Lara Croft is one of the gaming industries shining stars. Her games have sold millions of copies worldwide and A-list Hollywood stars have clamored to star in her movies. The first Tomb Raider game remains memorable for many people as being one of the first games to kick start the battle between 3DFX and PowerVR many eons ago. The latest title is a ‘reboot’ to bring Lara kicking and screaming into 2013. But is it any good?
I will admit, Tomb Raider is an important game for me. I can remember spending all my money on a new PC to play the game at 640×480. While it may seem hilarious now, the smooth motion from the 3DFX powered system was groundbreaking at the time. We poured over every pixel of Lara and avoided the tacky ‘nude patches’ at the time, which rendered Lara in her birthday suit. Her breasts may have looked like giant triangles, but the youth of the day were genuinely excited by this new ‘feature’.
Taking control of Lara was always a formidable experience. While she didn’t have any super powers, her ability to scale walls, navigate traps and solve puzzles was enough for me. She has always seemed like a very ‘real’ character, with an attitude to match her beauty.
The latest 2013 version of Tomb Raider is a ‘reboot’ for the series, to bring Lara to a new audience who perhaps are finding the older games a little stale and too puzzle heavy. Without publishing any spoilers, the first hour of the game places the gamer in a run, scale and jump sequence, trying to keep Lara alive. It operates almost like a movie scene, with constant interaction from the keyboard or gamepad.
Lara is young in this game, perhaps before even the 1996 outing. Her experience and snappy dialogue is replaced with a young adventurer out to prove herself. She looks genuinely nervous in this adventure and I love the change in direction, because it shows Lara before she gained all of her courage and deft touches. Don’t get me wrong, she can still kick ass, but you feel for her more in this game as she shows weakness and vulnerability, clearly an intentional decision from the development team to tug at the heart strings of the male audience.
Lara starts aboard a boat with a documentary film crew – she is searching for the Dragon’s Triangle for Yamatai, a mythical island which was once ruled by the Sun Queen, Himito. The trip is cut short as a horrific storm tears the ship apart, forcing it onto the shores of Yamatai. The crew become separated , wounded and scattered around the island.
I have to admit, the first hour of the game was tough for me, I have always had an emotional connection with Lara and I am not too proud to admit it. Sure, she is a fictional character, but she was always a tough, strong woman with all of the admirable traits I loved as a youth. She knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to risk everything for it.
The developers place the gamer into a terrible situation. She starts the game badly wounded and finds herself on this unwelcoming island, facing an unknown situation. She has questions to answer and friends to find, but can the player keep her alive?
Survival is important and this is her primary concern in the earlier part of the game as she faces more and more challenges. She has to hunt to eat and deal with crazy cult members running amok on the island. They attack Lara without even a pause, hacking and shooting at her at every turn.
The reboot of Tomb Raider relies less on puzzle solving and more on 3rd person shooter action, which I have to admit I found initially alarming. Were they turning Lara into a Max Payne style character? This is causing a huge uproar among the fan community. Many people don’t want this change in direction, but I did enjoy it, immensely, even if I craved a few more puzzles.
I played the game from start to finish with a wired XBOX 360 controller and it worked flawlessly throughout.
The action in the game really is excellent, an aspect of Tomb Raider games that could often be lacking. The production values are AAA, with sweeping scores helping to raise the feeling of drama.
Lara is given a bow at the start of the game, and it becomes an integral part of her arsenal throughout the game. Sure, she will get a pistol, a rifle, shotguns and machine guns, but the bow is often the best weapon to select. You can steal kill multiple enemies from a distance without drawing attention to yourself. Shots to the head will result in instant death for most enemies, but this can be difficult to achieve, adding tension to the fights. The combat is actually very strategic now as you can use multiple weapons to flush an enemy out of hiding, or take a higher route along a wall to pick them off one by one.
Lara will use cover, but she has the intelligence to do so automatically, so there is no need to panic for a button press close to a barrel or wall. While this sounds as if it is dumbing down the game, I argue that I never had to worry about her trying to use instinct to protect herself in dangerous situations.
She will also automatically sneak around too, when enemies are close, and if you manage to get behind them without being detected you can perform a silent take down. The added intelligence with the character is welcomed because in the past she would often get stuck against a wall and get slaughtered before you had a chance to fix it.
The environments are beautifully designed and like everything about the game, the designers have invested a lot of time into the construction of the locales. I played the game with a Core i7 3770k @ 4.4ghz with a Radeon HD7970 and it was simply beautiful at 1080p. I was holding a frame rate with almost everything maxed around the 40fps mark – so quite smooth. Adding a second HD7970 meant I could crank it to ultimate with everything maxed and hover around the 50-60fps throughout. There are some issues with Nvidia graphics cards but we are sure that Nvidia will have them resolved, if not already.
The puzzles in this game are not the brain melting versions of yesteryear, which some people will like, and others will hate. The developers are obviously targeting a different audience who really don’t want to be spending many hours working out how a complex configuration of levers and tile switches work in conjunction to open a door. I never really had to think very hard to solve any puzzle in this game, focusing more on battling the enemy close by.
The island is beautifully rendered and weather effects will add a realistic edge to the adventure. Lara has not only to deal with wolves and hostile men, but storms, icy rain and winds, capable of moving her direction as she walks. The sequence which had her wading through body parts, had me genuinely squirming in my seat.
Lara is not only given weapons, but she has a climbing axe and rope arrows at her disposal which she receives a short way into the game and all of her weapons can be powered up at the camp fire, which also operates as a saving point. The camp fire is integral to success later in the game as you can also enhance Lara’s combat abilities as she gains experience.
The game is littered with many hidden items and relics which boost your score. Some of these add a lot to the back story, especially the voice recordings she will find. I did find myself exploring all of the island to locate special, hidden items.
The plot takes a turn later in the game, but I won’t spoil it for anyone reading. It caught me by surprise and really added a lot to the storyline.
I took my time enjoying the game and had it completed in just under 10 hours. It would be possible to complete in around 8 hours depending how much you wanted to invest in exploring the island and locating hidden items. I don’t think this is bad value for money and certainly longer than Crysis 3.
I class this game as a complete success, and I am one of the old die hard Tomb Raider fans who lovingly played and beat every title in the franchise. There is no doubt this is a totally different direction, but it is hard not to be impressed by such an epic production, with cutting edge visuals and dramatic interplay between cut scenes. Lara has never looked so vulnerable and your heart with ache for her as she battles some incredible odds. I for one, can’t wait until the next one. Fabulous.