Grave-robbing is at its finest in Tomb Raider
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.
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. 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.
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 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.
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.
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)