Video Game Review: Tomb Raider

I had been anticipating the new reboot of Tomb Raider for quite some time, pretty much since they originally revealed it. I thought it looked extremely impressive, and being touted as an Uncharted clone was perfectly fine with me! As always, I had my doubts because hype is getting worse and worse in the gaming industry, and honestly the last year has felt like nothing but letdown after letdown. Once I popped the game in and experienced the first hour all of my concerns were gone. This was going to be an incredible cinematic experience!

The first hour of the game is really a very linear experience, where Lara is forced from one extreme cinematic moment to the next. To say that Lara is put through the ringer in the first hour is an understatement. After Lara’s first kill, which she is quite distraught over, no less than a few minutes later you are plugging bad guys with head-shots and arrows like nothing!

The game takes place on a large island in the Dragon’s Circle (Bermuda Triangle). After the dramatic first hour, Lara is pretty much left to do whatever you want. The story does do a great job of making you feel pressured to continue along the mostly linear path until the end. The island is broken up into a number of sectors and each contains a base camp (campfire) that you can access your skills, weapon upgrades, and fast travel system. Each sector contains a number of collectibles, hidden secret optional Tombs to raid, plenty of bad guys, and lots of climbing/platforming areas. This game is VERY similar to Uncharted, although, in my opinion, better in a lot of ways. One of the most notable is that the island is pretty open, where you can use the fast travel system to continue to explore the island in between the main story line. Theres a decent amount to do when you aren’t pursuing the main story line.

Story:

This game is definitely not going to win any awards for its story. Initially I was very intrigued by what appears to be a very mysterious island with even stranger inhabitants. Crumbled shambles of old WWII research labs and facilities gave me the impression that there were some major secrets hidden on this island not unlike the TV series LOST. Scattered journals and log books further add to secrets with scientists or soldiers recounting odd stories. Unfortunately, the story turns out to be a little too supernatural for my tastes and something more out of an Indiana Jones movie. Without giving too much away, almost immediately upon crashing on the island, Lara is taken captive and separated from her shipmates. Once she escapes, she is constantly pursued by her captors until the epic conclusion. To make matters worse, the island simply refuses to let anyone off – preventing escape by unleashing incredible and deadly storms and supernatural weather patterns!

Gameplay:

The game boils down to 3 core elements of gameplay:

  • Figure out how to get from point A to point B in any given area (slight puzzle elements)
  • Actually get from point A to point B (platforming)
  • Get into gunfights with bad guys along the way (shooting)

The puzzle elements of each area are more about simply figuring out how in the world you are going to get all the way up to the top of that tower in the distance (for example). These puzzles usually involve shooting arrows with ropes attached to create zip-lines  rocking climbing with your pickax  jumping from ledge to ledge, shimmying from edge to edge, and any combination of the above. There is definitely a level of “Metroidvania” as early in the game you will see areas you simply can’t get to yet – until you have the right equipment. Surprisingly though, the “locked” areas seem to appear only very shortly before you actually get the equipment (not like very early on, all the time etc) – so its not frustrating.

The platforming is really very well done. Lara grips ledges with incredible strength and has the uncanny ability to jump extremely long distances. There are definitely times where you feel like you are making a leap of faith, only to fall to your death. Try again and time your jump a little better and she will grab the ledge no problem. Very few times was I actually frustrated with the platforming. To help, Lara has the ability to enter instincts mode, which never runs out. This mode shades the entire world in grey and highlights special objects in a bright gold. These objects include collectibles, ledges, scalable surfaces, interactive surfaces, animals, and enemies.

Lara has a few key weapons that she carries around, but the beauty lies in the games salvage and upgrade mechanic. Every time you open a crate, kill a bad guy, or find a chest you earn salvage. Its basically just a form of currency. Using this, you can pick and choose how to upgrade your weapons. Turning a basic WW2 Thompson into a badass assault rifle with attached grenade launcher! The upgrades are very well done and give you a great feeling of progression through the game. The gunplay in the game is also very satisfying, and some of the best kills in the game come from a solid headshot to an unsuspecting bad guy with your trusty bow and arrow!

In addition to upgrading your weapons and equipment, Lara can also learn new skills. Although most of these seems be more of a passive thing (earn more salvage with kills, spot animals and collectibles easier, etc). Some give you access to new moves like a dodge, dodge stun, and dodge kill (my favorite!).

Presentation:

The presentation and cinematic style of this game is downright incredible! Everything about this game just oozes attention to detail and you can tell that the developers poured their heart and soul into making sure every scene was exceptionally executed! One could argue that quite possibly there’s too much presentation! The graphics and animation are extremely well done. The detail in every level and cave and tomb is gorgeous. Honestly, I can’t say that there really were any flaws in the game from a visual standpoint. In my entire play-thru I only encountered 1 single bug too – after loading the game, i immediately turned around and tried to backtrack only to fall through an unloaded portion of the world and die. After it reloaded that portion that bug was fixed.

Conclusion:

I play a lot of games, and I preorder most of them and eagerly anticipate most of them as well! Unfortunately, for a lot of different reasons I never finish most of them. Honestly, most of the time its due to the game simply losing my interest or becoming too something. That was definitely not the case with Tomb Raider. Not only did I finish the game, but I went back after and continued to explore the island and look for its secrets. I beat the game in a record time for myself, rushing through the story because I felt pressured to do so (there was always some level of danger or extreme reason for my having to rush to the next checkpoint, even though the game clearly lets you go at your own pace and even go off and explore if you like). Others I’ve talked to said the same thing. Sure the story starts to get a little too over the top at the end, and the epicness of it all starts to wear on your nerves, but it never gets to the point of being a deal breaker – maybe just a little eye rolling at times. This game is a definite must play!

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