For me, Tomb Raider was something like 2012’s Fall of Cybertron. It was a good game technically speaking, but it was missing a certain spark that made me want to recommend it to friends. There’s nothing really wrong with Tomb Raider and it’s a successful reboot when taken as a whole, but it just lacks a certain “HUMPH!” that a game of this caliber should have.
The story is centered around a female archaeologist named Lara Croft, who is on an expedition with her team when all hell breaks loose and they crash on the island of Yamatai, an island possessed by an ancient Japanese queen with a vengeance. The crew attempts to find a way off the island, but its inhabitants and evil magic are both hellbent on stopping them from escaping, leaving Lara with some pretty bad odds in her fight for survival. The story is wonderfully portrayed with fantastic voice acting, great motion capture work and an overall impressive array of movie-quality cutscenes. They have heart, soul and everything needed to get me invested in a character’s strife, and I almost got hooked. Almost.
The gameplay is where Tomb Raider needed to shine, since my initial impressions at NYCC 2012 weren’t so great. When I tried the demo a few months back, I deemed it all cutscenes and no gameplay. I’m here to report that’s still a pretty accurate breakdown of what occurs in Tomb Raider. The first hour is extremely close to “press one button then watch a cutscene” and things only expand to “play for about five minutes then watch another cutscene” by the time the credits roll. I get that Crystal Dynamics wants to tell a story, but if I want to get invested in Lara’s struggle, maybe getting to BE her for longer stretches of time would increase my attachment level. Just a possibility.
When Tomb Raider DOES let you play, there are three main types of gameplay: Shooting, platforming and puzzles. The puzzles are clever and well crafted, although not very challenging. There is one puzzle, however, which is a complete bitch and completely defies all logic (spoiler alert). Other than that one instant, the puzzle front is pretty solid in Tomb Raider. The platforming is also extremely enjoyable, providing an intense and highly fluid experience which has you sliding down ropes with camera-blurring effects, slamming into rocky ledges with an axe, climbing giant mountains, and doing badass maneuvers over various debris that is usually exploding, falling apart or both. It’s pulse pounding, to say the least. The shooting segments, on the other hand… well, nothing amazing. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Crystal Dynamics could’ve avoided gunplay altogether with the exception of the bow, substantially lessen the amount of enemies and have it be a platforming-centric game. This would’ve made Tomb Raider a title that focused more on its strengths than on its generic gunplay. Every other game on the planet allows us to use shotguns and grenade launchers, so why did the developers choose to shove them upon us more often than awesome platforming sections? If I have to reward the gunplay for something it’s the automatic cover system, where you don’t press anything and Lara already knows to crouch behind cover. Other games, take note of this revolutionary tactic.
Tomb Raider isn’t that long, ending at just around the ten hour mark. There are hundreds of optional goodies to find (but who’s going to bother to, honestly) and a tacked on multiplayer mode that plays like a watered down single player fire fight in competitive online match form, providing a handful of hours worth of bonus content. But in all sincerety, if you’ve invested around twelve hours or so in Tomb Raider, odds are you’ve experienced most of what this game has to offer.
-Triple A title quality (graphics, soundtrack, voice acting)
-Relatively gripping story
-Better than average characters and character development
-Fun as hell platforming and crafty puzzle solving
-Automatic cover system
-When you get the chance to re-explore the island after the credits roll, enemies don’t magically respawn and everything is canon with the ending (something more open-world type games should do instead of just putting you back right before the final encounter)
-Lacking a certain “wow” factor that really warrants a purchase
-Gunplay isn’t anything special and there’s far too much of it in contrast to platforming and puzzle solving
-Tacked on multiplayer is like drinking Pepsi that has gone flat and has been watered down from melted ice
-Not a lot of replay value for a sixty dollar release
As I stated earlier, there isn’t anything glaringly wrong with Tomb Raider. Its flaws are minor and there’s a lot to love, but I couldn’t see myself giving it over a 7.5 if I still used my number system. Just like Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, it does its franchise justice but lacks the neccessary levels of stupendousness needed for me to recommend you run out and buy a new copy. A week rental is advised and is definitely a worthwhile investment.