Expansive Overview: Tomb Raider

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Reboots are not always the best way to bring a game back to the public’s attention. In the case of Tomb Raider, there’s plenty of existing material out there and plenty of directions a story could be taken. Crystal Dynamics had a new vision for Lara Croft, however, and they were always going to see it through.

Did they make the right choice?

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: March 5th 2013
Format: Xbox 360/Playstation 3/PC
Version Tested: Xbox 360

This Lara Croft has a harder-edge than any previous interpretation. By far. That’s both good and bad in equal measure. Lara has been cast-off on a far away island and thrown right in at the deep end. Harsh conditions, mindless goons, unfamiliar territory and long-abandoned, decaying old tombs. While much of this will seem familiar, Crystal Dynamics have gone one step further and opted to explore Lara’s reaction to these perils and pitfalls. They’ve taken the heroine way back to her roots, humanised her and made her level with the audience in new, more engaging ways. Throughout the game, players will come to understand Lara’s motivations, aspirations and desires more than ever before.

However, while Rhianna Pratchett’s story is a good one, and this is as good a Tomb Raider adventure as we’ve ever experienced, I found difficulty investing myself in this rendition of Lara Croft. For starters, the voice-acting varies from thoughtful and natural, to randomized and completely overacted. It’s all over the place. Camilla Luddington says she didn’t know she was auditioning for the part when she went in, but listening to the over-emphasised grunting, groaning and shrieking throughout the opening sections, one has to wonder what she thought she was auditioning for. The rest of the voice cast equally blow hot and cold.

To add to that, Lara incessantly talks to herself. The dialogue has been implemented so that Lara can provide description to the player when surveying the environment. Sometimes that works well, especially when looking at the historical value of items, or investigating abandoned treasure troves deep underground, but when Lara is saying ‘Shhh, Shhhh’ to herself when trying to keep out of enemy ear-shot, or telling the player ‘It’s a cave’ when standing at the mouth of a cave, listening to her becomes pretty tedious.

Still, the game is solid. Lara gradually acquires more gadgets,  enabling her to move around different areas of the island. Items such as rope arrows, a hatchet to scale wales, stronger grips to pull heavy objects, upward pulleys and heavy-duty weaponry enable some interesting brain-teasers. The similarities to games such as Metroid and Arkham Asylum certainly can’t be denied.

Yet there is a larger reliance on QTE than I would like. Usually these sequences add some tension, but while their implementation certainly isn’t detrimental to the game, and won’t ruin the experience as it has in prior titles, there is more emphasis on them than I would have liked.

Tomb-Raider-2013

Another issue I have with Tomb Raider is how little is made of the survival element. In a way, a merge with Assassin’s Creed 3 mechanics and gameplay could have made for a better suited and interesting combination here.

At the beginning of the game, Lara has to kill a deer with her bow so she can eat by an open campfire. From this point, players might think to themselves that this is a common occurrence. It isn’t. In fact, it’s the last time such things are necessary. Having a stamina gauge, or seeing Lara lose health if she hasn’t eaten for a certain period of time, or had enough warmth or shelter in a 24 hour period could have detrimental, if not fatal effects on the character. This could certainly add more tension and atmosphere to the game. Unfortunately, however, the survival aspect is more about wading through set-pieces, as opposed to requiring the player to adapt to the environment. Don’t get me wrong, these set-pieces are fantastic, but I believe this game deserves more substance than that. It deserves better than to try and do the same as every other game out there.

All that said, Tomb Raider is still a great action/adventure. The cover mechanic and shooting system works very well and suits Lara. Whether it’s her stealth kills using the bow string, bringing a hatchet down on an enemies skull or smashing a rock from the ground against the side of their face. She can even dart out of the way of a death blow and counter with one of her own.

While Lara’s evolution into a trained killer, zoned into survival mode  isn’t as sudden and undeveloped as that of the protagonist of Far Cry 3, it takes one dramatic scene before Lara is as adept a killer as Ezio or Corvo. Better story pacing would have made the whole thing feel more natural.

The environments are in Tomb Raider are truly beautiful, even on consoles. The game regularly stutters and stammers when moving between loading screens on Xbox 360, especially when the action gets a bit crazy, but for the most part the game is fluid. It’s unfortunate the current-gen of systems can’t accommodate the TressFX effect seen on PC, but the game still looks mighty fine. 

Tomb Raider is definitely a middle-of-the-road game, sitting somewhere between current and next -gen systems. While you’re in awe of what you’re seeing, you know it could still look much better. The PC version is definiely a clearer indicator of how the game’s vision is intended.

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As for the multiplayer, surprisingly, it can actually be quite entertaining. As a long term hook, however, I’m doubtful it will hold. Crystal Dynamics have done an amicable job embedding multiplayer in a legendary franchise.

As you might expect, this is the area of the game that will likely see the most expansion (the Cave and Cliff map pack has already been announced) but this feels more of a successful experiment rather than a mode that will change the face of multiplayer gaming, or even be among the all time greats. Its feel is very much like Uncharted, but with the added ability of setting traps for enemies and making them susceptible to gunfire. Ultimately, Tomb Raider’s multiplayer isn’t different or distinct enough to seperate itself from the rest, but it’s worth sinking a few hours into. At least so you can see the great work Crystal Dynamics have done and to gain a little perspective.

As for further expansion, I would imagine further areas of the island would be opened up, enabling Lara to raid larger and deeper tombs. The tombs are among the most creative areas of the game, and so there’s plenty of opportunity for Lara to use additional gadgets and gizmos to solve new puzzles and create fresh scenarios. In addition to all the map packs and gameplay modes sure to come for Tomb Raider’s multiplayer, it’s the single player that defines this experience, and it would be a shame for it to be left forgotten.

This Overview might seem overly critical, but Tomb Raider is a great game. I’d even go as far as to say it’s the best I’ve played in 2013. However, it could have been much more. It’s a great piece of work and a true labour of love, I just hope that future instalments move the franchise in different, more fresh directions, and don’t merely try to hop onto the latest trend.

Final Analysis

Tomb Raider is definitely worth your money. It is a fantastic adventure and has an epic story full of unexpected twists, turns and gripping action. Even the multiplayer works well. I just can’t help feeling it follows too many current trends and could have been bigger and better than that, especially as far as the survival element is concerned.



About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,