Developer: Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider: Legend)
Platforms: PS3 (version reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: 5 March (US, UK)
I’ve never been a big follower of the Tomb Raider franchise. I’ve played bits of the previous games, and I saw the first movie, but other than that I’m mostly a stranger to the adventures of Lara Croft. As with pretty much everything these days, the franchise has gotten a gritty reboot. Can an old dog learn new tricks, or is this new beginning actually the end?
A new tale with no ties to the previous titles, the story of Tomb Raider works mainly because so much attention had been paid to the character of Lara Croft. The game spends time letting you get to know her and shows how she developed from an innocent explorer, to frightened survivor, to hardened badass. I’ve not felt this much connection or sympathy for a character in a game since John Marston in Red Dead Redemption. Otherwise, the story is your basic Indiana Jones-type fair, but one with a lot more edge. This is a violent game, and earns its 18 certificate. From grizzly sacrificial murders to a scene where Lara wades her way through a river of blood, there is more shocking imagery in here than most horror films. It’s like a more f***ed-up version of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Since we last saw Lara, the adventure platformer genre has been co-opted by the Uncharted franchise. Tomb Raider takes obvious queues from its contemporary, but adds elements from other games as well. Unlike Uncharted, Tomb Raider has a somewhat open world to explore for XP and treasures, much like Metroid Prime or Batman: Arkham Asylum. Also like those games, Lara gains and modifies her weapons and tools over the course of the game, which encourages you to backtrack to old locations to reach areas you couldn’t before. The platforming sections are brilliant, treading a fine line between classic Tomb Raider’s leaps of faith and Uncharted’s almost on-rails approach. The gunplay, whilst inferior to the platforming, is still a lot of fun and very challenging at points. There’s nothing more satisfying than headshotting an unsuspecting enemy with your bow and arrow before mowing down his buddies with a shotgun and finishing your last guy off with an arrow to the knee (I’m not making a Skyrim joke there. You can literally stab a guy in the knee with an arrow). Sure, it kinda goes against the whole “reluctant killer” thing, but it’s still fun. The puzzles are still here as well, and they are also fairly challenging. The game also has a multiplayer suite, but it’s pretty generic and feels tacked on. That, however, doesn’t spoil what is otherwise a fun and thrilling single player with enough length to be enjoyed playing through once without returning to find all the hidden gems.
Graphics wise, Tomb Raider is exactly Crysis 2 but it still looks great. A lot of attention has been paid to the environments, which all look distinctive and beautiful. The game seamlessly transitions between gameplay and in-game cutscenes; only the opening cut-scene is pre-rendered (and is pretty much just the initial trailer for the game anyway). The voice acting and motion capture here is excellent, particularly Lara herself, and the music perfectly matches the tone.
Tomb Raider is a fantastic game and one well deserving of your time. If Crystal Dynamics continue down this road for the rest of the franchise, I think they’ve found themselves a new fan. Whether you’re a Tomb Raider fanatic or just wanting something to hold you over until they announce Uncharted 4, this is the game for you.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10