Reboots and remakes are fashionable at the moment, just look at the Film Industry and you can see new takes on old concepts all the time. The Game Industry isn't any different and the latest remake of a popular franchise really did need it. Take note other developers, this is the way to do a reboot of a popular but stagnant game franchise and do it well.
Crystal Dynamics and Square-Enix we salute you!
Shipwrecked in the Devil's Triangle, young Lara Croft soon falls foul of a bunch of dangerous islanders. Her whole world is turned upside down and Lara must adapt to survive, throwing off the shackles of her fear and becoming a survivor. This game pulls no punches in terms of disturbing scenes and often puts Lara in peril. Writer, Rhianna Pratchett really pulls out all the stops here and goes into territory that many other writers would be afraid of.
The story is engrossing as well as interesting, full of dark and light moments and is one of the better game stories to come out of the industry in a while. More importantly it handles survival in a mature and no-nonsense manner, something that games need to do more of.
Male or female, when these characters are put in dangerous and disturbing situations it has to feel real to a player, or it loses its impact. Tomb Raider works on so many levels and Lara's journey from frightened teenager to hardened survivor has not been lost at all.
Tomb Raider refines the gameplay of this type of game in so many ways. The control system is tight, even though it has many Quick Time Events, they're not too jarring and they're always in context of what's going on around Lara. The button prompts are a little fiddly at times and not always generous in terms of reaction time. Fortunately the game has a really solid checkpoint/save system which smoothly eases any sense of frustration even if you fail a sequence for the umpteenth time.
Traversal is core to a Tomb Raider experience and this game pulls traversal off beautifully. The controls allow for a smooth movement around the various large sandbox style environments, and the carefully crafted story areas. Lara runs, jumps, leaps and bounds around the place as though she were born for this. It never feels like you're fighting the game for control at any time, even when navigating a tricky section or scrambling for cover in a gunfight.
Crystal Dynamics have really pulled out all the stops here, especially when it comes to Lara's sense of being in the world. She feels real and the way her story unfolds makes you want to move from location to location and experience that journey, sometimes funny, sometimes downright harrowing. There are some excellent gameplay moments and really great dramatic set-pieces in store for anyone who wants to see the game right to the end.
What really makes Tomb Raider fun is that Crystal Dynamics have cottoned-on to the desire most gamers have, to explore. So they built large adventure hubs where you can follow the story, go off the beaten track and find various collectibles. The game features a lot of these, they're never frustrating and many of them are locked behind the Gear Gating system which we'll come to in a short while. Collectibles come in various shapes and sizes, many of them offer salvage and experience points (XP) as rewards. Find a map of the area and every collectible will be highlighted, you can also buy a skill to enable Lara to find them easier, and place hidden secrets on the map screen.
These hub areas often feature wildlife that Lara can hunt for XP and rewards. This game is all about upgrading and progression, two features which are handled extremely well. Be careful though, there are wolves around and they don't go down without a fight.
Throughout the game you will discover locked chests, optional puzzle-based rooms called Tombs and secrets which reward you with weapon parts, salvage and XP. Lara can head to a Day Camp or a Base Camp at any point as long as there are no enemies nearby. Once at the camp it is possible to buy skills for Lara (when she's levelled up) in Hunter, Survival and Brawler trees, giving her an edge on the island and in battle. Her gear can be upgraded here and she can use any weapon parts she might have found once she has enough to upgrade her arsenal, so a simple WW2 rifle becomes a decent AK-47 style weapon.
She can also use Salvage to upgrade the functionality of the weapon. The bow can be made stronger and stronger, equipping grenade tipped arrows, armour piercing arrows and more. Every weapon can be upgraded several times and the game tracks this expertly, so you're never at a loss for what you need to do to get that bow up to full strength over the course of the game.
In one playthrough we managed to fully upgrade Lara and her arsenal, so we felt really badass by the end of it all.
Base Camps can also be used (once it's unlocked) to Fast Travel to any previously visited location connected by another Base Camp. Here Lara can search for secrets she might have missed or that were locked by the game's Gear Gate system.
Gear Gating means that you need a certain bit of gear to get past an obstacle or locked door. For example, Lara just can't climb rock walls until she gets the climbing axe. Once she has this bit of kit, she can easily scale these rocky pathways and find new rewards. Rope arrows let her create her own zip-line paths to and from Point A to B. Talking of zip-lines too, the way the game lets you arrest your forwards movement down a line and cling on is nothing short of inspired. This way Lara can actually climb back up a rope she's zipped down if there's a way to get back onto it. Good stuff!
The game manages to reward you every step of the way, treasure, XP, new gear and so on. It never feels like a chore and when combat kicks off, that's something else.
Lara isn't a badass gun-toting bullet-sponge, she has to be careful and many of the environments are setup to allow you to use stealth tactics to keep an edge over your enemies. The bow is the ultimate stealth weapon and can be used to dispatch enemies silently. Or to distract them and then dispatch them with a sneaky stealth kill from behind, or put an arrow in a guy's head whilst his friend is searching for the source of the noise.
Should sneaking fail and combat properly break out, Lara scrambles near cover and ducks using context sensitive animations. It works extremely well and proves that you don't need complex control systems to accomplish a realistic cover mechanic. Lara knows what makes good cover and she knows how to use it. The trick is to use that cover, keep moving, take pot shots and play a game of hide and seek with your enemies. They'll be doing the same to you and literally flushing you out of your hiding places with Molotov Cocktails and dynamite.
Everything is highly polished and as you level Lara up you can gain special abilities, these help in combat by allowing her to use the axe as a weapon. She can learn to dodge and strike an enemy brutally, whipping her axe into them, or stuffing an arrow through their knee (obligatory Skyrim reference here - including an achievement/trophy called: Previous Adventurer). It's all so smooth and fluid, there's nothing we can say in the game's detriment at all in terms of combat.
You can go from being hunted to hunter in seconds, murdering people with luck/judgement or finesse depending on how you play. You can use the cover and traverse whilst under fire, it all comes together beautifully and Tomb Raider is truly a joy to play in a fight.
Lara can scramble and roll, using that move allows her to avoid enemy gunfire and arrows.
When you're out exploring, the map is amazing. It is the best in-game map we've seen for a long while with copious amounts of information, user waypoints and a tracking system for GPS coordinates - so you can go right to an important place if you know the coordinates given to you by a friend. The game's journal and gear tracking systems are likewise excellent, you have all the info you need to make sure you get 100% on everything.
Tomb Raider (even on console) is nothing short of gorgeous looking. There's a huge amount of detail gone into each area and even the smallest place in the game is amazing to look at. The weather effects and especially the storms are truly dramatic and the game's graphic systems just ooze atmosphere in every situation. Fire is something we were truly impressed by and it appeared to be organic and flowed beautifully, especially from Lara's torch, touching the ceiling above her and splaying out. The light and shadow effects are fantastic and basically we love the attention to detail, flawless textures and superb art to this game.
Married to the graphics is a beautiful context sensitive animation system which pulls Lara effortlessly into cover, yet never once takes control away from the player. Her hand slides up against rock walls to stop her from pushing against them and there are hundreds of great little animations throughout from Lara to her enemies. Combat animations are vicious and brutal with little snap-shot kill-cams for hand to hand. None of it feels gratuitous though and it all feels thematic and not forced. Her climbing, running, jumping and traversal actions are all expertly crafted and the way she reacts to being injured (in or out of the story) is superbly done.
Games like this are made and broken by the AI. What an AI it is too, this is superb stuff and the enemies in Tomb Raider all have their own AI patterns, morale and ways they react to your actions in combat. They constantly force you to dynamically adapt and the bigger/nastier enemies are definitely capable of being a headache (in a good way). They know the use of cover, they can navigate the areas and they have access to zip-lines. Some will use bows to harass you, others rifles to supress you. They can flank and work in groups...basically this is the kind of AI you need in a game like this to keep you on your toes and make each victory seem like it actually counts for something! If you spend a lot of time in cover they'll flush you out for their friends, throwing fire bombs and shooting flaming arrows, as well as tossing dynamite later on.
The sound design in the game is nigh on flawless, with high winds, staccato (love that word) gunfire and the swish/twang of the bow. Ambient sound really brings the island to life and the audio is spot on with nary a misstep or bum file played. Top notch audio work all around.
Jason Graves captures the mysterious island with his usual flare for the disturbing and dramatic. Like his work on Dead Space 3, this score is superb with some really emotional moments, stirring action pieces and sombre reflective melodies. Jason's Tomb Raider OST is probably some of his best work yet and gets top marks from us here.
The voice work for the game is excellent. We have had no issues with the new Lara Croft actress and found she leant an air of strength to the game's main character as her story progressed. The rest of the cast were likewise excellent with some strong vocal performances in the main story. Some of the recorded bits for the diaries and so forth were a bit off in places we felt, but this was only minor and not enough to ruin the game or its immersion for us.
The script for the game is excellent and the dialogue is well written. We literally have no faults with it at all.
An odd choice for a Tomb Raider game, we can see why they did it, but the lack of really fun modes and reliance on putting multiplayer in the game didn't really work for us. There's nothing overly wrong with it, since it is Survivors versus the Scavengers, reminding us in many ways of some of Uncharted 3's online offerings.
It all feels mostly vanilla and we didn't really spend as much time with it as we would have liked. There was nothing to keep us hooked into the world and we quickly went back to single player, since unlocking models and ranking up (though we did get a ton of XP for doing badly) doesn't really interest most of us (and getting to the rank needed to unlock Lara Croft would have taken more time than we had to review this) - we explored the island some more and hunted down some remaining bad guys.
The servers were mostly lag-free and we did have some fun. We'd talk about the modes on offer but they were variants on package delivery, team deathmatches and CTF. Nothing stood out here for us and that's a shame because there was a possibility with the strong cast of characters to formulate a less formulaic multiplayer offering and perhaps create some great cooperative adventure scenarios like in Uncharted 3.
Tomb Raider is back and it is about time. This is a superlative title which deserves to be on anyone's shelf and has made Tomb Raider cool again. The pacing and the exploration means that it isn't over in a short while and will last 10 to 12 hours if you take your time on the main story, much longer if you spend a lot of time levelling up and using every bit of salvage you can find.
This is the best iteration of Tomb Raider yet and we can't wait to see what CD do for the sequel.