Pulling a meter long spike out of her abdomen, Lara wonders how she ended up waist-deep water at the bottom of a cave filled with human remains.This isn’t the Tomb Raider you remember, which is good for gameplay but bad for content. The adventure begins off the shore of a relic-filled island as a young Lara Croft begins one of her first archaeological missions. Immediately, the difference between this Tomb Raider and her previous trilogy presents itself: Tomb Raider has become a gritty, bloody, bitter tale of survival no matter the cost.
The gameplay reminded me of a fusion between the Uncharted series mixed with Assassins Creed. The combat sections involve a combination of cover shooting and stealthy assassinations to move forward in the largely linear main story. Combat begins with a simple bow, but quickly escalates to using a wide variety of upgradable, scavenged weapons including an incendiary shotgun and a grenade launching machine gun. Interestingly, I found myself using mostly the bow throughout the 14 hour campaign because of its ability to silently dispatch enemies and its novelty. I found that the enemy AI was relatively good, but many of them would not notice the loud choking noises of their fellow scavengers standing a couple of feet away while I strangled them with my bow.
The platforming feels natural in the tropical environment and is rarely forced. I played the game on the PC with a gamepad and found that using a controller was preferable to using a mouse and keyboard. Adding to the rhythm of the movement, Tomb Raider does an excellent job of communicating what is climbable in the environment, so the flow of movement through the forest is seldom interrupted. Finally, the frequent use of zip lines and ice-pickable mountainsides gives the game a grand scope, making the process of climbing a virtual mountain feel as good as the real thing. Unfortunately, Tomb Raider has a few gameplay missteps. First, the hunting mechanic, while technically present throughout the game, is too quickly abandoned by the main story line. Additionally, Lara’s transition from frightened teenager to bloodthirsty killer is rather dramatic and sudden, but can be forgiven because of the otherwise outstanding pacing of the single player campaign. Lastly, the tombs that you are able to explore felt short and gimmicky compared to the rest of the game, but successfully added variety to the single player adventure. On the other hand, multiplayer was a relatively forgettable experience and is definitely not the reason why this game is amazing. However, I do give credit to Crystal Dynamics for even adding multiplayer to a series that has traditionally had only single player in the past iterations.
Since I was able to play the game on the highest graphical settings, the game looked gorgeous. Lara’s animations are smooth and believable, the tropical island is rich and full of life, and the mists shrouding the base of the mountains made the setting feel unique and new. If I had to be nitpicky, the “TressFX” hair option made Lara’s hair look like each small strand had its own physics calculations to determine where it fell but it looked pretty unrealistic. The option also lowered my FPS by 10 when I turned it on, so I decided to leave the option off, making Lara’s ponytail look normal. For taking place entirely on a single, tropical island, the locations had a huge amount of variety. Frost covered peaks, gloomy subterranean monster dens and more were traversed by Tomb Raider’s intrepid heroine. While the PC version of the game looked fantastic, I did encounter some stability issues and the first cut scene actually froze on me. Despite these few technical hiccups, the game’s graphics were excellent and really communicated the new direction Crystal Dynamics wants to take the Tomb Raider series.
The story successfully retold the origin story of Lara Croft. While she feels helpless and innocent to the evils of the world at the beginning, she quickly finds that she must kill to survive on the island and to save her friends. The game often puts Lara in traumatic situations where she gets badly hurt or emotionally scarred. While Lara herself is usually very believable, her companions can sometimes feel flat and one dimensional, limiting some of the impact of the story’s twists. The ending ties up most loose ends and prepares the series for future sequels.
The sound effects in Tomb Raider were very effective. Voice acting, especially Lara’s, was believable and successfully delivered many of the emotional twists and turns that the story contained. Lara’s companions, on the other hand, had voice acting that was largely hit-or-miss. Sounds from the twang of the bow to the growl of a pack of wolves added to the overall immersion of the game. While I wouldn’t buy the soundtrack to the game, the music added to the experience and made the whole journey feel fleshed out and epic.
Tomb Raider is rated M for mature and gets this rating primarily from the violent content. Lara is injured in several graphic ways during her adventure. From pulling a spike out of her side to having to cauterize a wound, Lara is not as invincible and scratch-less as she was in previous Tomb Raider games. Additionally, many of Lara’s deaths are fully animated and show the brutality of her assailants as they kill her (you then load from a checkpoint and retry the sequence again). Several cutscenes also showcase close range, gory shots to the head. Blood-splatter is often seen during combat. Human corpses are also seen in underground tunnels filled with blood and gore. On another note, some spirituality exists in this game where a goddess attempts to steal a woman’s soul as well as destroy anything that approaches the island with supernatural powers. Dialogue contains swearing and includes the f word several times (although the game is definitely not gratuitous with swearing). Lastly, I could tell that Crystal Dynamics took pains to not over-sexualize Lara as in previous games. That being said, Lara's cleavage is visible in some of the cutscenes.
After finishing the campaign, you can continue to explore the island and find more collectibles and explore the tombs that you missed during the main storyline. Since I explored most of the optional tombs and found most of the collectibles during my first play through, I had little reason to return. After being spoiled with the online multiplayer experiences of other AAA titles, I did not find much reason to play the multiplayer either. With that said, the single player story was well worth the cost of admission and provides an excellent starting point for Crystal Dynamics’ new vision of Tomb Raider: a story of deep sacrifice and moral compromise for survival. In the end, I would recommend this game to mature players only.