tombraider

Tomb Raider Review

The Tomb Raider reboot, originally released in 2013, was one of the best games I played that year. It was so great I played through it twice, once of the only modern games I’ve ever done that for. Now that it’s been re-released on XBox One and Playstation 4, I thought this would be an opportune time to re-review the game, too.

When I first saw the game play footage of the rebooted Tomb Raider at the 2012 E3, the only thing I was angry about was why I had to wait over half a year to play the game. It was impressive stuff so when the game came out, I was quick to get my hands on a copy.

When I see an impressive trailer for a game or movie, the thing I always remind myself of is trailer for The Phantom Menace. The trailer for that movie was awesome but the movie, as we know, was sub par  It’s a little Jedi mind trick I do to keep my expectations in check. Once I started playing Tomb Raider, I was very happy to discover that the trailer matched the finished product. This game is just superb.

If you’ve played any of the Uncharted games, you’ll love this new Tomb Raider as it borrows heavily from that series. Which is fitting, really, given Uncharted borrowed heavily from the original Tomb Raider series.

But I digress.

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Tomb Raider hits it out of the park on almost every level. It marries incredible visuals with music and sound effects that befit the moment, raising the tension during any one of the many great action sequences or helping to convey the raw emotion that Lara feels during her journey.

The game play is engrossing and rarely do you feel lost or unsure of where to go or what to do next. And the aforementioned action sequences are so much fun to play that you’re compelled to keep playing just to get to the next exciting, action packed moment. In that way, this game is like digital crack. It’s hard to pull yourself away from.

Indeed, once I sat down to start playing Tomb Raider, I didn’t stop for hours and was surprised to learn that I’d given over my entire morning to the game. I played it steadily for the next few days, completing it in three days with a 66% completion rate. And when I was done, I felt compelled to play it again (something I rarely do when I finish a game) and to try and find all the secret areas and raid those tombs for the extra rewards.

The voice acting is generally great, and motion capture helps to enhance Lara’s journey through Yamatai. And the fixed camera switches between steady tracking, jerky motion cam, close ups and sweeping vistas, helping to make the whole game feel like a well directed action movie. It’s incredible how well this approach works and Crystal Dynamics should be commended for it.

The game also implements an experience point system, allowing the player to upgrade not only Lara’s weapons but also Lara herself. Thematically this works well, delivering on the reboot aspect of this game as it takes Lara from a naive young girl to a woman who has learned how to become a survivor. It also works well from a game play perspective as it encourages the player to actively look for things that may provide extra XP, even if it takes them “off the beaten path”, so to speak. This is in contrast to, say, Arkham Asylum, where you can find Riddler trophies to similarly upgrade Batman’s skills, but there it feels forced and almost redundant. Here it works very, very well.

Combat sequences work well with an excellent cover system, and multiple options for Lara to defeat her enemies. Although she only has four main weapons, she can also use her pick axe to kill enemies and later upgrades allow her to dodge and throw dirt in enemies faces for some dirty, rough and tumble fighting.

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The game isn’t entirely perfect. Where it falls down slightly is the writing. While the plot is easy to follow, sometimes Lara seemed to know things about what was happening that I, for the life of me, couldn’t figure out how she knew. And yet ironically, sometimes I’d find another survivors journal or a secret ancient artifact, revealing some of the history and background of the island, and yet later Lara would be having a conversation with one of her fellow survivors and claim not to know things she should now know because I found those secret items. I guess it’s probably too hard to adjust your pre-ordained story sequences to fit things a player may or may not find, but more often than not these inconsistencies served only to frustrate and sometimes confuse me.

The only other minor quibble I had with the game was that it often failed to reward Lara when you, as the player, had worked hard towards a goal the game had given you. For instance, at one point in the game Lara sets herself the task of saving a downed pilot. This is portrayed as A Big Thing for her and a key to getting off the island, and the action sequence that follows as she races desperately to get to the pilot is incredible, tense and a little difficult. But just as Lara is about to get to the pilot, the pilot is killed. It makes you wonder why they set up this entire sequence if you’re not going to pay off on the reward. There are many times in the game where similar things happen and it almost makes you feel defeated. You could argue this is what the writers were trying to achieve, trying to make the player feel as helpless and hopeless as Lara would have felt (y’know… if this was  real) but to me it felt a little pointless and detracted from the story.

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But these are minor quibbles and ultimately Tomb Raider is just a joy to play. I highly recommend that anyone who owns a console or PC capable of playing it get out there ASAP and grab themselves a copy.

Final Brisbane Gamer Score: 9.5/10

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