Review: Tomb Raider [PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC]
Cool, Tomb Raider 9… or should I say Tomb Raider 1a? Or Tomb Raider Zero: Lara’s Gap Year? Whichever, Lara Croft is back in a new reboot-prequel from Square-Enix, every bit as epic as Casino Royale or Batman Begins.
So, instead of the battle-hardened aristocratic heir we’re used to, this game starts with Lara as a young archaeological graduate on her first expedition, into the Sea of Japan. Shipwrecked, with a small group of survivors on one of Japan’s islands, she is quickly forced to confront her fears, adapt, hunt, kill and more – all while sticking to her quest, searching for traces of a fabled Japanese warrior queen from ages past.
And immediately the game dazzles with its triple-A production values. The graphics are beautiful – the lush island environment is more than a match for recent titles such as Far Cry 3 – indeed roaming around exploring these environments feels pretty similar to that, or to The Witcher 2 (I hope some of you picked one up).
It also has to be said, Lara looks fantastic. She looks very, very lifelike indeed as she scurries around, runs, jumps and shoots. Particular attention has been paid to areas such as facial modelling and hair modelling – the way it moves around is very impressive! It’s very difficult to tear one’s eyes off of her while playing – as is traditional with this series…
Initially, the start of the game feels pretty linear. The caves, passageways and forests you have to navigate at first are beautiful in appearance, with a lot of exciting set pieces and action, but really – they are a tutorial for everything that’s to come. After a first hour or so of hand-holding, the game fully opens up – allowing for all of the areas on the island to be explored.
And there’s plenty to find and make – weapons, collectables, tools – by looting corpses and crates it’s possible to scrounge up enough resources to even the odds. Lara gets tougher and more formidable by the hour.
Enemies are everywhere, from the human to the animal. At the start of the game, where you have nothing more than a hand-made bow and some arrows and have to kill wolves before they attack you – that’s pretty tense. Drawing back a bow and sniping a wolf that’s leaping towards you takes some doing.
But the bow earns its keep – it’s a silent, powerful weapon. It’s a very good stealth weapon if you’re accurate enough to head-shot with it. It’s arguably more use than the guns that you later find and upgrade.
But what’s really impressive, is that despite the whole reboot of the story, new look for Lara, a huge graphical overhaul and a more open world environment – it feels pretty familiar. Jumping around and climbing up ledges feels a lot like the previous games. The puzzles, although bigger and more intricate than ever, are intuitive as always. The game seems to excel in giving you pauses in the action to think and solve them, just like its predecessors.
It feels right, then – it feels like a Tomb Raider game should, even with its new features and changes.
It is a culprit of the recent trend I mentioned in my Dead Space 3 review – Tacked-On Multiplayer Syndrome. Ok – this game has multiplayer and it’s another sales point. But I don’t recall ever buying a Tomb Raider game to play against other people? It’s all about the campaign.
It’s pretty functional – choose a character (Lara is only unlocked last), run around and play a few different modes, shooting human opponents online. It’s about as much fun as a basic round of Team Fortress 2 – really I only use the multiplayer mode as a sort of cool-down after a good session on the campaign.
PC gamers are also well catered for – the game is significantly optimized over the console versions and initial reports suggest that it squeezes a lot of performance out of your hardware. In other words – the PC version is probably the best technically. I, however am a luddite and I can’t conceive abandoning my consoles… Feels wrong.
Other stuff – there are a few features such as galleries of concept art that you can unlock, but also a mode where you can just view characters, rotate them around, zoom and look at them – like some sort of virtual waxwork museum. That unlocks almost straight away – the first one visible being “Innocent Lara” (aka Lara in the same outfit but before all the mud and blood stains mess it up). Riiight.
But – it’s stupid to complain about extra features that are thrown in for free. This is a great game with a strong campaign and it’s a very successful reinvention of one of gaming’s most important franchises. Well played, Square-Enix.
Tomb Raider is out now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. Xbox 360 version tested.