Tomb Raider 2013 ReviewJoe Green
Can one of gaming's most iconic characters reclaim her throne?
Lara Croft is back in one of the most anticipated titles of the generation, in an origin story quite unlike any other franchise reboot of recent times. Tomb Raider not only manages to revitalise the series, but recognise Lara Croft as an identifiable and compelling character, who is quite simply one of the best realised of this or any generation. So in answer to the question, yes, Lara Croft has succeeded in reclaiming her title as best in the action-adventure series.
There are many factors contributing to Tomb Raider's success, but none more so than Lara Croft's transformation from a hard-edged, tomb-raiding sex symbol, to an inexperienced, frightened but determined young heroine. Every gasp, fearful expression and pain felt, make the experience genuinely exciting and the journey very believable. You start in ruin from a catastrophic shipwreck and are then quickly captured by unknown assailants. They treat Lara rough handed and her reactions will have you believe the cinematic experience is more akin to a blockbuster movie than a game. She makes escape but is faced with an unforgiving island, filled with more threat than man, as she is hounded by wolves, ferocious wind, cold and hunger. The harrowing survival experience distinguishes the beginning of the game from others of its type and lets the player know they are in for a truly unique treat.
The pacing of the game from these first bracing scenes maintains very well throughout. Lara eventually adapts to her environment, embracing her fate by using the survival skills she was taught before arriving and learning to kill by necessity. The transition was, in my mind, paced well. It allowed the player to embrace her dire situation and empathise with her as a protagonist, but not later become dragged down by a purely humble character who never learns to get stronger in such live or die circumstances. Lara's strength is epitomised in not only her mental fortitude and courage, but by the skills the developers have given her in both traversing the island and combat.
Lara's agile movements as you flee from falling structure, propelling yourself towards craggy cliff-face, hurtle across vast gaps and later fall to wreck and injury are remarkably well performed. They allow the player to feel empowered when scaling the island or aiming down her bow and are again, paced well with new gadgets placed throughout the story, allowing you to reach new heights or locations. This sense of immersion in the world is aided by some of the best sound effects in recent memory. The tone is set by intermittent cold dark nights, with thunder claps abounding and lightning striking the very mountains you scale. Add to this, wind so loud and ferocious you almost feel it striking your skin and you have an island which is presented perfectly through more than its inhabitants or appearance.
In terms of appearance, the visuals throughout the island are excellent. Whilst it may not have the sharpest of textures, the visual flair in terms of style, lighting effects and scale, as you gaze across a plateau of scenery high above a village in the mountains, is often breathtaking. The island is set in a Bermuda-esque triangle outside Japan, thus lending itself to Asian inspired locations. It progresses from woodland areas home to deer, small streams and greenery, to snow-peaked mountaintops, shanty towns amidst the cliff-faces and finally grand oriental buildings and tombs. The game will not leave you wanting for more in terms of diversity or artistic flair.
Yet perhaps one of the game's strongest assets amidst it's fantastic characterisation, fast pacing, tight gameplay, impressive sound and visual beauty, is presented through it's theme. The story is presented as a survival. It is often dark, desperate and tense. There are times in which Lara violently quivers from the cold, shakes in fear of predators floor-boards above her, or in one strikingly contrasting scene, emerging from a literal pit of blood and bones. In many ways, this at times feels more akin to a survival horror title or a survival-adventure. In fact, the resemblances to Resident Evil 4 are numerous, both from all that has been mentioned and in some respects I'll leave unmentioned for the sake of spoiling them. For anyone who has played the game, you'll understand that is no small comparison.
The story is thankfully not one which is solely told alone, as NPC characters are always in sight or involved and are never just out of reach'. I found it refreshing not to be told: sorry, the princess has been taken from this castle, go now from point A to point B instead. In fact, the lack of frustration or really, any obvious weaknesses in the game are what make it one of the very best of this generation. Certainly, it is the best Tomb Raider game released to date and my own favourite in at least the last twelve months.
If you have in any way been curious about Lara's latest and greatest adventure from the pictures you have seen or the impressions you have heard, do not deliberate further and simply buy this game. It represents a combination of some of the best game mechanics from this generation, brought together in a fast-paced, exhilarating and emotional journey.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.