

      This game prove just that what was said for the first uncharted when it came out was true, “it’s how tomb raider should have evolved a few years back”

      I don’t care which one is better, i like both.

  3. Great review and right on. Today for the first time I had noticed a post release review or too of people desperately trying to find something other than the multiplayer aspect to knock the game on- I suppose they need to feel deep and contemplative (unfortunately for them it was more like they couldn’t come up with an original criticism. I keep hearing “Uncharted” being flung out like some ace of spades card in a gambling movie; yet the complaints seem to add up to nothing more than she is on a hostile island and has to fight to survive. Really? Ok well no more space movies then because there’s already Star Wars and Star Trek. Pretty clumsy criticizing on their parts.
    My bottom line: I’m a dad with five kids, a full time job (and thankfully a gamer chick for a wife) so as you can imagine I don’t have a lot of time for gaming, much less mediocre gaming which I’d like to think by now I can spot. This Tomb Raider is giving me the best gaming for the buck that I’ve had in a long time. I’ve rarely (if ever) experienced character immersion like that- and that’s quite the accomplishment to take a 38 year old dude and make him all but forget that while playing this game. Everywhere this game could be going wrong, it simply refuses too; it stays consistent and clear. No more yelling at the tv for endless and needless deaths because I didn’t have the timeing or dexterity of a god, no bad camera angles; I’m not through the whole game yet and I already can’t wait to play it again. Thanks for a great and truly thoughtful review. (From my iPod so please forgive any misspelling or grammar)

  4. Thanks Tim! I could have gone on and on with my review giving it praise as the definitive “evolution” of the traditional Tomb Raider style of gaming.

    The way the game has been streamlined makes it much more fun to play and THANK GOODNESS that the camera issue has been fixed.

    I am a co-host on a live streaming video game podcast that airs every Monday around 7PM EST. We will be discussing Tomb Raider on tonight’s show. If you can please check it out!

    Again, thanks for the kind words! This has made my morning. :)

    • My pleasure! (and to clarify when I said “I don’t have a lot of time for gaming” – I meant that literally, I do LOVE gaming, I just don’t have much time). I love the podcast media, do you guys archive your shows? And where can I find them?

      • I’ll step in and follow up on that one since I’m the technical side of gamersdigest and the other host. Sadly we used to archive the show when we just did audio but once we switched to Video it became to expensive. We are still searching for ways to archive it efficiently but in the mean time you can always check out our past shows on youtube.com/gamersdigestpodcast.

  5. I like this review and agree with most of what’s said. The game is probably the best I have played in a long time. However I completely disagree with your point that it isn’t short. I got an 82% overall completion rate within 14 hours. Was pretty upset about that.

    • I guess maybe my scale for game length is a little different from yours. Back in the day I was raised on AAA titles like the original Resident Evil 1 & 2 and Metal Gear Solid. Great single player games … that you could beat within 4 hours. Metal Gear Solid lasted longer if you watched all the cutscenes and made all the codec converstations–then you had about a 9hr game. To me a short game isanything you can beat under 5 hrs (Force Unleashed II,ugh!). Tomb Raider Legend could be finished in 3.

      Also, let’s not forget that “time is relative.” An RPG typically takes about 40hrs to beat. Pretty lengthy! That’s almost two days. If I shut myself indoors and become a hermit for two to three days just to play Mass Effect is the game still short? Probably not.

      It took me two days to beat Tomb Raider in about 18hrs and I got 100% completion. Then I played through the game a second time on Hard Mode and finished it in about 9hours. In that playthrough I flew through everything except cutscenes and got about 67% completion. 9 hours isn’t horrible. But I’d feel bad if I dropped $60 on it!

      This is why I rent most of my games now unless its something I’m absolutely going to love. But yeah, I’m used to short games taking me 3-4 hours to beat. You should never be able to finish a video game in a single night. I was actually surprised when Tomb Raider kept extending the story.

      • I too grew up playing old school games such as king’s quest, space quest back in the 90’s and moved onto the ps1. Rpgs were my favorite genre and games such as planescape: torment, Baldur’s gate, fallout (I could go on) were all games that took a huge chunk of time for completion. Comparing tomb raider to the more recent games such as the single player campaigns of the cod franchise, it can be viewed as long yup. But perhaps I was expecting mass effect like proportions in terms of gameplay hours. It took about 3-4 days for completion of tomb raider between classes at college and sessions of dota2. So I’m pretty sure I’m not a hermit and did not finish it in a single night. but yeah I did feel a teeny bit robbed of $49.99 but then I remembered the breathtakingly beautiful graphics and story. Cheers.