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Goggalor
Psychonaut
Premium
join:2009-06-09
Your Mind!
kudos:2

Tomb Raider Review

The game comes out next Tuesday (3/5), which makes it odd that any reviews are out right now for it. However, IGN (I could give the mobile link, but eh) gave it a 9.1/10.0:

We’ve seen Lara Croft in many forms over the years, from busty action-heroine to Atlantean explorer to wise-cracking aristocrat. But we’ve never seen her like this before. Crystal Dynamics' new Tomb Raider sees a young Lara on her first expedition, shipwrecked and stranded on an island bristling with danger, pushed to the limits of her ingenuity and will to survive. Over the course of the game we see this intelligent, resourceful young woman become something closer to the Lara Croft we know, fearless in the face of danger. It is a greatly successful origin story, a series reboot that feels both authentic and hugely exciting.

Tomb Raider is a little self-indulgent at the beginning – the first hour is a sequence of carefully scripted set-pieces and, yes, a cavalcade of button-mashing QTEs. But it's all for the sake of character development, and Tomb Raider is so good at this that you'll forgive the strict direction – especially after the game opens out past the 60-minute mark and lets you loose on the island. Camilla Luddington's performance as Croft is impressively convincing, and throughout this adventure you'll really feel for Lara – she is just not having a good time out there. It is a compelling reading of the character; we see Lara's vulnerability, but she is never disempowered, and never less than totally capable in extreme danger.

The supporting cast is less developed, though. Lara herself is so well-realised that her friends and enemies feel two-dimensional by comparison. Lara is shipwrecked alongside a crew of friends, and her guilt over bringing them along on this expedition provides much of the plot’s emotional thrust, but it’s difficult to feel as much for them as you do for Lara. Thankfully, this doesn't rob the plot of impact. There are a few jaw-dropping moments in this story, which develops quickly from survival-struggle into action epic.

It's a good while before you first pull out a gun in Tomb Raider. Lara's first kill is the game's first dramatic crescendo, a moment of genuine emotional impact. After that moment, though, the game quickly moves on thematically; the transition from terrified survivor forced to take a life to headshot-happy killer is jarringly instant, and this is the narrative’s only significant weakness. One minute she's retching over a corpse, the next she's skewering five guys through the neck with arrows, which leads to a period of narrative dissonance as you adjust. Lara has to get used to killing quickly, and so does the player.

Combat has never been the strength of Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider games, but the developer has finally nailed it here. Whether with a bow, a shotgun or a pistol, fighting is fun, and crucially there's not too much of it (though the body-count is certainly high). Lara periodically discovers new weapons, injecting the combat with fresh novelty every few hours. I gravitated towards the bow – there’s something vastly more satisfying about being a hidden assassin than leaping into the fray with a shotgun or hiding behind a wall with an assault rifle, though the game necessitates all these approaches and more in different situations.

Building Lara’s skills and upgrading her weapons with salvage proves unexpectedly gratifying. By the later stages of Tomb Raider’s story her arsenal rivals that of a small guerrilla army, and she’s equally deadly in hand-to-hand combat. But for most of the game, Lara has to work with what she’s got. Though survivalism is one of the plot’s dominant themes, if anything it’s under-used in the gameplay; hunting and foraging are introduced in the first twenty minutes, but then quickly abandoned.

Climbing, meanwhile, is masterful. Lara moves naturally and confidently in her environment, but it still feels excitingly dangerous. Leaping across cliffsides with a climbing axe never quite loses that heart-in-throat feeling. Croft has been to some really impressive places in her day, and happily this island is among them. It is stunningly beautiful, and the game gives you plenty of opportunities to admire it from cliff-sides, misty mountain outlooks and precarious climbing ropes. It’s also rich with detail and tightly designed, and as Lara masters the skills of survival and picks up new tools along the way, you can venture further into its hidden crevices. It makes you feel like an explorer.
Croft’s Survival Instincts vision – which, at the touch of a button, helpfully highlights things like climbing walls, flammable objects and rope surfaces you can attach to – makes navigating the island and its puzzles easier, and thankfully is completely optional after it’s first introduced. It’s most useful when you’re hunting for collectibles, but otherwise I played the rest of the game without using it. The game is well-designed enough that you can read the environments perfectly well without it.

Tomb Raider has definitely taken inspiration from the other great action games of this generation. There's an escaping-from-a-burning-building scenario, and more than one sequence where you're skidding at speed down a waterfall. But even when Tomb Raider falls back on action-game cliché, it does so with such confidence and aplomb that you don't mind – in fact, that burning-building sequence is one of the game's most breathlessly exciting moments. Once it gets going, Tomb Raider is high-octane and squeezes your adrenaline gland dry, but it's also got great variety and pacing. There are quiet, tense moments inbetween the combat-heavy setpieces, and you're never in the same place doing the same thing twice.

The Tomb Raider heritage shows itself in the game's secret tombs, which are secreted around the island for you to discover. These are self-contained one-off puzzles that lead the way to treasure, and they are frequently ingenious, challenging enough to make you feel properly clever when you find the solution. This traditional Tomb Raider exploration takes a back seat to the storyline in the main campaign, so it's great to see it shine in the secret tombs. Lara's love for archaeology and geeky fascination with ancient civilisations shows through when she's poring over relics and ancient structures, despite the hardship she has to endure.

When the story is complete, the map opens up for you to comb the island for documents, relics and other trinkets that you left behind. Miraculously, you will actually want to do this. Without the plot pushing you through them with a shotgun to your back, Tomb Raider's locales become playgrounds, and you're free to admire their intelligent design as you ponder a relic stashed on a seemingly inaccessible treetop platform. These are far from the corridor-like environments that other action games offer; oddly enough, the game turns into something more closely resembling a traditional Tomb Raider after you've finished it.

There is one truly disappointing aspect of Tomb Raider, and that's the multiplayer, which is best forgotten about. It just isn't a lot of fun and it's totally superfluous. Two of the four game modes feel significantly stacked in favour of one team over the other, and though Tomb Raider's combat is good in the context of the single-player, it's just not flexible or varied enough to support a multiplayer mode for long. It’s also over-complicated with loadouts, levelling and skill unlocks, which robs it of immediacy. At best it's passably entertaining, but I'll be surprised if anyone is still playing it in a couple of months.

THE VERDICT
Tomb Raider is well-written, sympathetic, exciting, beautiful and just incredibly well-made. The single-player rarely makes a mis-step, and though Lara's quick transformation into a hardened killer seems at odds with the narrative at first, the game quickly moves past it. It is a superb action game that brings a new emotional dimension to one of gaming's most enduring icons, and repositions her alongside Nathan Drake at the top of gaming's action-hero heirarchy.

Pros:
•Great characterization.
•Beautifully presented.
•Exciting, breathless pacing.
•More depth than you expect.


Cons:
•Lackluster multiplayer.

--
From Psychonauts -
Lungfish Civilian: (describing Goggalor) He's impervious to bullets! ... and love!
--


Jon
Premium
join:2001-01-20
Lisle, IL
said by Goggalor:

The game comes out next Tuesday (3/5), which makes it odd that any reviews are out right now for it.

Review sites get advanced copies so they can hype it before release


RockCake
Premium
join:2005-07-12
Woodbridge, VA

1 edit
reply to Goggalor
Click for full size
Lara noooooo!
Kotaku's review included a gruesome death-scene gif.
I'll definitely check it out, something to keep me busy waiting for GOW Ascension and The Last of Us.
[edit] added link


Goggalor
Psychonaut
Premium
join:2009-06-09
Your Mind!
kudos:2
said by Jon:

said by Goggalor:

The game comes out next Tuesday (3/5), which makes it odd that any reviews are out right now for it.

Review sites get advanced copies so they can hype it before release

True, but most review sites are not allowed to put out their reviews until either the day before or day of release. It is very uncommon for it to released a week early.

said by RockCake:

Kotaku's review included a gruesome death-scene gif.
I'll definitely check it out, something to keep me busy waiting for GOW Ascension and The Last of Us.

Also looking forward to Ascension and The Last of Us, though, the latter was pushed back until June.
--
From Psychonauts -
Lungfish Civilian: (describing Goggalor) He's impervious to bullets! ... and love!
--


Kulldar
Premium
join:2008-11-11
Warren, MI
reply to Goggalor
Watched a couple reviews for this game and I'm very excited for it. I just pre-ordered.

I was a huge fan of the original couple Tomb Raiders. I loved getting stumped for hours trying to figure out a level or to find secret areas. I'm one of those gamers that loves a hard game and never touches a strategy guide.

My favorite part of #1 was sliding down the rock formation in level 3 (I think...?) to find an large cavern. The music starts up with a fast paced beat that tells you something is about to happen and then BAM!, a huge friggin t-rex comes into view to chew your ass up. That was awesome!


RockCake
Premium
join:2005-07-12
Woodbridge, VA

2 recommendations

reply to Goggalor
Conan O'Brien did his "Clueless Gamer" review.
Everything's going along fine until the river scene (about 6 minutes in.) The look of horror on his face is priceless.

»www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCe8-1dbXZc


Kulldar
Premium
join:2008-11-11
Warren, MI

1 recommendation

reply to Goggalor
I picked it up yesterday about 2pm and played about 4 hours. I really like the game. It is reminiscent of the original Tomb Raiders with some of the jumping and climbing obstacles.

The combat is fluid and easy to learn, but challenging in situations. You quickly obtain a bow and arrow which is an effective weapon to silently take our your enemies. You later get a handgun that is effective once your enemies are aware of your presence, and is useful while holding a torch, because you can't hold a torch and use a bow simultaneously.

I think the graphics are great. Keep in mind I'm not a highly technical graphics guy who demands cutting edge graphics. I would compare these graphics to Skyrim. Lara's actions, the way she walks, takes damage, climbs, etc. is very convincing and realistic. Of course she endures more pain than humanly possible, but a level of acceptance is to be expected.

The beginning of the game quickly immerses you into the story. It does a good job maintaining the suspense and keeps you at the edge of your seat. I started playing sitting back relaxing on my couch and soon found myself at the edge of my seat focusing intently on my television. The story is just unfolding at this stage of the game, and it has me analysing all the clues I've discovered to formulate my theory.

tl;dr - If you were on the fence with this game take the plunge!

silbaco
Premium
join:2009-08-03
USA
reply to Goggalor
Wow. It sure has changed a lot since I played my first Tomb Raider on the Sega Saturn. If I had a 360 I think I would buy this one.


Silvanos
It's a new Silvanos experience
Premium
join:2002-10-07
Tonawanda, NY
reply to Goggalor
Game is fantastic.


RockCake
Premium
join:2005-07-12
Woodbridge, VA
reply to Goggalor
I concur; I'm having a blast so far. My only nitpicks:
I wish there was more opportunity to be stealthy, while combat is fine, she's no Nathan Drake. But maybe it's my fault, I've been dumping all my talents into Survivalist and Hunter. Maybe I should make Lara a Brawler.
And between GPSs, documents, relics, and depending on where you are, totems, lanterns, nests, statues, etc. there sure is a lot of crap to find! I'm going to be doing some serious backtracking, I've just arrived at the Shantytown and I'm only at about 34% completed.


Silvanos
It's a new Silvanos experience
Premium
join:2002-10-07
Tonawanda, NY
reply to Goggalor
I've been putting points under brawler and it's nice to be able to take guys out if they get to close.
--
Any it new they in one. You here for mine you here.
-JV


Kulldar
Premium
join:2008-11-11
Warren, MI
I agree. The skill that makes her "Y" close range attack more powerful helps tremendously.

I picked up a new skill last night, I think it was in survivalist... but it allows you to see items through walls when using survival instincts. It's made finding the GPS, documents, and salvage boxes very easy to find.

I think it's an awesome game. Probably not much replay value but still worth the money. It's presented very cinematic. I only wish the optional tombs were much much larger and more akin to original Tomb Raider games.