Wednesday, 3 April 2013

PC Game Review: Tomb Raider (2013)

Platform: PC (Steam)
Released: 2013
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Buy on Steam

Tomb Raider definitely has a special place in my heart. I grew up with the Tomb Raider games on PC and Lara has always been a bit of an idol for me and an inspiration to follow my dreams and do what I want and not letting anything get in my way. The Tomb Raider games, from 1 to Chronicles, all share the same excellent gameplay that in a great way blended action with adventure and to this day they remain some of my favourite games. And while Angel of Darkness was an indisputable failure, TR Legend and onward all felt like great Tomb Raider games. However, for Lara's new adventure, she is reborn from scratch, given an entirely new look and personality. Square Enix has taken the chance to make a proper Tomb Raider reboot, giving her an origin story where she transforms from a shy bookworm into the bad ass adventuress that she is known to be. What they did was create probably the best Tomb Raider game yet and something entirely different from what fans of the series have come to expect. So naturally, going into this game with any expectations would not be doing it justice. You'll simply have to take it for what it is, and what it is, is one of the most gripping origin stories I've played recently.

Lara acts and looks a lot more natural than ever in Tomb Raider 2013.

One of Tomb Raider's strengths is that of storytelling. Trapped on an island with her friends and no way to get away, Lara has to learn to survive in a harsh environment and she is more than often forced into bad situations she has to escape, and you can see these situations all affecting her, toughening her more and more as she goes along. The game's main focus lies on Lara's evolution and dynamic transformation and pretty much everything centers around watching her grow and mature, with several subtle details showing it. For one, as she starts out, she'll act with regret when killing someone and doesn't seem used to it. However, as the game progresses, she slowly adjusts and even starts to enjoy it near the end. She'll look increasingly bruised and scratched and her clothes will start to deteriorate from damage and such. One of the most beautiful things about this game is that we discover Lara's latent abilities and instincts together with her naturally as we play and it builds a very strong empathic connection with her that is unlike most games I've played lately, and the game does so without ever putting you directly in Lara's shoes. The game is constantly third person and Lara will act smart enough to do certain things on her own, such as going into stealth automatically when enemies are nearby or light a torch before a dark area, regardless of whether you do it or not. However, she never does anything that seems counter-intuitive or intrusive and you are still very much in control of her actions.

Afraid of heights? Me too...
The gameplay is very reliant on quick time events and most actions require these to be performed in some manner, and whether this is a flaw or not depends entirely on your taste. The quick time events during certain boss battles did feel very intrusive and not very intuitive at first and ended up stalling the game a bit for me. I often died simply because I didn't time the events or perform them correctly, or quite simply didn't react fast enough. However once I got into the game these quick time events became like second nature to me and adjusting to them was easy enough. It's only a minor annoyance and nothing that broke the game for me, thankfully. Otherwise the game plays mostly like a third person shooter, similar to the old Tomb Raider games, though your weapons often fulfill more functions than just being used for killing, and some tools serve functions beyond what they're meant for. 

Most of the game centers on exploring the island and you get XP rewards for finding salvage, which  you can use to upgrade your weapons, hunting animals and doing challenges. These challenges differ but mostly center around finding a certain number of objects of some kind. Every so often you will level up and gain a skill point, which can be used to teach Lara a new skill. However, the most striking thing about Tomb Raider is that it made me rethink about killing my enemy. At one point, an enemy was crushed under rubble, dying from the wounds. I stood there, holding the machine gun I took from him, aiming at him, but I hesitated. I couldn't shoot him. I heard him saying "stay with me" and... I felt sorry for him. I lowered my gun and watched him die and after that I actually cried a bit. It was a very intense moment from the game that I will never forget. Later on in the game as Lara kills more enemies, they start talking about her as you listen in on their conversations and some of them even start to fear her. The game is just full of fascinating details like that. There is also a multiplayer mode, a first in the main series, where you can select several characters and compete in team deathmatches and other modes. While I haven't played the multiplayer extensively, what I played was fun and went smooth without any lag or dropouts. However, a part of me can't help but wonder who at Square Enix demanded this mode to exist. I mean, most people play Tomb Raider for the single player experience so why the multiplayer? It's obviously a bit of a tacked on afterthought to extend the game's life, although like I said, the multiplayer is done well and I have no complaints about it.

Lara's weapon of choice throughout most of the game is the re-curve bow, which serves several purposes beyond killing.
The graphics in Tomb Raider are simply outstanding and some of the best this generation. On high end PC's you can even enable TressFX which makes Lara's hair incredibly lifelike, each hair moving separately. At times the game is breath taking as the sheer scope of the island is enormous and the locations all have their own feel to them. It does feel like the old Tomb Raider games where Lara would go to different locations, however in this game all of them are centered on just one island so there's still a very unifying feel to them and you can revisit them as many times as you like, even after the main game is over, to complete challenges and such. One flaw is that the graphics are actually so natural and lifelike that you can get lost easily in this game. Unlike previous games, the level design can feel a bit confusing since it's supposed to look realistic. Of course, I actually kind of like this feeling, and after a while I instinctively began to look for clues in the terrain and ended up not really using the survival instinct key at all which is more or less a "hint key" in this game. The characters are all well designed and feel like they have depth and personality to them. The facial animation definitely holds up well and this game did manage to get a few tears out of me at times.

The voice acting is incredible too, especially Lara's voice actress. In the past, Lara has always been given a very cold voice, but in this game, she shows a much broader spectrum of emotions. The performance left quite an impression on me and is probably one of my favorite game roles of the year. The other voice actors do very well too and overall, the sound in this game is incredible. The music though feels a bit forgettable, especially when held up against the original Tomb Raider music. The game did a nice throwback to the original Tomb Raider theme, though most of it I couldn't even remember and it felt more like background ambiance. This is just a taste thing though. The music wasn't horrible, it just wasn't memorable.

This is possibly one of the best looking games this year, definitely up there with Crysis 3 and Bioshock Infinite in terms of just featuring breath-taking visuals. The details on Lara's hair, outfit and the environment is incredible on a medium to high end PC and I strongly recommend playing this game on PC over consoles because of the increased detail.
SOUND: 9/10
An outstanding and unforgettably emotional performance from
Camilla Luddington lends Lara Croft some humanity at last and the sound effects all add to the atmosphere
of the island. The music is good but sadly not that memorable at all. It mostly serves to enhance the mood
rather than create it, which is the only thing I personally dislike about the sound and something I miss
from the older games.

The quick time events annoyed me a bit, but otherwise the game feels like a very good modern
action/adventure game, in the same vein as Uncharted. The incredible story kept me going until the end
and I loved every second of it.


This is one of the best games I've played and the best Tomb Raider game I've played. While the
unforgetable music and sometimes annoying quicktime events keep me from giving it a perfect
10/10 score, this game is SO close to perfection for me.
It's gritty, dark, emotional and feels like a true survival mission. Watching Lara Croft mature into the
legend she is and how she survives the worst odds is a fascinating and unforgettable experience and one I
plan to replay more than once.
If you're at all interested in action/adventure games, if you're a Tomb Raider fan or not, get this game. I
strongly recommend it as it is one of the best this year.

- Alyxx