Eidos gave the gaming world a shot of adrenaline straight to the chest in 1996 when Tomb Raider released. The game presented its protagonist, Lara Croft, as a sexy, female version of Indiana Jones: adventurous, resourceful, confident, and competent. Tomb Raider broke a lot of new ground, both technically and by breaking female stereotypes that were perpetually spoon-fed to gamers since the industry took its first baby steps. Lara Croft is no damsel in distress. Lara quickly became an icon, enjoying several sequels and a successful jump to Hollywood with two blockbuster movies under her belt. The inevitable decline in the series can be blamed on the progressively increasing sexual objectification of Lara herself, muddled plot lines, and a fracturing of her personal history. No sequel could have dug Lara out of the hole: Tomb Raider needed a reboot.
You Want To Go Where?
Tomb Raider, actually the tenth game in the series, opens at sea, aboard the Endurance. Lady Croft is a participant in an archeological expedition to find the lost tomb of an ancient Japanese Sun Queen, Himiko, who ruled over the island empire of Yamatai. Depicted mostly through camcorder and diary entries, we discover that young Lara is exceptionally gifted and intelligent, but also very young and possesses very little of the assertiveness that characterizes her older self. The expedition is being led by egotistical and ambitious Dr. James Whitman, but it’s Lara’s instinct and research that points the group towards The Devil’s Triangle. This information was coaxed out of Lara by her friend, and videographer, Sam, because of Lara’s hesitance to contradict the lead archaeologist. This decision, supported by all but Whitman, breaks the Endurance in half and shipwrecks the crew on the island of Yamatai.
A Small Campfire Beneath A Windswept Cliff
Lara finds refuge beneath a windy cliff shelter, using her last match to start a campfire. She is alone, shivering from the cold, hungry, and feeling the weight of her responsibility for the decision that led to disaster. There are no swaggering adventurers here, just a vulnerable woman one match away from extinction. Lara must find the strength to survive, find her companions, and escape the island, which acts as a Roach Motel for ships and planes. These campsites, scattered throughout the island, serve as places to upgrade abilities, weapons, and fast travel from one discovered campsite to another. Abilities are upgraded through experience by hunting, combat, and tomb raiding. Weapons require spare parts to upgrade, found by looting containers and the bodies of dead island guys.
Distressed Damsels and Dudes
The island teems with wildlife and bad guy island dudes. These marooned islanders took Lara’s colleagues hostage, and are particularly fond of Lara’s friend, Sam. Lara is guided, not by the promise of treasure and glory, but the desperate desire to get her friends safely off the island. Players guide Lara through ancient Japanese villages, derelict ships, caverns, trap-filled palaces, Bad Guy Islandville, and few good tombs. The tomb’s puzzles are generally crudely physics-based: there are no blocks to be pushed. Action centers around quick-timed button presses, jumping, climbing, threat-dodging, ledge-catching, and a fair amount of third-person gunplay. Lara is usually one poorly-timed button press away from death, and Crystal Dynamics conjured up dozens of horrific ways for Lara to die. My favorite death involved a rapid water evasion sequence that ended with Lara’s neck impaled on a wooden spike.
Not Your Typical Hero
Lara Croft never was portrayed as a woman content to live a stereotypical in-game existence, which in turn became a stereotype. Early game stereotypes usually consist of a damsel in distress in need of a male savior, or she found herself as a prize to be won in a conflict between two men. After the inception of Lady Croft, women were sometimes portrayed in almost masculine roles: overly ambitious and daring. This Tomb Raider reboot presented us with a very human heroine. She doesn’t save the day because she’s the mighty Lara Croft, but because we can finally relate to her and want her to win.
What Makes This Game So Special?
Almost everything about this game is positive: graphics, sound, clever environments, realistic puzzles, character development and interactivity. Not only is Lara likeable and relatable, but her companions share those same qualities. I especially liked the stalwart and smooth Roth, and the salty Scotsman, Grim, both former adventuring companions of Lara’s father. Crystal Dynamics carefully assembled these pieces to craft one of the most outstanding games I’ve ever played, and certainly the best this year. Most of the 2O2P staff has also played the game and we seem to be in agreement:
“Tomb Raider campaign is outstanding. Combat is great, production quality is amazing pacing is great graphics and sound equally amazing. Best game this year so far and probably not many will challenge that throughout the year.”-TANK
“I haven't even considered MP. I finished the campaign. The game is nearly perfect in my opinion.”-frizzlefry2
You Knew It Was Coming
As good as the new Tomb Raider is, the staff has a bone or two to pick with Lara. My biggest gripe, as with a lot of the newer games like Dishonored and Rage, was the brevity of the experience. As immersive and impressive as the story is, I finished it in just under twelve hours. Another point against Tomb Raider is the fact that a lot of the narrative closely resembles another recent release in the island adventure genre: Far Cry 3.There are also some reported technical glitches.
“My only drawback? I suffered that stupid ass rope ascender glitch and almost threw my controller through the screen. I would make mention of that for sure...QA shouldn't miss bugs like that.”-frizzlefry2
Multiplayer is also another low-point in the game. Third person frag-fests are generally not the way to present a shooter, but Tomb Raider MP made a particular mess of the deal. Skating and flying characters, erratic player movement speed, and bulletproof foes all make for a woeful multiplayer experience.
“Like many of the early reviews that came out and said that it felt like MP was an afterthought, MP was an afterthought and unfortunately, it was a very painful afterthought. It's like the publisher didn't even bother to try... For example, right out of spawn, the character movements were clunky and on several occasions, they didn't even show the character's legs running. Instead, the character would strike a pose then skate across the map. Weapon balancing at this point doesn't exist while aim sensitivity felt weighted even after setting it to maximum. To make matters worst, characters haven't mastered the art of running with their weapons. Instead, they holster them whenever they run so when you absolutely have to shoot everything in sight, you have to stop running, pull out your weapon, take a few seconds to aim, then finally pull the trigger. There is no fluidity in the transitions from running to gunning and as a Gears player, this can be frustrating.”-Loki619
The Final Verdict
While the multiplayer function has proven itself to be a train wreck, and despite the relatively short campaign, I have to recommend Tomb Raider
. This game raises the bar for storytelling, character development, and delivering a kick-ass game playing experience. Lara Croft knows how to show a guy a good time.