The polish of Uncharted combined with a Metroid styled open world game? I was sold after reading the first details and decided to go on a media blackout shortly after Tomb Raider’s gameplay debut at E3 2011.
Unfortunately it was difficult to ignore memes and idiotic statements from the game’s producers with Twitter and NeoGAF in my daily repertoire. I was aware of the noise but I did my best to ignore the details behind it all. I didn’t know even want to know if the game was measuring up to its initial promises. I wanted the game to speak for itself.
Crystal Dynamics track record with Tomb Raider is quite remarkable. They’ve rebooted the franchise once already with Tomb Raider: Legend, retold the original game with Anniversary and even spun it off into a dungeon crawler with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. So how does a studio define a new reboot in a world where the words “Uncharted-clone” resonates more with the gaming audiences than “Dude Raider”?
2013’s Tomb Raider didn’t try to define itself with a fresh new angle; it defined itself in the same manner Uncharted did when it debuted. They focused on creating a quality game and focusing on the pillars of their respective franchises. If this meant including concepts and ideas from other titles to achieve that goal, they did so.
One of Tomb Raider’s pillars is exploration. This meant the opportunity to move about in open spaces — or at least spaces that were more open than those found in the Uncharted series. The open nature of the island was reminiscent of the original BioShock. It was linear but I was given the opportunity to double back and revisit spaces that were previously unreachable.
I was given the ability to choose how Lara Croft’s skills developed over time. Early on, I chose to improve her scavenging abilities. I used “salvage” to improve her equipment and weapons. Additional skills and improvements to her lethality were made available as the game progressed but I found them largely excessive.
At 21 years of age, this Lara Croft wasn’t the confident bad ass yet. In fact, she never fully embraced that side of her until she left the island. There were glimpses of it towards the end but she wasn’t the dual pistol wielding acrobat that she’s known for. This Lara Croft breathed heavy and lamented her situation after narrowly escaping death. She may have been proficient with her abilities to climb and dispatch enemies but in the case of the latter, there was a hint of unease as she wildly swung her pick axe. Lara was effective but not necessarily confident against the elements and crazed cultists of the island.
I had Lara use her bow and arrows as much as possible. I also tried to play stealthy. Hunting the most dangerous gun wielding game in a small wooded area felt like a callback to my time with Metal Gear Solid 3. There numerous moments where I found myself buying into the moment and setting.
This island that Lara Croft and her companions found themselves on was crafted with precision and dense with gorgeous detail. There was often a point in an area where I could situate Lara and survey the surroundings and plot our next conquests. It was a small sensation of exploration but it was more than what Uncharted could offer.
Yes, Nathan Drake may be a treasure hunter but I never scoured the surroundings with him like I did with Lara. After clearing an area of enemies, I was free to explore, seek out the “red missile door” equivalent in Tomb Raider in hopes to find treasure of some kind. Be it salvage, relic or hidden puzzle tomb, I felt satisfaction after discovering and reaching each piece of treasure.
I was not disheartened that the complex platforming contraptions were phased out in favor of more straight forward obstacles. I found solace in figuring out how to reach a cliff or GPS cache location through the sprawl of ledges, ropes and swing bars in front of me. Along with those puzzle tombs, the spirit of those old mainstays was enough for me.
Tomb Raider lacked challenge. Even on the highest difficulty available, it was a cake walk. It would have been easy for me to shoot my way through and wrap up the game within 8 hours but I didn’t. I chose to take my time and soak in the atmosphere. I looked around often and made Lara walk at a cautious pace whenever we entered a new area. I knew I could react to whatever the game was throwing at me but I wanted the uneasy feeling of the dimly lit forests and caves to set in.
Over the course of 16 hours, I witnessed Lara grow from reluctant and remorseful killer into a woman who welcomed danger with spite in her breath. There came a time where she could branch out and become a psychotic gun wielding maniac but I chose to remain subdued and keep her foes at a distance. I chose not to succumb to the bloodlust that rewarded additional XP. I chose the path of bow and skill.
I don’t blame anyone for going down the easier and more brutal path. Lara experienced truly gruesome horrors on the island. To react violently after being submerged in pools of water stained with blood and witnessing the deaths of her shipmates and mentor has to do a number on someone. So I don’t blame anyone for lashing out and choosing to become the Lara the animated GIFs portrayed.
I didn’t feel like a hero at the end of Tomb Raider. I didn’t feel like the survivor they were hoping for either. I did feel a satisfied and was left wondering how they could proceed from here on out. How will Crystal Dynamics evolve Lara? Will she become the dual pistol wielding hot shot from before? Will her compatriots continue to tag along on their next adventure? Will they shift their focus towards action or keep the atmospheric approach? The mark of a great game leaves me asking questions of that nature and Tomb Raider did just that. I don’t believe it is for everyone but if you can overlook some familiar misgivings or just enjoy a quality production, Tomb Raider will not disappoint.
For more information on Tomb Raider, visit the official website.
2010 PC Rev. 1.3 was used to play Tomb Raider.