Published on June 4th, 2012 | by PJ Douglas25
Review: Tomb Raider
“A lot of things that happened would have broken anybody else. I was able to survive. That’s all that really matters.”
You start Tomb Raider suspended upside down in a bag, no rock solid pose clutching both pistols, you are out of your depth from minute one, surrounded by corpses hung in a similar fashion you swing yourself to gain momentum setting the bag on fire with a torch nearby and fall to the floor where you are impaled on a rebar and lie howling in pain. There is no snappy comeback, no graceful dismount, no health pack in front of you, hobbling and crying, Lara Croft, at 21 years old, on her first adventure is absolutely terrified, and rightly so.
‘Tomb Raider’ by Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics is a reboot of the series that graced our playstations all those years ago, it’s a good thing they went in this direction as everyone can agree the games were getting worse and worse (always hard when you start with something so original and memorable) and although this game plays like the beautiful daughter of Resident Evil 4 and Prince of Persia with glitter in her hair from the plot of the TV show ‘Lost’ it is, without a doubt, an amazing start to the gaming year and an amazing new start for Lara.
Much like Far Cry 3 recently, the main theme running through Tomb Raider is the journey of Lara from frightened young girl to hardened survivor, the game does this by throwing an awful lot at you and being very unforgiving, a combination of QTE’s (relax, they’re used rarely and look good) and mistimed jumps can cause some rather graphic instant death scenes as poor young Lara is bounced off rocks, impaled through the throat on metal bars and has her neck slit after being caught in a snare trap. It is very much out of the spiked acidic frying pan and into the even worse fire.
Which isn’t too bad a place to be as fire makes up one of the few new tools in Lara’s arsenal, burning new paths, illuminating dark caves and setting alight to arrows to help burn the various enemies who want to rip you apart. Along with your trusty torch you gain an ice pick for climbing / prying a bow to hunt and make rope bridges and three different guns (Handgun, Machine Gun and Shotgun) all of which can be upgraded with ‘Salvage’ that you find as you search the island and explore every nook and crevice. (Or mountain top and riverbed).
But before you get turned off by the idea of searching wide open plains, fear not, taking a leaf out of prince of Persia’s book (and maybe Mirrors edge before that) these levels are far more vertical than horizontal, with Lara running, hanging, wall climbing and zip-lining as if she wants to wear a white hood in renaissance Italy. All the nearby areas that can be accessed are marked with white chalk lines and glow yellow against a monochrome background when you use your ‘Hunter Instinct’ by tapping LB so you are never unsure of where to go next.
Equally impressive is the simple combat system that has been added to the game, with a weapon on each direction of the D-pad and a simple left trigger to aim, right trigger to fire mechanic you are always in control, throw in a few red explosive barrels and some waist high cover and you’re comfortably fighting battles in that familiar style you’ve been using since 2008.
The plot involves you and your rag tag band of researchers looking for the mythical island of ‘Yamatai’ (A real Japanese island whose exact location is a mystery to this day) and going off course as they head into ‘The Dragon’s Triangle’ (again a real place, read up on the ‘Devil’s Sea’ points for authenticity!) and end up on an island full of mental cultists worshipping a deity that can control storms and has a nasty habit of lightning strike / gale force winding anything that tries to leave the island. The plot twists and turns as your crew squabble, betray and befriend each other, and although some of the twists are as obvious as a flaming arrow to the face, it runs at a steady pace and makes you want to play ‘one more hour’ to see what happens next.
The island, despite wanting to kill you and being full of psychos, is beautiful, made up of several large explorable areas, which are coupled together with some fantastic set pieces and linked by camps so you can fast travel back and forth, you’ll go from snowy mountain tops, to lava filed geothermal caverns and the tight claustrophobic corridors of ships and research labs. Each of the larger areas has collectibles in the form of GPS beacons (little blinking lights), documents (to reveal the islands history) and relics (to prove Lara is an archaeologist I imagine) a large majority of which can’t be accessed until your gear is upgraded later on, leading a ‘metroidvania’ feel to the game as you revisit earlier areas all beefed up and swoop through areas that previously took you a good half hour to traverse.
Aside from upgrading the guns. Lara herself earns xp from exploring and killing enemies which you can use (to borrow a lyric from daft punk) to make her harder, better, faster, stronger. As you earn more skills, you can counter enemy attacks and stun them by sticking your axe into their knee or level up further jab arrows into their head and kill them outright, the level of exploration you do gives you more rewards so you are only ever as powerful as you want to be, and it never feels unfair (and if it does, go find another collectible ya bum!)
But what of the tombs? They are still in there, one or two in each large location, usually consisting of a clever puzzle that requires some or all of your gear to flip switches and leap gaps in order to get a reward. The reward being a load of xp, salvage, and the location of all the collectibles in the area added to your map, although this does make it easier to find the collectibles, no one forces you to use the map, and each area also has separate challenges (find all the eggs, burn all the posters) which aren’t on the map and encourage exploring regardless.
The graphics look beautiful, from the searing heat of the lava, the snowflakes of the mountains, or the mud and blood that cakes Lara as she scrabbles from fight to fight you can’t help but admire the work that has gone into making the island believable. Granted once or twice the game did suffer slowdown when showing an impressive windswept Japanese pagoda or swarming the screen with enemies, but these incidences were so few i’m only mentioning them as it’s hard to find a single flaw.
In fact the only other flaws I could level at the game are it’s length, (I clocked around 12 hours, all single player achievements unlocked) and the way Lara mentions how “Hard it is killing another human being” but ten minutes later is gunning people down at a rate that would impress Rambo, although I understand the story is also about adapting to survive so these are tiny, had-to-think-hard flaws in an otherwise amazing game.
Overall this is a beautiful return to form for everyone’s favorite video game heroine.
You’ll become absorbed by the gameplay, mesmerised by the graphics, energised by the explosive set pieces and come out of it covered in mud, blood and tears, but stronger, a survivor.
“Only difference between a nightmare and a dream is how big your balls are bitch”
Summary: A must play game with the only downsides being the short campaign and the bolt-on multiplayer mode.