Modern Review: Tomb Raider (PC)

Modern-Review-Tomb-RaiderReboots seem to be all the rage these days with titles like Devil May Cry and Syndicate recently having their respective franchises restarted. Now it’s Tomb Raider’s turn, a franchise that pretty much single handedly defined the third-person action/ adventure genre of game. Is it possible to recapture the magic of 1996 for a modern gaming audience?

The answer is a loud, bellowing, almighty ‘YES!” Unless the third-person action/ adventure genre is a genre of gaming you particularly dislike, go out and buy this game now. Yes, right now. Stop reading, get off your seat and head to your nearest games retailer. What, you want more explanation than that? Fair enough...

As you're probably aware, the Tomb Raider reboot explores Lara's origin, telling the story of what turned her into the hardened adventurer we all know and love. At the beginning of the game Lara is a humble researcher, part of the crew of the ship Endurance who has been hired by Dr. James Whitman, a David Attenborough-like celebrity whose chances of gaining international acclaim rest of the success of this latest voyage. The voyage in question is that of finding the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai, home to the legendary shaman queen Himiko, the 'Sun Queen,' who is said to hold mystical power. Many have tried and failed to find Yamatai in the past, however, Lara believes she has found an alternate route through the rather ominous-sounding Dragon's Triangle, a Bermuda Triangle-like stretch of ocean. As you might expect, it's not long after entering the Dragon's Triangle that the Endurance is struck by a rather unnatural storm. The ferocity of the storm sends the Endurance crashing into an isolated island. During the crash Lara becomes separated from the rest of the crew and must find her way back to them. This is where the adventure begins.

It's said that there are no original ideas and the idea of a ship crew stranded on an ominous island is by no means original. However, it's what the game does with this theme, as well as its many other aspects, that set it apart. Given the popularity of the Uncharted series there are bound to be some who would want to draw comparisons. While the similarities are there, Tomb Raider treats the subject manner in much less of an Indiana Jones way than Uncharted does, or indeed did the original Tomb Raider games. The new Tomb Raider is very much about a young girl being thrown into a deadly, extreme situation and it does not compromise. Much has been said about how brutal the game is. While this reviewer had read about this brutality I was not prepared for just how brutal the game is on poor Lara. Every movement, every tumble, every injury results in a chilling cry of pain from our heroine. When you face your first enemy there is real fear for Lara, wondering just how the hell you're going to get her out of danger. Throughout the game Lara is covered in mud and grime, cuts and bruises cover her body. At a few points in the game Lara receives some rather nasty injuries and her movement is compromised by this, jumping and stumbly visibly and audibly causing her pain. There are also little touches such as Lara shivering in the rain and flinching when she brushes the sharp rock of a cave wall. It all amounts to the player really fearing for Lara, and wanting to help her find her way off this terrible island.

The result of this too is that the new Tomb Raider has something the previous games didn't; survival gameplay. While it isn’t ‘survival’ in the way you may be familiar with from games such as Resident Evil or Dead Space, Tomb Raider does feature survival tactics such as hunting animals for food, scavenging salvage to build better weapons, and so forth. There isn’t a minimal amount of ammo, indeed I rarely ran out of ammo in the game and when I did it was only ever for the assault rifle, but planning attacks is important as is getting to know how to use your weapons.

Combat in Tomb Raider is very satisfying. You start off with the now famous bow which is your main weapon for most of the game. Using the bow is a lot of fun and it is the most versatile of the weapons you’ll pick up. Apart from the bow you’ll also come across a shotgun, pistol and the aforementioned assault rifle. All of these are upgradable and have secondary fire modes. Of the four weapons all have their legitimate uses throughout the game, so there is a point to all of them being there other than simply having a more powerful weapon. However, I should say that I found I didn't use the pistol all that much, at least until I earned the silencer upgrade and then it was handy for taking out a number of enemies quickly and quietly. Still, all the weapons have their purpose and are fun to use and getting to know when to use them is key.

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Tomb Raider’s combat also focuses heavily on the cover-shoot-cover system that many games have employed of late. The cover system found here in incredibly intuitive with Lara ducking behind any waist-height object and flattening herself against walls automatically when she gets close. Leaning out from behind cover and firing in equally easy and very rarely does the scenery get in your way, and when it does it’s usually because you positioned yourself poorly. The game also allows you to switch between leaning left or right from behind cover with the press of a button which means you don’t need to reposition yourself. Having said that though, staying in one place is not advisable as enemies will flank you and hone in on your position. When they start throwing Molotov Cocktails and, later, dynamite at Lara, sticking in the one position is a sure way to quickly meet a grisly end.

Fire fights are fast and hectic, with multiple enemies coming at you from all directions. Lara can scramble from cover to cover to avoid being hit so constantly moving is key. While most of the combat is ranged there are occasions when you’ll get up close and personal with enemies. Lara is able to dodge and counter these foes to send them off balance and get a quick shot in. After you've levelled up a bit you can even take them out by stabbing them in the eye with an arrow which, while gruesome, is particularly cool, among other close-quarters attacks. The only real negative in regards to combat is that during those times of close quarter fighting things can get a bit confusing. The camera doesn't always show where the enemies are coming from as it hones in on Lara, and you can find yourself wildly scrambling around trying to find out where you are only to run into a barrage of gunfire. Still, this is only a minor complaint in an otherwise engaging combat experience. It should be mentioned though that I played this game using the X-Box for Windows controller. The keyboard layout was not tested for this review.

Not all battles are of the frenetic kind. The game offers up a good dose of stealth sections which are great fun to play, especially using the bow. In one particular section the members of a cult that exists on Yamatai are searching a dark, foggy forest for Lara. As they search with their torches you are able to use the light beams to pinpoint exactly where each man is and take them out quietly, slipping from one enemy to another. It’s very satisfying and you feel rather cool when you've taken out a whole slew of well-armed baddies with just a bow and arrow and your pickaxe.

Tomb Raider is a beautiful looking game. The PC version is certainly the one to get if beautiful graphics are your thing. The jungles of Yamatai are lush and dense, the snow capped mountains majestic, and crumbling villages and tombs bleed atmosphere. There were more than a few occasions where I’d take a break from the trying to survive and just enjoy the beautiful vistas the game gives up. When you’re standing on a hilltop overlooking the beach, the afternoon sun glinting off the rusting skeletons of ships long ago crashed onto Yamatai's shores, you can’t help but be amazed. All the character models are equally impressive. The crew of the Endurance are well developed and all are uniquely their own person. While enemies look good they do all look rather similar, however, with only small variations due to armour and so forth. Still, this doesn't take anything meaningful away from the game and can be somewhat forgiven when you see just how wonderfully the environment - which is really the most important thing in Tomb Raider - has been realised.

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Speaking of the game’s looks, thankfully - and smartly on the game creators’ part - there is nothing of ‘Lara the sex symbol’ in this Tomb Raider. While a few throwaway lines are made about her attractiveness, and her model is indeed an attractive one, it is not outside of the realms of real-world beauty. It might seem strange to cover this in a review, but it shows that the creators of this game are indeed trying to separate this new Lara from the one of the past and it shows that they are respecting her character and that they are selling Lara Croft the person rather than Lara Croft the image. In no instance does the game go out of its way to put Lara in a tight wetsuit or a sexy dress as we have seen in past games in the franchise. It shows that the character is being taken very seriously and given the respect that a gaming icon of her stature deserves.

Exploring the island of Yamatai is an incredibly enjoyable experience. While there is only one linear path through the game that you must follow, many of the areas are so big with so many nooks and crannies to explore that at no point to do you feel ‘caged in.’ The action set pieces - of which there are many - are absolutely breathtaking and really get the adrenaline pumping. Tombs appearing in the game are completely optional and act as challenges. Successfully solving one of the tombs rewards Lara with lots of goodies to help her on her adventure. The puzzles are simple and not too hard to figure out, but do require precise timing in some cases. You’ll also be pleased to know there is no box pushing involved. Furthermore, there is such an abundance of optional quests, such as lighting all the torches in a specific area or finding sets of GPS trackers, that the game will keep those that like to achieve 100% completion going for a long, long while. Even without the optional quests and tombs the game will take you around 15-18 hours to complete, so there is a heck of a lot packed in here.

Tomb Raider is the perfect example of how a reboot should be done. The game takes what made Tomb Raider such a success game-play wise in the late 90’s and has built upon it marvellously. Easily a contender for Best Game of 2013, this is a title that every gamer should have in their collection, whether you're a Tomb Raider fan from way back or new to the franchise. It simply must be played!

Tomb Raider Trailer

Last Updated ( 26 March 2013 )  

Joe Douglas

A lover of comics, sci-fi, fantasy and dusty old video games, Joe is a Sega man through and through. Combining his love of collecting and blue hedgehogs, Joe runs the site SonicCollectors on which he attempts to build a database of Sonic merch. He is tolerated by one cat, two dogs and his girlfriend.

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+1 (Link to this comment) SonGoku182 2013-03-27 16:26
Fantastic game. Absolutely an early ontender for GOTY. Outstanding :-)

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