Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox One
Reboots are becoming more and more common in the gaming industry. At first, the concept of reinventing classic game franchises may have seemed unecessary, and to a cynical majority (myself included) it may have also felt as though game designers were running out of ideas. Some reboots have been dreadful, such as ‘Syndicate’, whilst others – such as Mortal Kombat, have rejuvinated stagnant franchises.
A reboot of the iconic Tomb Raider series was announced some three years ago, and although ‘Tomb Raider’ bears a closer resemblance to the popular Uncharted series of games then it’s own roots, the finished product is nothing less than amazing.
Tomb Raider re-introduces players to Lara Croft, though not quite as they know her. Lara is younger (she hasn’t even been on a single adventure/expedition), naive, and a lot more realistic (both in attitude and in her physical appearance) than in her previous games.
Aboard the ship “Endurance”, Lara, her mentor, her team, and the ship’s captain are in search of the lost kingdom of Yamatai, off the coast of Japan. Whilst sailing through the “Dragon’s Triangle” the Endurance is hit by a freak storm, with Lara and her comrades finding themselves stranded on an isolated island. Lara must learn how to become a survivor, scavenger and warrior in order to rescue her friends, escape the island, and overcome the treacherous tombs and island inhabitants.
As stated earlier, this is Lara’s first great adventure, and as such, she has no starting skills that players can immediately use. A great part of the enjoyment of learning your beginning skills is in the story’s presentation of them, such as at the very beginning of the game, where Lara, in search of food, finds a bow and some arrows. Afraid that she will starve if she doesn’t take the life of an animal, Lara is coerced into hunting a deer. The gravity of each and every kill is not something lost on the player in Tomb Raider, and Lara’s evolution into becoming a warrior is one of the best stories I’ve played this console generation. In fact, a great deal of Tomb Raider’s story is more enjoyable than other game’s this generation. The characters are more realistic than in other games, and Lara is not a superhero or accomplished adventurer. In many of the game’s difficult situations you empathise with Lara, and wonder if you too would be able to accomplish some of the things she does in this game.
Upon learning a few basic skills, Lara learns the basics of stealth and combat. Stealth is nothing new, with players able to execute enemies when approaching them from behind undetected. Combat is largely cover-based, and similar to Uncharted and Call of Duty, it usually takes place in a large set piece. The set pieces however, are fantastic in execution. At one point in the game I was leaping from collapsing platforms whilst shooting enemies or pushing them off of cliffs and platforms. Combat in Tomb Raider doesn’t feel clunky or mechanical like it did in previous Tomb Raiders, where Lara duel-wielded berettas and cartwheeled around the scenery, exterminating wildlife like it was going out of fashion.
In this modern Tomb Raider, a great majority of the time, combat is desperate and opportunistic. If you wait too long behind cover ,will you get spotted? What will you do when you have three bullets left and there are five enemies? Will you dive out of cover, throw sand in someone’s eyes and shoulder barge them over a cliff or into the nearby campfire? Or will you attempt to take on your enemies one-by-one, and hope to recover some arrows or ammunition? Combat in this regard feels more instinctive, and I have not once been in a firefight where I felt like I was at too much of an advantage or disadvantage. It is brilliant.
A lot of gamers felt upon Tomb Raider’s initial reveal that it was too focused on narrative and combat, and less about “tomb raiding” or exploration, and I’m happy to say that the story is well-paced and leaves plenty of opportunity for players to explore, and discover hidden treasures and tombs. The hidden tombs are amazing, and I don’t think the thrill and excitement of exploring dark caverns with a torch and a rope the way Crystal Dynamics have delivered will wear off any time soon. Every single cave looks fantastic, and I can only imagine the hours Crystal Dynamics have put into designing them. In many tombs, Lara has unique animations for when she reacts to something, such as an extremely windy corridor, or a flooded room. Just when you think you can predict how she will react to a situation based off a previous one, you are wrong, time and time again. Its refreshing to be proven wrong in regards to predicting how a game will unfold, especially when you have played as many as I have!
Tomb Raider looks fantastic, and not only that, the design aspect of the game is truly unique when compared to other games. Sure, Lara herself looks like a real person and not a space marine or super solder, but the environments look amazing, and the lighting is the best I’ve ever seen in a game. Shadows bounce and flicker realistically as you wander a darkened cave with a torch, cracks on walls provide miniscule beams light opportunity to brighten an otherwise pitch-black room, and the shadows in an environment differ depending on the time of day it is in-game. You can easily get lost just wanting to explore some of the various locations in Tomb Raider, like the plane crash site, which is littered with small fires and various debris from the wrecked aircraft, or the jungle itself, which is lush with beautiful plantlife as well as Japanese statues and architecture.
With the new Xbox and Playstation just around the corner, I didn’t think I could ever be pleasantly surprised with a game’s graphics on a home console for the next few years. As I said before, I’m delighted to be proven wrong by Tomb Raider.
The sound in Tomb Raider accompanies the cinematic presentation of the game perfectly. At times too perfectly, as I find myself too enthralled by the action and gameplay to notice a musical imperfection or catchy theme-tune. Similar to Skyrim, Tomb Raider has it’s soundtrack matched to its environments, characters, and action-sequences flawlessly, only unlike Skyrim, Tomb Raider’s score is a lot less repetitive.
The gun shots and explosions are what you would expect from a game today and action enthusiasts will be pleased. The only weak part of the game’s sound would have to be the voice acting. The ship captain sounds like a drunken version of the Simpsons’ Sea Captain (who is also arguably drunk at times), which detracted from the immersion a tiny bit. It was no wonder the Endurance crashed with this guy behind the wheel! Also, when in combat, the enemies in the game repeat themselves often, but I doubt Bad Guy B knew that Bad Guy A had already yelled “She’s reloading! Get her!”. Lara herself can grate at times too, but that is bound to happen when she has to talk to other characters, as well as the gamer (through talking to herself). When you are faced with a near-perfect game, any weak aspect of a sticks out like a sore thumb, and with Tomb Raider, it is some of the voice acting.
- Amazing story, and the perfect way to reboot a game.
- Combat is fun, and at times a challenge, even to a veteran gamer.
- Graphics are amazing, and environments are the best I’ve seen in an adventure game.
- Repetitive combat banter from the enemies
SummaryTomb Raider is quite possibly the greatest action/adventure game this console generation. Bearing witness to Lara’s first great adventure could have easily failed, but her transformation into an adventurer is believable, and truly engrossing. With amazing graphics and gameplay, it is title that any gamer can enjoy. Fingers crossed a sequel is announced soon!
Score – 9.5/10.