Rise of a Croft
Whether in film, literature, or any other format, reboots are tricky business. It’s one thing to create a new character and setting, but an entirely different thing to ask fans of a franchise to forget all their preconceptions and follow a character from the beginning of their journey. That being said, when it was announced that Tomb Raider would be on the receiving end of a reboot, I was really intrigued. I’ve never been a hardcore Tomb Raider fan, but I’ve played enough to know that Lara Croft has been through pretty much every plot twist and turn imaginable. If anyone needed a fresh start, it was Lara.
When I first started up Tomb Raider, I was a little disappointed… Not because the game looked bad, but because I quickly realised the first half an hour of play would be parts that I’d already seen, or played at gaming conventions. I wanted something new and I wanted it now. Of course, I was being selfish, and the game gave me a sharp reminder of that when I failed one of the first quick-time events and Lara paid with her life. This started the trend of the game. Lara’s new origin story is a painful and brutal affair, with the fresh-faced adventurer taking hit after hit and struggling to keep going. That’s truly the highlight of the game though. Lara is an amazingly fleshed out character who you can’t help but feel sympathy for.
“A painful and brutal affair”
The story is also brought to life be a half dozen other characters, all of who are well detailed and actually likable (except the villains, who are suitable hateable). Lara and co find themselves on stranded in the long lost kingdom of Yamatai, an island hiding a dark cult, and a few centuries of secrets, some of which might appear to be of supernatural origin. There are plenty of slow and careful moments, and more than a few times when you’ll find yourself sprinting, climbing and crawling for your life. It’s a fairly lengthy tale, which manages to pace itself well, while still remaining interesting for the entire duration.
While this might be Lara’s first dip into adventuring (at least, according to the story), that’s not really evident by her movements. The movement and climbing mechanics are absolutely smooth, and apart from an occasional hiccough (jumping from one climbing wall to another can sometimes be a bit dodgy) there’s rarely a moment when you’ll be complaining that you got killed because of the game itself. If you die by jumping in the wrong direction, it’s usually your own fault. Gunplay is also fairly smooth, with Lara limited to a handful of weapons which can be upgraded to various models by collecting items, and purchasing extra equipment.
What really brings the game to life is the voice acting. All of the characters sound believable and the emotion and tension of their situation translates really well. It’s a bit of an odd collection of characters, with nearly every main ally having a different accent, but I guess that’s not really too out of the ordinary for an archaeological expedition, right? Of course, the performance holding everything together is that of Camilla Luddington, AKA Lara Croft herself. As Lara is continuously punished and pummelled, she always sounds suitably distressed, and the game’s moments of self-narration really help sell Lara’s character.
One of the more bizarre additions to Tomb Raider is the multiplayer. In this generation, multiplayer is king, and so many games are adding on a multiplayer aspect, regardless of its relation to what the rest of the game is representing. In Tomb Raider, multiplayer isn’t bad. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but what it tries to do, it accomplishes. Playing fairly similar to most 3rd-person shooters, the multiplayer breaks down into the usual game types of Deathmatch / TDM, Assault, and Cry for Help (where teams battle over several control points). The one fresh thing Tomb Raider brings to the table is traps and snares that litter the maps. Either team can activate a trap, which can either kill or incapacitate a careless enemy. Setting a snare will leave a foe hanging from the ceiling until they or an ally shoots out the rope suspending them. It’s a minor inconvenience, but used carefully, it can change the flow of battle. Tomb Raider’s multiplayer is a fun little distraction, and it’s by no means a bad addition, but sadly I suspect for most multiplayer fans, it’ll be a largely forgettable experience.
Overall, Tomb Raider is an impressive title. It nails the single player, ensuring that you’re completely immersed and following Lara’s every step and she struggles through and evolves from innocent archaeologist to hardened survivor. Graphically, it’s probably one of the best looking games we’re going to see on current console hardware. If the best gripes I can come up with are an odd looking texture or two, and my personal dislike for the appearance of broken items as they disintegrate, there’s probably not much more Crystal Dynamics could’ve done to improve. Tomb Raider isn’t just a reboot, it’s a fresh life and possibly the best game in the franchise’s history.
[spoiler title=”Game Details” open=”yes” style=”fancy”]
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC