Review: Tomb Raider / Developer: Crystal Dynamics / Publisher: Square Enix / Platforms: PC, PS3, 360
As a colleague of mine said, upon completing Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the iconic adventurer; “The Uncharted/Tomb Raider circle is now complete as I don’t believe either would exist without the other”. It’s a very good point. But is taking cues from Naughty Dog’s franchise a good thing for this reimagining of Lara Croft’s origins? Have Crystal Dynamics finally got a handle on how to deliver Lara to a new generation of gamers?
Tomb Raider is one helluva ride. From the moment Lara and her fellow archaeology graduates crash their ship on the coast of the mysterious island of Yamatai the pacing never lets up. Focusing on how surviving the island and its vicious inhabitants changes the ambitious yet inexperienced Lara into the brave, tomb raiding adventurer we know and love was the developer’s main goal here. The first few minutes of gameplay throw Lara from scenario to grim scenario, featuring kidnap, torture and a chase through a collapsing cave. When she finally breaks free and catches her breath she’s already bruised, battered and covered in blood. Then the opening title credit unfurls onscreen. It’s a stunning moment and drills home that, this time, there will be no punches pulled.
Visually the game is a marvel. Beautifully designed levels and painstaking attention to detail really make you believe in the island you’ll be exploring for the next 10-12 hours. From dank underground caverns to storm battered mountaintops every inch of the island is gorgeously rendered and an absolute pleasure to explore.
And explore you will because, despite the linearity of the game, each section of the island is littered with treasures, tombs, collectibles and secret challenges. You are also free to backtrack at any point to go hunting for anything you may have missed. This is important as every action and collectable will grant you XP and ‘salvage’ (the game’s currency for upgrading). Some parts of the island will be inaccessible until you acquire the right tool for the job. It gives the standard Point A-to-Point B linear genre a wonderful ‘open-world’ feel, further enhancing the sense that the island and its inhabitants actually exist.
But there are some major issues that really let the game down. Crystal Dynamics have been shoving the word ‘survivor’ down our throats from the very first trailer and not just from a narrative standpoint. Survival will be a key mechanic they told us. There’s the threat of substance and meaning to your actions in the very first chapter as you find a makeshift bow and are tasked with hunting a deer for food. But the game immediately drops these ideas the second you spend your first XP. There’s no ‘survival’ here. Blindly upgrading weapons and abilities, regenerative health and an ‘instinct’ mode that is essentially a ‘go here’ button all make a mockery of the word. And while the story is sound and the spectacle top-notch the dialogue is average at best, delivered by archetype characters you just don’t really care for.
At the end of the day it’s simply another thrill ride that delivers all the pulse pounding action and gunplay you’ve come to expect this late in the generation. But it loses points for very little characterisation beyond Lara, a so-so script, for taking too many cues from Uncharted and for Crystal Dynamics not having enough faith in their own property. There’s so much that could have been addressed with this reboot but the developers just seem content to coast by on gorgeous visuals and wave upon wave of enemies. It’s a missed opportunity but, at the same time, it’s still a solid foundation with which to build upon for the sequel.