Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Genre: Open-World Adventure
Release Dates: March 5, 2013 (NA & EU)
Price: 33£ (Amazon)
Since the release of the original Tomb Raider in 1996, one of the first video games with a female as the main protagonist, the series became popular worldwide with nine released video games titles, two movie adaptations and numerous books. The 2013 reboot of the long running Tomb Raider franchise marks the tenth entry in the series, a prequel to all previous titles, presenting an origin story to the tale of Lara Croft and her ascent from a frightened young woman to a hardened survivor. Setting out on a quest to prove her ideas and explore ancient ruins, Lara travels on the board of the Endurance, a ship commanded by Conrad Roth; fascinated by the potential of exploring and further investigation, Roth supports Lara's ideas, convincing the entire crew to set sail for an island somewhere in the Dragon's Triangle.
The game itself starts when somewhere close to the island, the ship is struck by a violent storm and split in half, leaving Lara and the rest of the Endurance's crew stranded on an isolated island, a place of great history and part of the ancient Japanese Empire. Being on her first expedition, Lara finds herself desperate, in need of food and medication in order to survive, leaving her no option but to engage in a dangerous quest that will transform her from a young innocent girl to the ultimate survivor in her first, yet biggest adventure of her known life. The game starts slowly, introducing you to the basics of bow targeting, hunting and scavenging, making the first hour of the game focus on the struggle of Lara in her quest to reach her only goal for that moment, survival. The entire open world experience begins with the moment when Lara is compelled to kill a human for the first time, leaving a sentimental and emotional moment in the story as she now becomes a victim of the island, forced to kill in order to survive and willing to do whatever it takes to make it out alive. After that moment, the entire game opens up to an incredible experience, as you'll constantly progress alongside her, learning new abilities and obtaining new gear that will always come in handy at the right time, making each and every piece of equipment a necessity in order to progress further.
At first, Tomb Raider will be all about bow and arrow coordination and sneaking by, but as the story unfolds new weapons like pistols, rifles or the shotgun will become available, giving you plenty of options to approach your targets and play exactly how you want to. Even though in logic a rifle is always a better choice than a bow, every piece of gear that you will acquire will be used throughout the game, especially referring to the bow which can be used as a stealthy approach to bypass some guards, as a fire starter using ignited arrows and even as a hook as you'll be later be able to attach a piece of rope to your arrows, allowing you to drag objects in distance or move them towards you. While traditional games probably won't pay attention to survival aspects once you're given a gun, Tomb Raider doesn't follow that pattern, as everything in your inventory will have to be used frequently in order to advance further, sometimes even combined so you can solve a tricky puzzle or bypass a dead end.
The story doesn't follow Lara alone, considering that the entire crew is in the same situation as you, constantly communicating with you and proposing solutions, but it certainly focuses on her, as the entire story is a journey of development for Lara, transforming her from a young girl with a desire for discover and exploration to a survivor that lives to do exactly just that, leaving feelings like fear or concern behind once she gets the hang of her surroundings. While there is no doubt that you can obtain almost any information about Lara from documents that you will discover and read, the rest of your crew will get the same treatment, as you'll often find some of their journal pages in your way, finding more about their determination to survive, their dreams or even their families. Even further, the entire island is loaded with history, as every nation or encampment that once inhabited the island left a few notes and relics behind, in addition to everything else that was scavenged from wrecked ships since the storms first hit the nearby areas of the island.
It is quite interesting to read emotional stories left behind by soldiers that inhabited the island back in World War I, talking about their families, their purposes or their last wishes that might or might have not been fulfilled. Commonly, collectibles don't serve a certain purpose in a game apart from giving you a little bit of extra game time and maybe some achievements, but in this case both documents and relics will provide you with stories, sometimes even emotional ones, just to make you realize how bad the people have been affected by those storms over the years, as most of the people haven't been killed by the storm itself, but the island itself. Along the way, you'll fight two types of enemies, first being the local group which has taken control over the island guided by Mathias, a common man that shipwrecked on the island years ago, now controlling most of the island as he proclaimed himself leader of anyone on the island, making desperate and hungry people worship him as a high priest.
On the other side of the local group are the Oni, guardians of the old Empire ruled by the Sun Queen, who are still protecting the temples in which important ancient history is kept. While fighting the Oni will be something left for the final moments of the game, you will be aware of their presence after only a few hours spent on the island, making them the superior power on the island and the ultimate barrier between Mathias and his plan to escape the island.
As any Tomb Raider game, the series' reboot takes a third person perspective based on exploring, discovering and having a great adventure overall, something that this particular title does in an amazing way, providing an emerging experience that will keep you addicted four hours and hours until you have turned every single rock on the island searching for collectibles. The main orientation device is the Survivor Instinct, an ability that is available from the start which allows you to look around you in a brighter light, highlighting important items that may be the key to advancing forward as well as other things like collectibles once that ability is unlocked.
Survivor Instinct can be used freely, being unlimited and always available, providing you an easy method to point you in the right direction when you're in doubt as well an useful tool to search for items that can you can use, especially when you're in dark environments. As it is your first weapon, the bow will serve as your primary piece of gear for almost the entire game, as it has numerous attributes that will aid you in your adventure, like the ability to shoot a rope cord tied to your arrow in order to access otherwise impossible to reach areas. The fact that all your gear can be used in innovative, sometimes even unexpected ways makes the entire experience fun to play, as it will always surprise you with a new piece of gear that will allow you to reach new heights and expand your exploration boundaries.
Even further, some of the gear that you will obtain during your playthrough can be upgraded at any camp using salvage in order to improve things like accuracy, fire rate or ammo capacity, making the salvage lookout an important part of the game, even after you have finished the story, as upgrading all your gear will keep you busy for a few more hours. While the upgrade mechanic is quite a simplistic one, it has a sense of fulfillment and achievement that makes it fun to upgrade your gear and indirectly collecting salvage used to upgrade your weapons. Aside from the combat weapons, Lara is also equipped with a torch and later on with a climbing axe that will allow her to climb certain walls as well as providing a finisher weapon for melee combat.
In addition to the gear upgrades, camps also allow you to distribute your skill points into one of the three categories: Survivor, Hunter or Brawler, each containing a number of skills which can range from things like counter finishers, improved vision for your Survivor Instinct or extra rewards when you loot corpses for salvage. Each skill point is awarded once you filled your skill meter, which is done by earning experience from both primary objectives as well as additional and optional things that you can do around the island. Everything you do in the game earns you experience, from collecting flashdrivers or documents to picking up plants, looting corpses or simply progressing through the story; while there is no pressure to do anything outside of the story, the game simply captures your attention by rewarding you for everything you do outside of your objective, motivating you to look out for collectibles, occasionally kill animals that you encounter in your way and loot the corpses of your enemies to earn both experience and salvage.
While the enemies are only limited to the local inhabitants following Mathias, the Oni guardians and occasional wolves, I never felt the need for more diversity, as the game will constantly challenge your skills in other ways since after all, Tomb Raider never was about the combat itself, but instead about the excitement of discovering, puzzle solving and exploration, something that this reboot does with perfection. Puzzles are a surprising joy for every player, as they're easy to complete, yet tricky sometimes, a thing that can be easily fixed with the Survivor Instinct, as it will always display the items that you must use in order to complete that puzzle, leaving you to figure out the rest and enjoy the outcome. Tombs are amazingly done, combining puzzles with jumping, climbing and overall a short thinking break, that will distract you for a moment from what's going outside the tomb, making each and every one of those tombs a great way to diversify your play. The movement mechanic runs extremely well, being able to avoid obstacles with your left analog stick as well as precisely control Lara when falling or during the parachute scene, which is an incredibly feast in the terms of visual experiences, as you'll be able to see half of the island from above as you have full control over the parachute. The climbing mechanic works surprisingly smooth as well, as can jump or drop in any direction you like while you're climbing, making moments like jumping from a ledge to another, which is usually an annoying part in other games of such, an incredibly satisfying and enjoyable experience in this game, as it does actually work without even the slightest problem.
The biggest surprise however, was that even though this is in an open world game with some pretty ambitions mechanics, they work extraordinary well making the entire experience link together, providing a superb adventure unequaled by any game in this generation. Further more, during my over 14 hours playthrough, I haven't managed to find a single major bug or technical problem as the game ran smoothly through the entire experience and even after, making Tomb Raider an amazing example of how open world games should be done.
Tomb Raider is one of the best looking games on the current generation, pushing the boundaries of open world gaming, providing equally designed environments in which the detail is remarked from the very first moments. It's impressive to see how detail the island truly is in an equal measure no matter which part you choose to adventure in; everything combined together creates what is the best looking title of 2013 so far. The characters are amazingly done, Lara herself looking astonishing, with blood drops on her clothes providing an extra sense of realism considering all the things that she had to kill.
The visual effects are a treat to the eye, making explosions, fire effects and everything you can possibly find in the game look amazing, something that can only improve the already superb experience that the game provides. Another visual treatment that's worth mentioning is the rain, that combined with the sound effects creates an authentic rainy environment that will sometimes create a creepy, yet enjoyable mature Tomb Raider experience. Lastly, the lightning effects provide exactly that old school Tomb Raider feeling, especially when you're exploring underground tombs; combine rain with complete darkness and a torch and you've got yourself the best adventure into the unknown that you can possibly imagine.
After four Tomb Raider titles Keeley Hawes has stepped out of her voice acting role as Lara Croft, in her place coming Camilla Luddington, which surprising enough does the job better and in a more emotional way than ever before. If I were to compare all the previous actresses that provided the voice of Lara Croft, I would have to say that Camilla is exactly how Lara was imagined in the first place, having that unique accent that is captured perfectly, which in combination with the emotion and feeling that her lines deliver, creates an amazing believable experience. Never before have I felt that bad for the pain of a fictional character such as Lara Croft, which can only be the merit of Camilla for providing such a realistic emotion to the game.
The soundtrack was composed and entirely and exclusively for this title by Jason Graves, providing a great background coverage in the most needed moments, making those emotional minutes in the game memorable days after you lived through them. The sound effects are simply amazing, making each and every move in the game sound exactly how it should in a real situation; from hearing the steps of your enemies when they're approaching to the crisp sound of an arrow being shot or the flames burning down a bunch of barrels, the entire experience is covered by an amazing sound design.
Tomb Raider has always been about exploring tombs and adventuring into the unknown, something that this title remembered very well, adding optional tombs that will bring satisfaction even to the most needy Tomb Raider fans out there. Each and every tomb is unique in its own way and challenging enough to make you think for a few minutes, however there are only a few of those on the island, each taking anywhere from five to ten minutes to complete, making me only wish that there was more to that.
In addition to the amazing storyline and the open world singleplayer experience, a multiplayer mode has been created by Eidos Montreal, however it clearly appears that this wasn't a part of the original project, as the entire experience gets boring way too soon, bringing nothing new to the multiplayer stages, as almost everything has been done before in dozens of other games with the only difference being that you can use characters from the single player in this one. No matter what, collecting stuff around the island is still fun and there's plenty of it, so the singleplayer experience might provide the lasting appeal the game needs, plus the open world approach and the amazing overall experience will always be enough for the game to be worth replaying.
Tomb Raider is the ultimate experience brought by this franchise and an amazing title to end a generation full of surprises; games like this make long running franchises keep up with a market desperate for innovation, providing than even an old idea can be brought back to life with the right actors, writers and enough time to create a masterpiece. There is no doubt that everyone owning a current-gen console should give Tomb Raider a try, as it is one of the best titles of this generation and no doubt one of the top titles of 2013; even you're a Tomb Raider fan it's only for the best, as the game brings old ideas back on the screen with a new imagine, an amazing origin story, smooth and flawless gameplay mechanics and a sound and voice quality like never before. No matter what your priorities for 2013 are in the terms of gaming, if you already own a console, Tomb Raider is a must try and must buy as it will provide almost any type of players with one of the best adventures that you could ever live in a video game.