|Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 2-8 online multiplayer
Spanning the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, PC, Mac, Dreamcast, Gameboy Advance, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, Wii, PSP, DS right up to today’s PS3 and Xbox 360 this is what by my reckoning is at least the 10th major home console outing for Ms. Croft. This is an “origin” story that shows us how Lara came to be the tough, “never say die” adventurer that we all know and love. The adventure is set on the mysterious island of Yamatai, a beautiful yet storm-struck volcanic island in a hostile area known as the Dragon’s Triangle, thought to be home to the legendary shaman Sun Queen Himiko, who it was believed, had immense mystical powers... It’s an exciting if slightly unlikely story written by Rhianna Pratchett (daughter of Discworld author Terry) that will undoubtedly keep you playing until the spectacular, supernatural end.
From the first moments, the weather effects, wind, rain, flowing water and wave effects in the ocean are simply stunning. The smoke, flames and explosions will have you gasping, coughing, shying away from them and ducking for cover. Simply put, Tomb Raider is one of, if not the best looking game of the generation, and brings to life a rich, organic and immersive world without displaying horizontal tearing or frame rate jitters. Unlike a lot of games, cut-scenes use the game engine and seamlessly lead in to gameplay-often so smoothly that I found myself sitting there waiting for something to happen, not realising that I was now in control...
Like seemingly every other game on the planet Tomb Raider now has an RPG-like levelling system and XP is gained for collecting pickups and performing certain actions. Every time you level up you also get a “skill point” to enhance Lara’s abilities. Salvage can be found in crates and on downed enemies-bizarrely, even on hunted animals-and can be used to upgrade weapons. I’m not sure Tomb Raider needed this; it adds a good deal of faffing about but also gets you searching every nook and cranny of the various stunning locations. Personally I’d have been just as happy to have to complete a certain tomb or trial in order to upgrade Lara’s abilities, and wouldn’t have minded one bit if I’d just stumbled across a new, better weapon-perhaps dropped by a downed enemy-rather than the system used, which would have you believe that a posh 21 year-old girl could save bits of junk and somehow botch up her existing weapons to enhance them. Having said that, when Lara fixes the lighter to the bow (to make flame arrows) or straps the grenade launcher to the rifle (to basically give it a secondary fire mode), you’ll get the same sort of “THAT’S SO FLIPPIN’ COOL” emotion as when Ripley tapes the flamethrower to her pulse rifle in the movie Aliens...
The Tomb Raider games have never been scared of letting you kill Lara in a number of horrible bone-crunching and painful-looking ways, but this game is brutal; impalements, beatings, high falls, shootings, crushings, stabbings-you name it and it happens to Lara during this game. But fear not, checkpoints are generous so you rarely have to retread previously played areas, and Lara can survive all this and dish out a remarkable amount of punishment to the numerous Solarii henchmen that mean her harm. Lara finds a bow and arrows early in the game, and although she later finds a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun, the bow is frequently the best option. The bow has excellent range, is very accurate and can also be upgraded to use flame arrows and the rope arrow, which allows you to set up zip lines in various places and open previously blocked doors. As I mentioned earlier all the weapons can be upgraded and the shotgun can fire incendiary shells to add to the damage. The aiming is smooth and accurate, and the weapons all feel right, the bow in particular as you can ping off a quick shot just by pressing the trigger (R1on PS3 or the “R trigger” on 360) or by holding it to stretch the bow then releasing it for a more powerful shot. I’m delighted to report that there are no classic third-person aiming issues either; if the aiming reticle is pointing at something then your shot will hit it, unlike just about every other TPS out there. The ability to aim carefully is even aided by a shoulder swap (L3 click) that moves Lara to the other side of the picture, so moving stealthily and peering round corners is always possible.
Most of the gameplay is free moving exploration interspersed with shootouts or sneaking sections; the tactical choice is usually up to you, but there are also QTEs (Quick Time Events) placed throughout the game, these are basically pre-rendered sequences where the outcome is determined by whether you press a button or wiggle the left stick at the right time. Lara’s optional mêlée attacks can also be enhanced by timely presses of ‘triangle’ and ‘circle’ (PS3) and ‘Y’ and ‘B’ (360). There are a few other sequences that borrow heavily from the Uncharted games and see you fleeing into or out of the screen from a collapsing building or some similar peril. Perhaps surprisingly wolves (usually in pairs) are the most dangerous creatures on the island, and this may be hard for the TR faithful used to fighting lions, tigers, bears, mutants, sharks, crocodiles, mummies, sea serpents, giant octopus and of course, the odd T.Rex. They are however, a scary enough thing to encounter, especially as this usually happens at night.
The new rebooted Lara looks great, the all-new character model is an attractive, if not stunning girl, and she’s beautifully animated and controls accurately and smoothly. Even when you’re not making her, she moves constantly and looks around like she’s a living, alert character. Other nice touches are that she puts her weapons away when she should, and strains with the effort of opening certain huge treasure chest lids. The only grumbles I’d have is that she doesn’t look wet or even drip when she comes out of water, and there’s also no swimming or underwater diving in the game, which is a real surprise in a game with so much damned water in it (and good looking water at that!) I’d like to ask the level designers, what happened to the swimming/diving levels that have been a ubiquitous part of every Tomb Raider game until now?
In fact, just to be paradoxical, talking of Lara’s sexuality, I’d like to know why we never see Lara change clothes, despite more than a few opportunities to do so. She wears the same grimy cotton vest and jeans throughout; as she gets cut, bruised, scraped and stabbed they get covered in a mixture of blood, mud, grime and God-knows-what else, and although there are 3 premium downloadable outfits (Hunter, Aviatrix and Guerilla) they’re not very interesting. How about letting us run her around the beach in a bikini, or giving her a warm jacket for the mountainous sections? This might sound sad and read like a complete contradiction to the last paragraph, but I’ve been playing with this girl/woman since 1996 and have seen her in everything from her classic blue vest and shorts to an evening gown, a skin-tight cat suit and yes, even a bikini. The point here is that while Lara’s inexperience, self-doubt and angst is put well to the fore, if anything her sexuality is downplayed, and apart from that moment of menace from a Russian scavenger and a couple of down-cleavage shots we don’t really get a lot to ogle at, which, in the first ever 18-rated Tomb Raider, is disappointing for this particular Lara fan. The 18 certificate is for the gory way in which Lara kills and gets killed, and as I mentioned earlier, there are a number of genuinely nasty ways to die-and kill-throughout the adventure.The voice acting is a bit of a mixture, Camilla Luddington does a decent job of Lara but some of the others are a bit wooden. The action is accompanied by some good, but forgettable orchestral music, that rises as the action intensifies. The trouble is that it could be from any game or action movie and this is a shame considering how memorable the recurring theme from the first few Tomb Raiders still is after all these years.
The new Tomb Raider may not have that many tombs to raid, but it does have a massive amount of verticality, and this means a lot of climbing. Some climbs are simplified to the point where all you have to do is push the left stick ‘up’, others will have you scratching your head as to where to go next. Lara’s instincts will usually reveal the answer, and at times make the game a bit too easy for my liking.
As in the solo adventure, you level up with XP and there’s collectible salvage in crates spread around the maps which is used to upgrade weapons, and thankfully there’s plenty of time between rounds to do so. As well as upgrading weapons and passive abilities you can also choose a tertiary “drop” weapon such as land mines or a boobytrapped ammo box. In the maps there are also snare traps, impaling traps, explosives and lightning rods (when set lightning will strike these and frazzle enemies) dotted around.
Unfortunately I have to report that the multiplayer game froze on the loading screen once, and I also had an inexplicable “connectivity lost due to inactivity” message pop up at the same point once. Inactivity? EH? What are you supposed to do when you’re sitting there thinking the game is loading a new multiplayer game, get up and dance around the lounge? Then I also discovered that my rank had been reset to 1, which is obviously infuriating! I’m told CD are working on a fix, and although your kills/deaths remain on the online leaderboard in my experience I’d say it’s unlikely anyone will get their XP, unlocked characters, salvage or rank back. Fortunately the game is so much fun (and you rank up relatively quickly) that most people have just jumped back in, many regaining or surpassing their previously obtained levels already.
Overall then, an absorbing and spectacular game, truly worthy of a gaming icon like Lara Croft. You feel protective of her youthful vulnerability and uncertainty at the start, and emotionally involved as she flourishes and grows into the empowered survivor we all know and love. Games don’t come much better than this, and it’s probably worthy of a 10/10 score even without the multiplayer mode, but even with the ranking glitch (which is sure to be fixed) it’s a welcome extra that confirms Tomb Raider as one of the games of the year.
- Perfect blend of action and exploration
- Beautiful to look at, even the nasty bits
- A great relaunch for an enduring heroine.
- Surprisingly good multiplayer
- No swimming, diving or vehicles.
- The girl needs more tombs, puzzles and outfits!
- Multiplayer ranking glitch.