Has Lara Croft Returned for the better or is she just a re-skinned failure?
So, with all said and done, has Lara Croft really changed for the better or is she just a re-skinned version of her former self? To start with, they have gone for a more mature, younger and realistic character model. But polygon count doesnt make a game, and in recent times, Lara Croft has started to drop in pace and fall behind its closest rival Uncharted, who single handed, re-ignited the flames for exploring adventure games. Having fallen so far behind, can Lara Croft produce something special and reclaim the throne that has been snatched from her grasp? Read on to find out...
The main story in this reboot of Tomb Raider is taking Lara Croft from an innocent young woman, and turning her into a survivor through the trials and tribulations that await her. You start the game looking for your crew that crash landed on a mysterious island said to be the home and resting place of Himiko The Sun Goddess. From here, a group of islanders attack and take your team, Lara Croft manages to escape. What starts off as a simple rescue mission turns out into something far more complicated and watching Lara grow throughout the progress of the main game is something special.
The story itself is told through a series of cut-scenes and radio conversations. Add to this the secret items you discover actually have a purpose. They give you a form of jigsaw puzzle to events that are unfolded on the island. It allows you to get inside certain peoples heads and see their true intentions, fears, history of the island and its co-habitants. So taking the time to uncover the secrets around the island actually rewards the player in uncovering more of the story and understanding more in regards to the situation, and actions being taken by many.
The graphics on this game are a true marvel, and if you have an AMD graphics card you also have the treat of using TressFX a new technology that is said to make hair movement more realistic. The environments in the game are carefully mapped out and the texture quality in every area I checked was impressive. I did encounter a couple parts with sub-par bland graphics, and they were the life-hoops strapped to boats, but this is being extremely picky. Lara and the rest of the cast look amazing.
The character model from the start of the game changes as you progress. Aspects that occur remain on her and there is never any oddity to her features or model. The areas are well designed, with enough variety to show that the level of standard is not due to re-used models like in Kameo during the great battle with 10k orcs. Day and night scenes looked great, though my only gripe was that the transition from day to night could have been done better.
Watching the sun set and the sun rise at the shipwreck level would have been a true sight to behold. The water effects especially in the ocean look as good as Ive seen the animal movements, varying nature of the animals all look and fit into the world of Tomb Raider. Crystal Dynamics refused to release a demo and wanted people to experience the game in its whole package when purchased. Its no wonder why they were so confident. With visuals like this, who wouldnt be?
The sound in Tomb Raider is nothing short than breathtaking. Animals walking by, foliage movement, gun fire, arrows whooshing, to the river flowing or a waterfall, a splash, cries, laughter, pain from Lara, all are remarkable. Crystal Dynamics were not happy with just the in-game sounds being almost perfect, but they also have some of the best voice-acting in a video game I have heard in a long time collectively in a single game if not ever. It was so good that you connected with almost every character. You started to understand why people were doing what they were doing.
Detail to every aspect of game was kept at the highest important and the sound suffered to none. As you shoot animals like a deer or a pig, they try to run, they moan and thud can be heard as they struggle to walk on their last legs. Such is the detail that has been given to this game. Environment music, discovery music and sounds all fit into the world of shock and awe, and the final run in music is just so good that I turned round to my better half and said, you can sense its the final stretch.
The music gave you that sensation that it was this or nothing. Everything was now resting on this final set of actions, the thunderous sounds, winds and doors and planks banging, rocks falling were all intrinsic to the brilliance that was the sound and music of Tomb Raider. Now you may recall I said almost perfect above. This is not missing from the game but more not so strong. I would have like it to be stronger in certain scenes within the island, especially those that are more forest related and that would be a stronger emphasis on ambient sound. There was ambiance just not enough or potent enough for you to always notice. This doesnt however take away from the great effort and attention to detail that has gone into the sound effects in cultural, environmental to voice acting, its strongest ally.
The gameplay in Tomb Raider consists of Quick Time Events (QTE), on the rails, and free motion. The QTE was used a bit too much for my liking. I understand why developers do this as it allows for more cinematic take-downs but it also removes control from the player. However knowing this, the sections where QTEs were used were used to perfection. I thought most was appropriate (few not) and were well placed. Despite this, it is clear that QTEs were not always needed, and they seem to have tested the action when Lara gets caught in a bear trap and has to shoot on coming wolves in real-time.
This could have been done via QTE yet the developers let the player perform most of the action despite being immobile. My only wish is that more of this was used in places where they placed QTEs. On the rails, is the second form of gameplay within Tomb Raider. These are areas where you only have limited use of Lara Croft, where you can only move where left or right (falling down a waterfall springs to mind) with some events utilising the shotgun to stop Lara impaling herself into a random pipe or tree of some kind. And believe me Lara will die a lot and in my case the deaths were so varied I started getting her killed just to see how varied and detailed her deaths could be, to which I was not disappointed.
Finally free motion gameplay; the main aspect of the game, running, jumping, climbing, archery, upgrading, levelling up, exploring, puzzles, secret tombs, to guns blazing and melee combat, to stealth takedowns. Sadly on the iteration of the game, Lara Croft was unable to take to the waters which would have been the icing to an almost flawless product.
Lara Croft running and jumping is expected in any Tomb Raider game, however no more are the impossible long jumps. Now Lara has a more realistic approach to jumping. The gaps that can be reached via jumping are so much more realistic. Where the gaps are just a bit too long, Lara grasps the ledge with a single hand prompting a QTE to grab the ledge with the second hand.
Eventually you get used to the notion and press the X button just for security so your precious Lara doesnt fall off. Climbing now feels so natural. Using the pike to climb is rewarding and satisfying. Melee combat is not the main focus of the game and as such, melee combat in functionality is limited but not ignored. You also have a dodge feature which becomes even more useful as Lara Croft unlocks her abilities and levels-up as it were.
As you unlock abilities, you unlock finishers which allow you to take out almost any enemy instantly once stunned. These are very satisfying and yield a good chunk of experience. You will find yourself going for them more and more as you unlock them. Stealth take-downs are so satisfying and silent, making Agent 47 himself proud. Again as with finishers you are rewarded with greater experience for stealth take downs.
However at times, melee and stealth just are not possible. At these times of play, you have your Shotgun, Hand gun, Assault Rifle and your Bow. Yes your Bow, the greatest weapon in the game. It sounds crazy but the bow is insanely fun to use and headshot people with. Despite the slow reload, I found myself trying to use the bow only for every confrontational scene I could.
Its simplicity yet brilliantly effective silent take downs make you feel like a real Oliver Queen, and I feel now the standard of archery set in this game is so high, many will cry as they fail to live up to it. The precision of the Bow is amazing with very little drop. Shot guns I found to be the least effective weapon in the game. I generally died every time I switched to it. Hand gun was great as was the assault rifle once upgraded.
Yes there are upgrades. As you explore the world, you find golden crates that have salvages. Every so often you will come across some that actually house upgrade parts for the weapons you have. Each upgrade requires 3 parts and there are 2 full upgrades per weapon, adding plenty of exploring and treasure hunting to your gaming experience.
You actually find yourself wanting to find them secrets and wanting to look for them secrets so you can unlock more. Then there are the secret Temples. These are secret puzzles scattered around the island. Every time you complete one you are rewarded with EXP, area treasure map or even better weapon upgrade.
There really is just so much to Tomb Raider and the gameplay itself, never feels pale. Its always fresh. You always have a choice on how you want to approach a situation and for the most part the game does a great job in this. You are occasionally thrust into situations where everywhere around you is collapsing and the atmosphere is absolutely thrilling, adding tension and panic to your gameplay as you run non-stop trying to escape, running for your life to survive.
Finally, this has to be the only game I have played in a long time that suffers no camera issues. I did not encounter a single issue that prevented me from not seeing what I wanted to see. The camera was perfect. Panned out in areas that it needed to and returned to normal in areas it didnt. Developers should take a real look at how the 3D camera rotation and position should be done. Considering Crystal Dynamics managed to pull off a camera angle of perfection, I see no excuse for any developer not to achieve what Crystal Dynamics has with this. Archery in this game is so fun that if it was the only weapon in the game it would be enough to give you the best experience in this game alone.
The multiplayer aspect of Tomb Raider is what is expected to keep the longevity and re-playability on going after you have completed the game and then gone back to collect all the secrets to 100% the game. From the little multiplayer I did play the game had a solid foundation though generic 3rd person shooter gameplay. I would not say that there is nothing wrong with the generic nature of the multiplayer mode in Tomb Raider however it is instantly forgettable. I have not had the urge to return to the multiplayer like I do for say Battlefield 3.
Yes, I appreciate that the multiplayer in both are very different and in general, one could argue both are for a different audience. The multiplayer itself plays fine, and when you try to have a quick match, the servers place you into a lobby with equal skill. There are many weapons to unlock in the multiplayer menu as well as a host of characters as you gather salvage and level-up respectively. To unlock Lara Croft you need to reach level 60. With all the unlocks alone, theres enough here to keep even the casual gamer coming back for more just to unlock and experience the multiplayer game with the heroin herself.
I mean In the end we owe Lara Croft that much right for giving us such a fantastic game. Added to this, Crystal Dynamics has promised a slew of updates to the multiplayer mode including 5 DLC downloads specialising around the multiplayer aspect of the game. With new weapons, game modes and hopefully characters to unlock and experience, there should be plenty here to keep those interested in the multiplayer mode till Lara Croft ventures into her new adventure for us all to enjoy once more.
There are many things to collect in the world of Tomb Raider as you would expect. Some are not immediately available but with Fast Travel you are able to travel between camps and re-visit areas you had previously completed to collect secrets and complete challenges set by each area. You also have the option to complete the game and then continue from your completed save and start collecting everything. However once this is done, there is not much else to bring you back to Tomb Raider. The Multiplayer is fun for a while but its not compelling and will not hold many to its core.
It feels generic to a point which is its biggest downfall and with the announcement that all DLC will be multiplayer related, its clear Crustal Dynamics are giving it a massive push to try and maintain the multiplayer. Will it hold face and compete with the great, I personally do not think so, however its not to say I have never been wrong and this is merely my opinion. Now excuse me while I jump back into multiplayer of Tomb Raider...
So in the end we come to my final verdict of this title. Is the is title worth your money? Is it worth your time? In short, yes. To me Tomb Raider is arguably the best game of 2013 as well as one of the best and most compelling games I have played in the last few years. It has been such a long time since I have cared for characters and wanted characters to die in the manner I did. This game hit everything in the right note and to that I take my hat off to Crystal Dynamics and salute you for a true gem and masterpiece that you delivered.
Yes It would have been nice if a least one of the multiplayer DLC add-ons being released were in fact a single player DLC further exploring the island and the history, but for now I can finish this review off happily knowing that all was resolved and there was no sequel cliff hangers or anything left unanswered. This game answered all your questions and left me as a very satisfied gamer. Though not perfect the multiplayer mode is fun, and has a ton of DLC coming its way to further enhance the entertainment further increasing your moneys worth.
With all said and done its time to give you all, my final verdict. I really wanted to give Tomb Raider a 10/10 I really did, however due to minor shortfalls and multiplayer being slightly lacking I had to take a couple mark off and reduce my final score. This game gets a bad ass seal of approval with a solid and deserving 8.5, its not perfect, but its definitely the best game available this year by a mile, and then some. Game of the Year 2013? In the words of the great Churchill; Ooooooh Yesssssssss.
Review of the first opinion can be viewed here