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Tomb Raider: a worthy reboot?

Monday, 25th February 2013 15:01 GMT By Dave Cook

Tomb Raider comes with a lot of baggage. Can it match the brilliance of Lara’s original adventures, or is it another reboot that misses the point entirely? Dave Cook gets himself shipwrecked to find out.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider launches worldwide on March 5th, except for Japan where it launches April 25th.

I haven’t included multiplayer in this article, as Stace Harman did a superb job of summing up Tomb Raider’s online component here.

Crystal Dynamics recently released an 11 minute gameplay trailer that shows off many of the game’s mechanics. You can watch it here.

Finally, we’ve got the full list of Tomb Raider achievements here.

Crystal Dynamics has defied convention in its Tomb Raider reboot. The franchise has hit a few bumps over the years, such as the woeful Angel of Darkness, but largely it’s existed as a critical and cultural phenomenon.

When it was handed this project, the pressure at the San Francisco studio must have been tantamount to physical torture. Luckily, it’s brilliant.

The Lara of old felt cheesy to me. She showed no empathy for her attackers and was over-sexualised to an embarrassing degree, although that’s more a failing of the crass marketing world.

Here, Lara feels tangible, real. You actually want to give a shit about her predicament and journey from fledgling archaeologist to the hardened adventurer we know.

That’s what all good reboots should be – the re-working of a backstory into something we can relate to in modern times. They also have to capture the essence of what made the source material so endearing. I thoroughly enjoyed Starbreeze’s Syndicate reboot, but did it deliver the same tone of the original? Did it hell.

The Uncharted inspiration is clear within Tomb Raider’s first minutes. Visibly, no expense has been spared in delivering mind boggling set-pieces and using every cinematography trick in the book to create a dizzying spectacle. It’s not just a string of uninvolved stunts either, as there’s a solid game beneath the explosions and vertigo. This is high entertainment.

Whether climbing around a rusted Japanese war plane, or shimmying along the side of a waterfall, you can guarantee the view will always be breathtaking. When Lara is on solid ground the island feels dense and inviting, with hidden ammo and salvage stashes hidden around every corner. Like Far Cry 3, you will want to explore off the beaten path at all times.

That’s not an easy thing for developers to achieve, and it’s all down to the game’s expertly-crafted island setting. Crystal Dynamics worked wonders when it created the original Soul Reaver, a game world that borrowed heavily from The Legend of Zelda’s playbook. Tomb Raider is no different, presenting players with a large, interconnected cluster of environments full of inaccessible areas.

You’ll jot down every blocked path in memory for when you have the correct tool to pass through. Some sheer cliffs can’t be climbed at first, so Lara needs to find a rock-climbing axe to proceed, while other routes are blocked by crude wooden barriers that need to be blown open by a quick shotgun blast. These tools are given to you constantly, causing the world to grow a little bit each time. It’s a gratifying progression method that will hold your interest for the duration.

Exploration and climbing are bookended by moments of gunplay. Shooting is slick, weighty and works a treat. The cover-mounting mechanic is automatic but works flawlessly every time. Given how poorly auto-cover has been handled by other studios, this is another victory in Tomb Raider’s long list of positives.

During battle, headshots and stealth kills will net you bonus XP. In fact, all of your kills, animal hunting, progression milestones and gathered collectibles feed back into Lara’s experience. You can spend this on new ‘Survivor’, ‘Hunter’ and ‘Brawler’ perks at base camps dotted around the island, ensuring that everything feeds back into Lara’s progression. No time feels wasted.

Tomb Raider is arguably one of the best action games in recent memory, but it can’t call the lion’s share of its accomplishments its own. Yes it borrows heavily from Uncharted, the world design riffs on Zelda, and the cover shooting isn’t new, but I think that getting too hung up on its inspiration is to miss the point. This is a thoroughly enjoyable game regardless.

One thing I also have to point out is that as much as I adore the Uncharted series – and I really do – they are essentially ‘one-track’ games. Tomb Raider has exploration and free roaming in most of its hub areas. That Crystal Dynamics has managed to keep its action focused while delivering a large world is no small feat.

To better explain I made a shit infographic on the matter:

Does Tomb Raider succeed as a reboot however? While Lara’s initial shrieking and grunting may grate on some players, both her transformation and the game’s plot grow intriguing as you progress. It also nails those moments from previous games where you sat back to look at the scenery and thought, “How the hell do I get up there?”

The same can’t be said about the puzzles. Once epic in scope, here they feel rudimentary and included through obligation. You’ll figure them out in a few moments, thanks largely to the game’s ‘Survival Instinct’ view. It’s like a sonar ping that highlights interactive elements in the world, typically suggesting the correct path or parts of a puzzle solution.

Everything else works. The platforming is spot on, the set-pieces are exciting and the combat handles perfectly. If you’re a staunch fan of the original game’s focus on puzzles, you may be left wanting here. For everyone else, Tomb Raider sits comfortably alongside Uncharted as an example of action and pacing handled correctly.

This should be the start of a solid new Tomb Raider arc. Whichever developer is handed the task of creating a follow-up, it will have to think hard about how to create mechanics and ideas to call its own, instead of drawing clear inspiration from other sources. For now however, rest assured that the series is off to an accomplished reprisal.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this article, Square-Enix sent Dave a copy of Tomb Raider on Xbox 360. No merchandise or advertising was offered or accepted.

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24 Comments

  1. bitsnark

    There is only one ‘Tomb’ part in your Tomb Raider infographic Dave :(

    #1 1 year ago
  2. salarta

    I think the real question we all want to know the answer to is, how much armpit hair does “Lara” have by the end of the game?

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Bill_E_Talent

    Loved the infographic Dave. Good stuff! Looking forward to playing through it, a bit disappointed about the puzzles though.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Strange Sultan

    I was afraid this game won’t make it. I am a little relieved now. thanks Dave. But I still need to read more reviews.
    BTW why is there only one TOMB in your (cute) chart ? or is it just figurative ?

    #4 1 year ago
  5. SplatteredHouse

    ‘Survival Instinct’ view…:/ Is the game designed so that it’s use supports the play, enhances it; or detracts from the experience of exploring? Were you left with the opinion, Dave, that its use was intended by the designers?
    If you’ve played Legend, does it act more or less invasively than the in-ear communicator bud Lara uses in that game.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. reask

    Difficulty wise how would you rate it ie too easy or fair depending on how much of a challenge you want.

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Dave Cook

    @4 I ran out of paper space :P

    @5 I think it helps as a solid signposting tool, but when solving puzzles it gives the solution up too easily.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @6 I played on Normal so I could get through it quick enough and the enemies gave me proper hassle about half way through. They can be relentless.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Bomba Luigi

    I Love the Infographic ^^

    #9 1 year ago
  10. reask

    Thanks Dave.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. manamana

    Best Infographic ever!

    #11 1 year ago
  12. SplatteredHouse

    @5 “I think it helps as a solid signposting tool, but when solving puzzles it gives the solution up too easily.”

    Oh dear. It doesn’t sound as if CD fixed the balance from the last iteration of the ingame hint system found in Underworld away from its extremes of hair-pull inducing density, to astounding brilliance in telling you precisely what you need to do, although you only looked for a hint of how to proceed. That system, at times, got on my nerves in Underworld.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. Dave Cook

    @12 I know what you mean. I’d say it’s less intrusive here, as it fades as soon as you move. So you can’t just run around in Survival view. It’s a short ping, unless you stand still. The pacing of the game stays steady as a result.

    That said, I know why fans of old TR games liked the puzzles. You could stand looking at a room for a good 20 minutes until the puzzle solution became clear. it was gratifying.

    Here the keyword is pace. Everything zooms along nicely.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. manamana

    What a letdown to hear that the puzzles have been dumbed down. That was the greatest thing about Underworld and why I loved to play it. It has massive, huge scale puzzles and Ai hoped they show up nonetheless in this Uncharted inspirated game. Man, always action. Everywhere. Why can’t they stay true to the games roots *and* enhance the gameplay.

    Edit: you need to play underworld without the sonar!

    #14 1 year ago
  15. SplatteredHouse

    There’s plenty of aspects of Tomb Raider that I want to find out about, before deciding where I am with it. “How does it play?” being a key one. That’s going to come down as much to individual taste and preference, which this article’s structure doesn’t help with, so much, but I found it a good read anyway.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. SplatteredHouse

    All the carefully nuanced drama of flicking on a light switch – Gametrailers http://www.gametrailers.com/reviews/7zar52/tomb-raider-review, on Lara’s ‘oh, so that’s what you do with a gun, pew pew’ character development. “Emphasis on violent [gun] conflict”, because XP-GET! \o/ …great.
    Don’t misunderstand. I can see and do recognise the level of presentation and in appearance it’s accomplished, except “but while it’s a minor element, TOMB RAIDING…” DAFUQ?

    This has a score of 8.5 from them, by the way. The worst part of it again in reckoning, being spared for the Eidos Montreal developed multiplayer component that…The board of S-E insisted on?

    #16 1 year ago
  17. Moonwalker1982

    Sounds really good. But how easy is it? Cause i heard from someone who’s already playing it that on normal it’s pretty damn easy. Sounds like i might go for hard.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Dave Cook

    @17 there are some combat spikes but nothing major. Start it on hard yeah :)

    #18 1 year ago
  19. heroes159

    Glad to see New Lara is doing good. thnx Dave

    #19 1 year ago
  20. Dave Cook

    @19 thanks for reading :)

    #20 1 year ago
  21. tmac2011

    i hate uncharted fans who think nathan drake was first when it was lara croft. im glad they rebooted lara this is gonna be a good game

    #21 1 year ago
  22. YoungZer0

    Dave, are you going to review the Vergil DLC?

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Digital Bamboo

    Oh man, this looks great.

    As far as I’m concerned, game developers can borrow from Zelda and Uncharted–two of the greatest game series ever made–as much as they want; as long as they produce a high-quality product, who cares?

    And really, Uncharted borrowed off of Tomb Raider in the first place, and they both were inspired by Indiana Jones, & IJ by classic adventure films, and so on into the past. That’s just how creative endevours move forward, playing off one another and drawing inspiration from one another, trying to outdo (and pay homage to) what came before.

    If any game developer wants to make a mashup of GTA & Metroid, or Bioshock & Mass Effect next, I say, bring it on.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. tonyyg88

    looking forward too this game

    #24 1 year ago

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