It isn’t often that you see a video game from a huge publisher that isn’t a sequel or prequel to yesteryears’ titles. Tomb Raider, the 2013 game, is an exception to this. The game is a reboot of the series; a fresh story, new characters, a new setting, completely overhauled graphics and a new direction.
Tomb Raider was reviewed using retail copies independently purchased by us. Tested on PC with screenshots from actual gameplay.
A Survivor is born
In Tomb Raider, we’re reintroduced to Lara Croft, a young archaeologist on her first expedition in search of the mythical Yamatai Island. Aside from the carryover of her name, Lara bears little resemblance to her original counterpart, not even in looks, personality or mannerisms. Forget about stereotypical Indiana Jones style ruins. Forget about the Lara Croft that was an Angelina Jolie doppelganger. Crystal Dynamics has given Lara Croft a fresh change for the better.
Tomb Raider starts out telling you nothing about Lara for a good reason. They want to start out and develop her character from a blank slate. We see her briefly listening to music aboard the Endeavor cargo ship, with absolutely no clue about the forthcoming events that will change her life forever, before disaster strikes and a freak storm at sea leaves her and her crew shipwrecked and separated from each other. At first, she’s confused, scared and desperate to find her mates when she wakes up in captivity by unknown assailants. But as the plot unfolds and thickens, we see her attitude toughen up as she becomes a ‘survivor’, to the point where she’s not afraid of venturing back into the depths of the mountains and taking on enemies.
A lot’s changed and this Lara proves that she doesn’t need an oversized buxom like her counterpart from the 90s to be attractive. Her tough personality alone is beautiful. At times, yes, she seemed helpless and left with no hope. But despite all the hardships she endured, the courageous Lara did not seem ready to throw her hands up and give up. Wise words of her mentor echoing in her ears seemed to keep her pushing, keep her going. That’s what we like most about Lara and her inspiring ways, and helps greatly in strengthening the game’s plot.
Quite possibly better than a movie
The beginning of Tomb Raider is a marvelous introduction of what’s to come in the story progression. It does not dilly. It does not dally. The powerful opening scene pulls you deep into the heart of Lara’s visceral and trying journey that will put Ms Croft’s survival skills to the ultimate test. The first hour of playing as Lara is filled with terrifying near-death experiences and heart-stopping quick-time events, which you will soon learn to love as you venture deeper into her story.
The plot of Tomb Raider is heart-pounding and, at times, heart wrenching as you see Lara adapting quickly to survive. Tomb Raider, being a reboot, has a unique challenge of having to present a convincing plot and simultaneously forming Lara’s character from a timid young woman into a fearless adventurer. The developers did a commendable job on this double duty and delivers on both fronts. By the end of Tomb Raider, I was longing for more Lara and more adventures across the globe.
Tomb Raider takes you on a scenic tour sprinkled with action across the island of Yamatai. The game is wonderfully cinematic and does splendidly incorporating seamless cutscenes into gameplay. Each part of the plot takes you to new places and never requires you to complete objectives in the same place twice. I liked the immensely diverse environments that Lara’s journey brings: day, night, rain, shine, snow, forests, swamps, abandoned towns, shrines, caves, shipwrecks, rivers and mountains… Tomb Raider takes you everywhere!
Although sometimes filled with the cliché of getting split up, calling for help and then having to save people, the story is backed by great logic and not once was there a moment that made me think “why am I doing this again?” The side characters were not nearly as developed or compelling as Lara’s but Tomb Raider makes up for that with the optional task of collecting missing journals which adds another dimension to the game’s plot.
Tomb Raider’s singleplayer campaign is where most of the action is and we were delighted it was 10 to 12 hours long with some exploring. Each of us completed the campaign story separately and clocked in similar times with 65-70% completion on item discoveries. You’ll probably be able to squeeze an extra 4 hours out of Tomb Raider if you were to do more exploration and hunt for all the artifacts, memo pages and Secret Tomb side missions.
Tomb Raider is a very player oriented game. It encourages gamers to stay alert and be observant to their surroundings, just like they would do in real life if stuck in a similar situation. The quick-time events (QTE) that occasionally pop up and journeying through the treacherous vertical and horizontal paths of Yamatai Island will keep you on the edge of your seat. While things are calm, Tomb Raider does plenty in making you want to explore the environment.
The environment in Tomb Raider is exceptionally detailed and, living up to the game’s theme where Lara is an adventure-seeking explorer, there are plenty of discoveries to be made. Just about every discovery serves a purpose or contains something interesting. You can find little trinkets such as GPS devices (that add treasure locations to your map), artifacts like ancient coins and statues (each item comes with a brief comment from Lara and can be rotated 360 degrees for your viewing pleasure) and missing journals (there’s a handful of them, with each series narrated by different people from Lara’s crewmates to old World War 2 era soldiers that chip in their own chronicles about the island).
An Eagle Vision-like skill innate to Lara, called Survival Instinct, facilitates the player in discovering treasures and moving them along the plot. It’s easy: Enemies are highlighted in red, while objects you can interact with such as artifacts, crates and things needed to fulfill objectives (such as levers, pulleys and rope bundles) are highlighted in yellow.
With the overkill of run-and-gun shooters in this current generation of games, Tomb Raider is as refreshing as a glass of lemonade on a sweltering hot day. The game’s compelling plot itself is a huge reason to take it easy and digest the dialogs between Lara and her crew over the radio, her occasional monologues about the surrounding environment and discovery of Salvage points.
Tomb Raider can be played at any pace, whether you choose to rush about Rambo-style or go all sneaky-peaky-like. The game rewards you either way, whether it’s extra points for silent takedowns or delivering a finishing blow to an enemy. We highly recommend taking some time and not plowing through each scene, because this is a story you don’t want to miss.
Tactical approach during combat is an incredibly important aspect in gameplay, coming into play every single time before you launch your attack. Sitting back for a while before taking out enemies rewards you with conversations between enemy grunts which add some understanding to the motives of the Solarii clan on the island. While eavesdropping, you’ll also get to notice their patrol patterns and behavior which helps greatly in taking them out silently, if that’s your plan.
The enemy AI in Tomb Raider is pretty decent, probably from all that pre-release polishing and bug fixing. When Lara shoots in open combat, enemies will scatter and duck for cover, some even retreat further back. Definitely, there are times when enemies assume they are fully behind cover and will simply squat in the open unbeknownst to Lara and her lethal weapons, but those are rare encounters.
There were 2 boss fights (if you would call them that) towards the later half of the game which were a bit of a yawn. Both times we were thrown into an enclosed space with slow-moving, club-wielding heavily armored bosses. And both times, it was a matter of Lara dodging their attacks, running around them to hit them at their weak spots and then ‘damaging’ them using quick-time events.
But wait, there’s more
Tomb Raider plays host to a familiar set of controls to other third-person action games. Movement and combat actions felt natural, served with a side of button mashing when prying open wooden chests for Salvage points, rusty old doors and gates and turning hand wheels to lift heavy items and barriers. The game always shows interaction icons but the appearance of control labels was inconsistent. There were times that we failed and had to repeat Quick-Time events after being showed just the icon without the name of the associated button and it took a while at first to figure out the ‘narrowing circle’ indicator during those events.
Lara eventually gets five tools in the game: a pick-axe, longbow, pistol, shotgun and machine gun. The latter four are upgradeable using Salvage points and by finding weapon parts scattered randomly throughout the game. These weapons aren’t just used against enemies, but in the environment too… for instance, the pick-axe is used to assist climbing scalable walls while the bow can later shoot tough rope attached to arrows which is used for pulling on various objects or creating ziplines for traveling.
The Base Camp concept has got to be one of the most creative user interfaces of mainstream video games. As Lara sits down by the campfire that represents a Base Camp, a sleek dashboard slides onto the screen and allows you to upgrade your skills and weapons. There are more than a dozen Base Camps scattered across the island of Yamatai, each acts as a checkpoint that implies you’re heading the right way and some present a Fast Travel option, which lets you go back to other Base Camps to continue hunting for artifacts and finish Secret Tomb side missions.
As if it doesn’t already impress the hell out of us in gameplay, the execution of puzzle-solving segments in Tomb Raider is the icing on the cake. Solving puzzles, especially hidden tomb quests, isn’t just about finding wall patterns to climb or using tools to your advantage; it mainly requires a lot of logic. Under such circumstances, puzzles often beg the question, “What would I do if this really happened?” I’ll avoid spoilers but word of advice – try your best to make sense of the puzzles before you search for walkthroughs because completing a puzzle gives you indescribable satisfaction, equivalent to the feeling after getting past test chambers in Valve’s Portal.
The lone wolf
While Tomb Raider excels at its singleplayer campaign, the multiplayer aspect is where it falters. The multiplayer feels forced and unjustified, considering the great and long storyline we have with good replay value. It’s 4 against 4, survivors versus scavengers, with 3 modes where you race to capture radio towers, grab medical supplies or simply try to take out the other team.
There’s a level and upgrades system in place and it’s entertaining for the first couple of times you play it, but completely unremarkable as it’s nothing unlike what you’ll find in other shooter games. Multiplayer just felt tacked on and I think it would have been better off if there was a coop mode added or if it was just omitted altogether.
See, hear and feel every moment
Tomb Raider really surprised us with its graphics, which is right up there with Crysis 3 and Metro 2033. We’ve already mentioned the diverse geography, terrain, time and weather seen throughout the plot, and every environment is meticulously detailed, peppered with props and elements that bring the game to life. Maybe a little too much detail in the case of the slightly gory, quite gruesome death scenes which range anywhere from Lara falling off the mountain into oblivion, to getting shot or punched to the ground, to getting her torso pierced by a sharp tree branch (ouch!).
We played Tomb Raider on Windows PC, and that alone was a mind-blowing experience. Thanks to help from game developer Nixxes and hardware maker AMD, Tomb Raider puts the majority of blockbuster titles to shame. The game looks beautiful on PC, especially with the highest settings, with amazing definition. DirectX 11 support is here along with the tessellation and physics.
You can see debris and dust in the air, wisps of smoke billowing from Base Camp fires, bits of wood and rock flying from explosions or collapsing structures and water splashing across your screen as you slide down rapids and rivers at high-speed. Weather effects are top-notch while terrain, walls and ground are nicely textured to the point you almost want to reach out and feel the screen.
Movement animations of characters and animals in Tomb Raider looked natural, though their mouth movements when speaking still need some work. One very nice touch is the scene where Lara looks in the mirror and actually sees her own reflection, and the mirror still works even after the cutscene (too often do video games have blank prop mirrors which don’t actually work).
Lara’s beautifully detailed hair is worth every strand. A graphics option available exclusively to PC, called TressFX, brings the realism of Lara’s hair to a whole new level. Instead of having a blocky ponytail, TressFX recreates Lara’s ponytail with strands of hair rendered individually. The result is life-like behavior of her hair that reacts to Lara’s movement, wind and weather. This does come at a cost – the real-time rendering of Lara’s TressFX hair greatly reduces frame rate and hence works best with higher end graphics card where a reduction of FPS doesn’t hinder smoothness as much.
At times when the story seems to falter under the weight of clichés, the voice acting manages to save the day, incorporating perfect intonations and dramatic emotions. Camilla Luddington gives Lara a voice and performance that will leave you in awe and breathless with wonder. Because of Luddington’s unimaginably realistic portrayal of Lara, players will subconsciously be involved in a lot of the emotional investment. Her pain, her shock, her anger, her desperation – Lara will make you care for her because she is as real as a video game character can get. Luddington actually cried on the set while she was playing the iconic character, so some visible tear tracks on Lara’s face could’ve done those real-life tears some justice.
The score is superb, right out of a treasure hunt film. From the sharp crescendo playing during escalating high-risk situations to mellow tunes of a traditional song when exploring; the music is exactly what you’d expect from a reboot of an iconic action-adventure game. It sends your heart racing even faster, especially during the QTEs which can happen in a blink of an eye. The music also reacts to situations, for instance the fast drum beat that plays when you’ve alerted enemies, which is a great way to keep the thrill element for a game like Tomb Raider.
The 2013 Tomb Raider reboot steers Lara away from being a sex symbol in favor of making her a likeable and relatable character. She’s still fit and attractive but no longer has exaggerated body proportions. Her voice tells us she’s still undoubtedly British, but her accent is not anything posh in this game. Lara is a lot more down to earth now, reinforcing the bond between the player and her character as they move through the storyline.
While other games make searching for collectibles seem like a dreadful and unnecessary chore, exploring to find Salvage points and artifacts in Tomb Raider never gets boring. The game doesn’t hustle you from one checkpoint to the next and successfully blends cutscenes with gameplay and quick-time events.
The graphics and attention to detail in Tomb Raider are mind-blowing. The game is one of the most photorealistic titles we have ever played; little things like how the stormy weather whips Lara’s ponytail from side-to-side is a pleasant reminder of the effort the developers have put into bringing the game to life. Extra points for the great gaming experience on PC and finely, real-time rendered TressFX hair on Lara.
Tomb Raider proves that being the ‘new kid on the block’ among the dozens of blockbuster video game franchises is no tough challenge and succeeds in redefining action and adventure, recreating a character we truly loved during our childhood with the greatest and most unexpected comeback. In Tomb Raider, a survivor is born and we’re ready to ‘grow up’ with her all over again.
Be sure to view 35 high resolution screenshots from Tomb Raider, taken from PC gameplay at the highest settings and TressFX hair.
- Cinematic and engaging gameplay
- Sensible plot and great development of Lara’s character
- Vast environment with plenty of discoveries and Secret Tomb side missions
- Gorgeous graphics and attention to detail
- Great film score (voice acting, music)
- Unremarkable multiplayer
- Both boss fights are uninteresting
- Control labels occasionally don’t appear