Tomb Raider is an action-adventure video game published by Square Enix. The game released in 2013 is a reboot centered on the character of Lara Croft, an archaeologist-adventurer who travels the world in search of rare objects and mystical artifacts.
Lara Croft is arguably the most famous female video game protagonist, so rebooting the series was no small feat. Even those who are not familiar with the video games are familiar with Lara’s adventure through the movies Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: Cradle of Life (2003) popularized by Angelina Jolie. This video game reboot was able to hold its own and successfully establish the origins of Lara Croft and the circumstances that made her into the strong protagonist everyone knows her to be.
The story is an intense and gritty take on the origins of a younger Lara Croft, focusing on her transformation from a frightened young woman to a hardened survivor. The game begins with Lara setting out on her first expedition aboard the ship Endurance, with the intention of finding the lost kingdom of Yamatai. Lara believes that the island can be found in the Dragon’s Triangle, off the coast of Japan, which is sort of a Pacific version of the Bermuda Triangle, because of its reputation for fearsome storms and shipwrecks.
As expected, their ship is struck by a violent storm and shipwrecked, leaving Lara and her crew stranded on the island. While Lara is separated from the others, she finds strange carvings, dead bodies, animal sacrifices and other evidence that the island is inhabited. The rest of the game sees Lara trying to regroup to save her friends and escape the island while being hunted down by a mysterious and sadistic cult.
With environments ranging from serene coastal forests to rickety shanty towns; dark carcass-ridden caverns to imposing monasteries, the graphics in Tomb Raider are nothing short of stunning. The lighting system in particular is so realistic to the point that starting a fire or jumping into the water affects the shadows and colors in the game. While exploring and during battles, you can almost taste the mud, blood, gore and grime in the game.
I found some of the environments a bit too dark, which made it hard to hunt animals, find salvage or spot enemies. The cut scenes were very tense, while the execution of the one button quick time events really made you feel the gravity of the situation. In the tradition of the previous Tomb Raider titles, death scenes are brutal and bloody, much more so because of all the realistic details. I remember how getting crushed by a huge boulder or falling into a spiky pit wasn’t so bad (even comical) in the previous games because the graphics were really blocky back then. But with the high definition graphics now, death scenes look straight out of a gritty B-movie horror flick. I cringed whenever Lara would miss a jump and fall off a cliff or get mutilated by a pack of wolves. The worst has got to be getting skewered in the throat over and over again while falling off a waterfall. Just check out Conan’s reaction in his review on the game on Clueless Gamer.
The game is presented in third-person perspective and the player takes control of Lara, the lead character. You start out with weapons, food, water, or tools. The gameplay elements in Tomb Raider focus more on survival and action-adventure, although exploration and puzzle solving is used within the game when exploring the island and to solve various optional tombs. Exploration is somewhat open world, as Lara can climb rock faces, bust open doors with a pickax and shoot rope arrows to zipline across chasms.
The game also incorporates some RPG elements to ensure ensure Lara’s skills level up as the story unfolds. As the player progresses, they earn skill points from performing certain actions and completing in-game challenges to upgrade skills as a survivor (mostly looting and scavenging), hunter (ranged combat skills), or brawler (melee combat). Players can also upgrade and customize weapons by collecting salvage scattered around the island. Lara uses base camps to craft new tools out of picked-up items and to learn new skills. Later on, Lara can use fast travel between base camps to go back to previously visited areas.
There is also a character progression mechanic in the game: better items, weapons and equipment is gained as the player progresses, though the appearance of most of these items is closely linked to events in the story.
In terms of actual “tomb raiding,” it was a bit disappointing that there were only seven secret tombs to raid. The puzzles to solve the tomb involve a combination of platforming, using the environment and elements, or certain skills were fun to figure out.
Throughout the game, Lara gets to wield a variety of upgradeable weapons including an axe, bow, handgun, shotgun and rifle. There are also gear elements that are unlocked during the gameplay in the main campaign or which Lara finds automatically or acquires from friendly characters such as the torch and two-way radio.
Combat is a big part of Tomb Raider. While Lara has a stealth mode, many encounters are unavoidable and I found myself on the receiving end of numerous attacks from what seemed like crazed island inhabitants ganging up on me. Luckily, when enemies are near, Lara goes into stealth mode and automatically takes cover near walls or obstacles. It’s a pretty chaotic battle system that requires trying to make use of silent kills, scrambling and dodging for cover, switching between the most effective weapons, and quick melee attacks. I preferred silent takedowns and ranged attacks to other weapons, but some encounters can only be won through melee combat, so its worth investing some skill points in the brawler skill set.
“Survival Instincts” is another important feature of the game that Lara can use. When activiated, objects that can be interacted with such as animals hiding in the bushes or hidden boxes of salvage glow, helping out stuck players.
While it was a very good game overall, I didn’t find playing this as enjoyable as the Uncharted series and I didn’t feel as invested in the story as The Last of Us or The Walking Dead. While I like Lara’s character, I found the supporting characters (with the exception of Roth) two-dimensional and annoying. Some of the battle scenes felt a bit too tedious and the overall tone of the game was very dark.
Aside from completing the main story, which can last between 12 and 15 hours, there are a lot of other things you can do. You can explore the island fully or embark on optional sidequests and challenges. There’s a ridiculous amount of collectible items you can gather such as treasure maps, GPS caches, documents and relics. I haven’t been able to replay it since I first played it through (since I lent my copy to my cousin), but I guess I wouldn’t mind going back for more action on a slow weekend. There’s also a (highly criticized) multiplayer mode for players to compete with each other, that I have yet to try out. I’d still recommend this game for those who want to reacquaint themselves with Tomb Raider. Overall, it’s a solid game that deserves all the praise it has gotten.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10
Game screenshots from Wikia: Tomb Raider (2013)