Crystal Dynamics has crafted not just the Tomb Raider that was needed, but also the one we wanted.
Crystal Dynamics had one gargantuan challenge in front of them – reboot one of the world’s biggest and most recognised franchises, whilst also staying true to the core of a series that created the industry’s first, and still most famous, female protagonists. The origins story that Lara Croft undertakes is one that brings the decade and a half long journey into the modern era; in doing so, creates a brand new springboard for Tomb Raider to excel upon as the Redwood City developer has crafted something to truly be proud of.
Reverted to just Tomb Raider – rather than Tomb Raider 9 or some sort of subtitled iteration – this was all about not just returning to its roots, but about reinventing the series. Lady Croft, whilst maintaining the title of most well-known female videogame hero, has failed to keep up with more progressive time as both her appearance and gameplay faltered in recent outing. Sales began to slide and the allure behind the Tomb Raider name was quickly losing its appeal. This, therefore, is the perfect reboot.
It’s as much a reinvention of Tomb Raider’s strengths were when it broke into the gaming scene back in 1996. With the “survival action” the core concept, it is as much about how the combat played as it is the emotional trials that Miss Croft endures. As a fresh-faced 21-year old explorer, Lara’s expedition ship, the Endurance, wrecks upon the shores of the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai. Separated from her friends and colleagues, she awakens a captive. The following hour or so of gameplay will shape Lara’s future whilst creating a unique experience for a third-person action-adventure title. With no weapons, no experience of killing, it’s a vulnerable and exposed Lara; one that, over the coming hours, will do whatever she needs to do to survive and rescue those dearest to her.
From taking shelter from the rain to struggling to kill a nearby dear to her survival instincts kicking in during a kill or be killed moment, the evolution of Lara’s character is swift and dramatic – and always at the forefront. It creates the tension that seeps out at every moment to produce a thoroughly gripping atmosphere. Having broken free of the almost paradoxical shackles, Lara Croft is back to being one the of few truly great gaming protagonists, invoking a strong bond thanks to some expertly delivered voice work from Camilla Luddington and powerful dialogue – part of the interesting script from Rhianna Pratchett.
Whilst an engrossing plot and emotive characters are vitally important, they’re only part of what ensures a game is enjoyable. For Tomb Raider nailing the combat was a key aspect of the Redwood developer and thankfully they got it spot on. By acknowledging that Lara would neither have the experience or physical strength to fight off most of her foes, the combat is far more delicate and intelligent than your traditional melee combat and muzzle-flash filled firefights.
With a bow and arrow your primary compatriot, a stealthy approach to eliminating either those out to get you, or those just in your way. Distractions can cause guards to alter their patrol paths, whilst a clean headshot guarantees a silent fate and a trouble-free encounter. The sense of power and weight behind the bow is immense and perhaps one of the most enjoyable to use weapons in recent memory, let alone with the game. There are a few more weapons including a pistol, rifle and shotgun, all of which Lara discovers as she becomes more ruthless and accepting of the actions she has to make. Rather than fight enemies hand-to-hand though, Lara can dodge incoming attacks and utilise fatal blows with a pickaxe or other weapons when foes are downed.
All-in-all, the combat system is hugely enjoyable. A reactive cover system sees Miss Croft automatically hide behind nearby objects eliminating the possibility of accidentally snapping to the wrong bit of terrain, whilst no party is overly adept at taking a round full of bullets and managing to survive. Enemy AI is tactical and intelligent, ensuring you keep your wits about you.
When you are downed, whether be it by gunfire or the environment, the death sequences are brutal, accompanying the savage situation presented. Currents will smash Lara’s head against rocks, wreckage impale her, and giant boulders crush her; it is an unforgiving land littered with traps and deathly drops. It is also a beautiful world. Vistas are breathtaking and vast, lighting majestic at times and environmental design at the highest level. On occasion Tomb Raider seems to be held back by the now limited hardware, but it is still visually pleasing – which when paired with a marvelous score and exceptional voice work leads to a truly emphatic presentation.
The cliff faces are not just there to look good either, there’s plenty of traversing required. The evolution of this throughout the game is paced expertly – as is the entire campaign – as it slowly grants access to new items or abilities that never dislodge the previous ones. The platforming sections are interspersed by a few puzzles, but it’s the set pieces that really impress as they provide enthralling action sequence again and again. Never did they feel out-of-place or unnecessary, but rather the ideal implementation for what could have been a cutscene.
by Liam Bull
Never had I thought Tomb Raider could host a multiplayer experience. Lara and her adventures always seemed destined to be a solitary relationship, with little room for others except those peering over your shoulder at lady Croft and her acrobatics. It was with great uncertainty then, that I tiptoed into this realm of the unknown, hoping for greatness and not just a bolted on “me too” portion of a franchise so needing a fresh coat of paint.
So what is on offer when taking the new Tomb Raider experience online? Well, for those looking for depth and longevity you may be disappointed. Tomb Raider multiplayer offers just four game modes over five maps out of the box. The usual free-for-all and team deathmatch modes are accompanied by ‘Rescue’ and ‘A Cry for Help’ objective based modes.
Both modes throw survivors at the Solorii. In ‘Rescue’ the survivors are tasked with the retrieval of medkits, the Solorii of course instructed to prevent them doing so; whilst ‘A Cry for Help’ puts the two factions against each other in a bid to control territory. It is just a shame there are only five levels, as each has a different atmosphere relevant to the location, sports great verticality and a bathed in superb atmospheric visuals.
The Tomb Raider multiplayer experience is then more than I had feared but less than I had hoped. It almost feels like a teaser that perhaps is meant to be exactly that, an attempt to get you wanting more that will no doubt arrive via downloadable content. In that, it succeeds; but it is an acquired taste that has a moderately difficult learning curve potentially putting gamers looking for a quick blast right off.
Those giving it more time will soon grow bored of the limited offerings and go elsewhere. As it stands the multiplayer portion feels like the basket of bread on the restaurant table, you are hungry, it tastes great – but you are waiting for a bigger, more varied meal.
Loading is entirely hidden, thanks in part to the clever level design, and the lack of bugs and niggles suggests the additional few months of development time were well spent. There lacks the cleanliness of design that exclusives enjoy, but it’s as close as I’ve seen for a multiplatform release in many years. There is a balance attempted between linearity and open worldliness that sometimes feels misstepped, but is never overly interfering one way or another. Gameplay is always kept fresh and exciting and the upgrade skill tree grants a small element of customisation in an otherwise heavily scripted world.
The direction that Crystal Dynamics has taken Tomb Raider is certainly a bold one but it is the right one. The isolation that Lara Croft experience rubs off and the sense of survival at all costs is extremely powerful. It is filled with incredible technical achievements that are so gracefully implemented that everything fits into place without a fault. Tomb Raider has shown the potential for reboots; with a strong female protagonist, a gripping storyline and efficacious combat, Crystal Dynamics has crafted not just the Tomb Raider that was needed, but also the one we wanted.