A New Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider was, by a large margin, the game I was most looking forward to this year. So, of course, I expected the series reboot to be terrible. That’s just how it works with me; if I’m thinking a game is going to be stellar, I end up with Dead Space 3. If I think a game will simply be mediocre, I’m blown away with experiences like The Walking Dead: Season 1 and DMC: Devil May Cry.
Thankfully, I can report, Crystal Dynamics reboot of the iconic Lara Croft was no Dead Space 3. While the game fails to quite meet my extremely lofty expectations, Tomb Raider provides a visceral, poignant, extremely entertaining action experience that breathes new life into the character of Lara, and the franchise.
While the story of the game takes some chances with mixed the results (I wasn’t a huge fan of the balls to the wall intro that is the EXACT SAME FOOTAGE AS THE TRAILER), the humanization and exploration of Lara as a strong, vulnerable character is undeniably phenomenal, and by far the title’s greatest strength. You avoid the traps and the dangers not because of the (over the top) violence, but because it’s painful to see this character you care about get inflicted with every sort of injury possible.
Which is unfortunate, because per my usual, Lara died under my care. A lot. Crushed by boulders. Impaled. Eaten by wolves. It was like The Grey, but instead of Liam Neeson, I was the chump who took a wolf to the face while peeing by a tree. Every time I failed a Quick Time Event, I just buried my face in my hands. I’M SORRY IT’S TOO FAST OH GOD YOU’RE CRUSHED.
In this Tomb Raider, Lara’s not an invincible bimbo; she’s a fighter and survivor, and when the game is delving into this side of her, it’s at its best. Her character is brought to life by Camilla Luddington, who gives a top tier performance as Lara. She captures these different sides of Lara, and unlike Angelina Jolie, truly knows what makes the character tick. She also infuses a pitch perfect spirit to the character, making her simultaneously funny, intelligent, and appropriately badass. I swear, as gaming performances get better and more reliant on motion capture, it’s only a matter of time before talented actors like Andy Serkis and Luddington get their due for the talent they so clearly have.
Character movement is in the same vein as Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed, but in my opinion, is much better. While Lara is still making jumps and shimmying up ledges that are not humanly possible for even the finalists on Ninja Warrior, they are done so with a more realistic sense of weight and momentum. Nathan Drake controls like he’s hollow; Lara actually has some weight to her, and which transfers to the controls and allows you to immerse yourself in the action taking place on screen. Lara Croft controls like a dream and I LIKE MY WOMAN WITH SOME MEAT ON ‘EM! is clearly what you can take away from that.
Combat in the game is a brutal, perfect blend of stealth and balls to the wall action. Sneaking around and picking off enemies with your bow is very satisfying, and when you need to go guns blazing, the intuitive cover mechanics and tight shooting mechanics make it very enjoyable. I do wish the AI was a little smarter; often, they’ll rush at my position despite not having any numbers to back them up, and they poke their heads way to frequently out of cover. Not bad, but not as polished as the rest of the experience.
As the game goes on, players earn experience points that they can use to invest in skills and weapons. I’m glad with this new trend of RPG design finding its way into every single game these days, because it’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of Tomb Raider. It gives incentive to exploring the map beyond just story tidbits, and building Lara up from nothing to complete badass through skills is great. Not only is this great from a gameplay perspective, but it also enables the player to witness the evolution of Lara from (mostly) regular person to complete freaking ninja.
Crystal Dynamics could have forged a linear story and still received accolades for their presentation and writing, but thankfully, they went the extra mile in creating a rich game world. Much like Tomb Raider’s best contemporaries, such as Batman: Arkham Asylum, collectibles and secret challenges are hidden everywhere, and provide incentives for exploring the surroundings and returning to previous areas. Hidden temples are also one of the game’s highlights. Featuring some ingeniously designed puzzles, they offer a break from the game’s break neck pace, and their exploration is up to the player. Feel like raiding some tombs? Go for it. Want to get on with the story? Cool.
If there’s one complaint I have about Tomb Raider, it’s how the title is content to play it safe and follow the tropes already established in the genre by games like Uncharted and Batman. Hell, Tomb Raider even includes its own version of detective vision, for crying out loud. While I do appreciate the games amount of sheen – every design choice, even the ones ripped from the genre, are polished to perfection—it feels like a missed opportunity to push the boundaries and deliver a truly unique experience. I wanted a pure, standalone Tomb Raider, and I got Uncharted: Tomb Raider. Not a bad thing, but not quite as great as it could have been.
In the words of the legendary (-ily awful) Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, Tomb Raider is what you thought it was. The presentation is through the roof, and this new Lara finally elicits an emotional investment from the player, a feat that was previously impossible unless you really related with her ginormous boobs. The game doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what it does, it does very well. Tomb Raider is a top notch experience and will go down as one of the best games of 2013.
I give Tomb Raider 4.5 Dennis Green’s out of five.