I was extremely skeptical of the new Tomb Raider reboot. As a massive fan of the earlier entries in the series, it would be hard to top the magic of Tomb Raider II, especially since everything we had seen of Tomb Raider so far made it look like an Uncharted knock off.
Well, it’s far from a knockoff.
In fact, it’s one of the best third person shooters of this generation.
Lara is back, and this time she means business. The new Tomb Raider is raw, gritty, and at times, pretty disturbing in terms of the level of violence it displays. You’ll see broken bones, spikes going through throats, and more people crushed under rocks than you can shake a stick at.
To be blunt — it’s all welcome. Tomb Raider does an excellent job letting you know that Yamatai, the world Lara is stuck in, is a scary place, and that it isn’t screwing around pretty much at all times. Rarely have I played an action shooter that manages to stay captivating throughout the entire experience, but somehow, Crystal Dynamics has done it.
Gunplay is second to none, as pretty much every gadget and gizmo does exactly what you want it to. Shotguns will snap and blast at a moment’s notice, pistols are as accurate as your aim, and there’s a bunch of tools at your disposal that will help diversify your tactics, like the rope arrow, that can be used to traverse gaps or pull apart distant, flimsy cover.
It’s said that 2013 is the year of the bow, and if Tomb Raider is any indication, it’s a mighty year indeed. At any opportunity I upgraded this bad boy as much as possible, as it made stealth play much more viable. In fact, I played most of the game in a stealth manner (outside of the scripted combat, which I’ll get to later), which I really didn’t even expect from a Tomb Raider game.
Yamatai is a thing of beauty, and has a ton of history to it. Whether you’re reading about the events that took place during World War II, or tackling the current day cult, simply put, I wanted more of this universe. Ominous flags will wave in the wind, fire will scorch some areas, and although much of it is inhabited, it always feels like there was someone there a moment ago.
Puzzles are pretty intuitive, and only one time (an elevator puzzle near the end) did I ever have any issues with figuring them out. In some ways that’s a bit disappointing, but mostly, Crystal Dynamics has ingeniously figured out a way to keep puzzles simple, yet engaging, so as to keep the pacing at a maximum.
Although it isn’t “open world” in the truest sense of the term, each “playground” block so to speak offers something interesting nearly at every turn, from small treasure chests to giant tombs — the latter of which is a new optional mechanic that pits Lara against cave puzzles for giant rewards.
Earning new unlocks and upgrades was incredibly addicting, and I felt a sense of “gotta find it all” more-so than most games in the genre, mostly due to how incredible everything looked. In most games, I wouldn’t bother going to a select nook just to find a few materials, but in Tomb Raider, those areas called to me.
My major complaint regarding Tomb Raider is that there are often times too many forced action sequences. By that, I mean forced encounters that feel way too scripted, in which wave after wave of troops pile into an area in a shooting gallery like fashion. Although I can count these parts on just two hands, like Uncharted 3, a few of them do not feel organic, and really get in the way of just exploration, and really enjoying the areas you’re in.
While her supporting cast leaves much to be desired, and often times only function as elements to facilitate the plot, Lara as a character is also extremely well done, as she’s likeable, formidable, and memorable. Her “hero’s journey” unfolds in a rather stereotypical manner, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enthralling to watch. While the Solarii or its members never really approach memorable levels, the enemy variety is mixed up enough to keep the game feeling fresh throughout.
Multiplayer is a thing that exists, but it’s truly not central to the experience in any way, and can be completely skipped. I did dabble in it for some time due to necessity for the review, but I didn’t really enjoy myself for more than a few minutes. It’s pretty standard fare for a third person shooter, offering expected modes that don’t really transcend the genre, like say, a Horde Mode or Gears of War 3‘s Beast Mode.
You’ll shoot some guys, you’ll level up and earn fairly uninteresting rewards, and the arenas themselves are basically just carbon copies of places you’ve already explored with Lara herself. The best thing I can say about multiplayer in Tomb Raider is that I’m basically just glad that it didn’t detract from the campaign.
Tomb Raider is the second best Uncharted game behind Uncharted 2. While it gives up a lot of its adventure identity fans have come to know and love, the end result is still a fantastic game that shouldn’t be missed by any action fan. If Crystal Dynamics can inject more adventure elements into a potential sequel, it would be a pretty interesting proposition indeed.