Tomb Raider‘s been around for a long time.
In fact, I think there have been seven or eight iterations of her, from Tomb Raider I all the way to Tomb Raider: Underworld, made for nearly all the platforms available at the time, making it one of the best selling video games. And who can forget the movie series starring the hard-ass, heavily-weaponed and unbearably hot Angelina Jolie. Indiana Jones ain’t got nothing on this British archeologist.
Now comes the simply titled Tomb Raider, the 2013 edition.
But hold your horses. This isn’t the Tomb Raider you were expecting.
LARA CROFT: TOMB-RAIDER-IN-TRAINING
Lara Croft is a young, budding researcher in this one, still years away from the hot-guns-and-hot-shorts version we’ve come to know and love (and lust after—I remember playing a version with a hack that had her topless; ah, those were the days).
In the months and weeks leading up to the release of the game, I’d been following a series of behind-the-scenes videos hosted by Zachary Levi on the Xbox, and among a lot of other material on the making of the game, they featured an episode that had the actress who voiced and screen-capped the young Lara Croft, British artist Camilla Luddington, a young actress who would actually be good to play the part if they ever made a new movie out of the game.
(There’s Tomb Raider multiplayer, and I hear it’s good, but for this review I’ll concentrate on the single player campaign.)
The game, released just last week for the PS3, Xbox 360 and the PC, shows us a Lara Croft at the beginning of her career, just out of her teens, and wearing a decidedly more conservative getup.
In this one, Lara and her colleagues find themselves shipwrecked on an island while on a search for the kingdom of Yamatai (apparently a lost kingdom in real life—how’s that for verisimilitude?). She’s knocked out, and wakes up to find herself in a cave strung upside down among other bagged corpses. She manages to break free, and then the adventure begins.
Lara’s youthfulness is apparent in her initial efforts to survive and find her friends. She is wracked with guilt at her first kill—a deer, which she has to shoot with a bow and arrow she has obtained from another dead victim, and has to gut and dress in order for her to have something to eat, and her first human kill. She eventually finds a two-way radio, which enables her to locate some of her colleages. But you can’t escape the young-adult-out-of-her-element vibe here; wandering through jungles of the island, through cliffs, caves, tunnels and fetid pools of water, you can’t help but feel for the youthful Lara Croft.
The game is, in a sense, a bit easier than previous outings. And in some senses, a bit more difficult. More than anything, this Tomb Raider is more an action game than a game of puzzles; the puzzles are actually few and far between, and are easy to solve. But Lara doesn’t do her trademarked somersaults in this one. In fact, stealth is a bigger deal in this game, although when the jig is up, slam-bang action is the order of the day. Although some gamers might balk at the number of rendered cut-scenes, where gameplay is taken away from you to show scenes where Lara goes automatically through the motions the game dictates. (Personally, it didn’t really bother me much. I love watching Lara.)
There are some aspects of the game that are only revealed to you as you play along. For instance, in the beginning, you see lots of ropes and lines running around the place, and it isn’t until later that you realize you can use them to zip-line across chasms and structures once you get the rope-arrow. You can also salvage things from hanging nets filled with them by setting the nets on fire, which you can if you find a fire source later in the game, and go back to them. Stuff like that.
BRUTAL AND DEADLY
The game is surprisingly violent and brutal. Lara will die often at your inexperienced hands, in any number of ugly and terrifying ways, from being savaged by hungry wolves, to being crushed or impaled by any number of sharp, pointy things. It’s unexpectedly gory; I wonder how this game got past the censors. There are plenty of things to kill, both animal and human, and pretty soon, Lara, and you, become adept at it.
You can explore the island in-between the action highlights—up to a point. You can’t really free-roam the entire island like you might in, say, Far Cry 3, but only explore the current area you’re in. The places you’ve been to you can return to easily; there is an ability to fast-travel that you can unlock, and you can go back and explore previous places or camp sites you’ve been to to your heart’s content. There are bonus achievements to attain in each area, which is a nice distraction from the main storyline. As you play along, your skills develop, and your (limited) arsenal increases: the axe, bow and arrow, handgun, rifle and finally the shotgun. You can upgrade these weapons by salvaging parts from crates, or looting them from dead bodies.
GREAT GAMEPLAY, GREAT SCENERY
Whatever the case may be, Tomb Raider is an addictive, wonderful game. The gameplay always pushes you forward, forward, and shows you beautifully rendered scenes of flora and fauna while you do it. In fact, the scenery is so pretty that you sometimes find yourself lingering just to marvel at it. The gameplay is smooth and buttery, with nary a hiccup to ruin the experience. Not unlike some recent lemons (Aliens: Colonial Marines, I’m looking at you) that somehow manage to slip past us.
Tomb Raider is a modern, state-of-the-art game, an enjoyable one at that, and the developers have a lot to be proud about.
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