2013 has turned out to be a hell of a year so far for successful AAA games and we’ve got another to add to the list. Released on March 5th, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix’s latest entry into the Tomb Raider series reboots the franchise to follow Lara Croft on her first expedition and tomb raid. For years the press has been spamming us with screenshots, artwork and videos showcasing the much younger, darker, would-be heroine to amp us up and for me, it was worth the wait!
Tomb Raider tells us the origin story of how Lara Croft came to be the vivacious, sexy and powerful archaeologist we’ve come to love. The game opens with Lara on board a ship with fellow archaeologists, specialists and a camera crew who are shooting a form of reality TV show or documentary in hopes of making it big off of a dangerous expedition. The group is searching for a lost Japanese civilization called the Yamatai in the Dragon’s Triangle to the south of Japan.
The ship encounters a massive storm and strands the survivors on a mysterious island. The remainder of the game is spent searching for the missing crew, saving them from dangerous natives of the island, and figuring out how the hell to get off the god forsaken place. It wouldn’t be a Tomb Raider game if there wasn’t something seriously messed up going on and this is no exception. Throughout the story we watch Lara transition from a scared, fragile and inexperienced explorer into an ambitious, formidable survivor. This is very unlike the Lara we know from previous games and to me it was rather refreshing. I really enjoyed the way the story builds upon itself to a great climax and hair-raising ending.
I played the PC version of the game and the first thing that was glaringly noticeable was how beautiful the graphics were. The jungles, caves and ancient Japanese architecture are beautiful from start to finish, and the detail put into the characters, especially Lara is remarkable. There were times where I just found myself looking around and watching her hair fly in the wind. PCs powerful enough to utilize AMDs new TressFx technology will see something really special, as Lara’s hair is very unique and each strand moves on its own. This is something I’ve not seen in other games and it really blew me away. It just goes to show how lifelike our games have become and offers a glimpse at the future of PC gaming.
A plethora of graphic settings allow you to tailor the game to your custom rig. I played the game on the Ultra settings with everything maxed and averaged between 45 and 55 frames per second for the majority of the game, with occasional dips down to 30 here and there. Everything ran great with no tearing or game-breaking glitches, but I did encounter a problem with Lara’s hair every now and then.
The presentation of this title overall is just amazing. The high resolution textures look great, the lighting and shadows add depth and create suspense, and the action-packed music keep things intense. I don’t know who the model was that was used to create Lara, but she’s fucking hot and no expenses were spared to display that. Plus the voice actors throughout the game were wonderful, especially Lara’s.
I played Tomb Raider on the Normal Difficulty setting and it took me about 14 and a half hours to complete. The game clocked me at 93% completion based on the massive amount of collectibles scattered throughout the large island. Luckily the game allows you to continue playing after completion so you can hunt down anything you missed. This is a semi-open world game with linear progression – kind of. You essentially start at the bottom of the island and work your way to other areas gradually opening more as you go, with the option to fast travel to previous areas to access extra locations.
I’d say the mechanics are roughly 70% exploration, platforming and puzzle solving, and 30% combat. To me, that’s how these types of games should be. This is how Uncharted should have been and this is how any Indiana Jones games should have been. Action-Adventure Platformers are not Shooters – they may have shooter elements, but I can’t stand when that becomes the focus. Bravo to Crystal Dynamics for keeping this genre the way it should be.
I didn’t find any of the puzzles remarkably challenging but I did get stumped a few times for a little bit. Luckily, if you’re standing around long enough, Lara will start talking to herself giving you clues on how to proceed. Lara also uses Survival Instincts to display objects that may be interacted with around her, as well as reveal the location of collectables over time.
Being that Lara is young and inexperienced, the game shows us how she becomes the bad-ass we know by focusing on Lara’s ability to learn survival skills and adapt to everything that is thrown at her. As Lara completes objectives, kills enemies and finds collectables, she’ll earn experience that she may use to acquire new skills. This is a classic RPG mechanic but the way that it’s implemented is really interesting. At campsites, Lara learns various survival skills like scavenging from animals and learning to spot things in the wild. These skills are both useful from a game perspective, but also from a story perspective.
Over the course of her adventure, Lara will acquire several weapons that are can be upgraded over time by using salvaged gear that is littered everywhere on the island. As the weapons are upgraded they become more powerful and gain fun attachments and goodies to make the bad guys go boom. The combat mechanics are very fluid and natural with a built-in cover system that Lara automatically hides behind when necessary and moves away from without the press of a button. She can also hunt animals, though it’s not all that necessary aside from a small amount of experience and salvage gained from each kill.
I had a lot of trouble in early Tomb Raider games with the platforming. The controls used to be very sensitive and often resulted in me falling to a premature death. The controls this time around are very refined and while it is still possible to make mistakes, it’s a much better experience overall. There are QuickTime events thrown into the mix as well and you either love that or hate it. The PC version of the game often doesn’t tell you which button to press, assuming that you should know based on the context of what is happening, but that resulted in several deaths for me as well. I’m not sure if that was intended or not, and I still don’t know if I liked it or not.
Traditionally Tomb Raider has been a single-player experience, but this time the developers have added 4 multplayer game-types that essentially pit the survivors vs. the island natives. There is nothing revolutionary about this in that you create load-outs with primary and secondary weapons with various skills and upgrades, and then shoot other players. I played a few rounds and it was fun for what it was, but like all traditionally single player games, this won’t last more than a few months before the servers are dead, IMO.
Either way, in the end, this is a hell of a product and Crystal Dynamics really deserves some serious recognition. Tomb Raider 2013 was a wonderful game from start to finish. It was great to see Lara’s tomb raiding origins and it was amazing to see her evolve into the character we know and recognize. The presentation, especially the graphics are just beautiful, the controls are solid, the puzzles, combat and platforming are of the perfect difficulty and the game’s length felt right for the price. I don’t care that multiplayer was tacked on because I wouldn’t play that anyway. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a fan of this genre of game, this is a must-buy.
Tomb Raider 2013 Review (PC) – ZGR
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Release Date: 3/5/2013
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