The Tomb Raider reboot won a lot of praise from critics upon its release. It successfully brought a franchise that was struggling with ideas into a new era. Focussing on storytelling, survival and action rather than the puzzles Tomb Raider was known for, this reboot largely did away with what fans loved about Lara Croft’s games. Crystal Dynamic’s game divided opinion between long-time series fans.
Coming into this game, I had only ever played little bits of older Tomb Raider titles, so I went into the game with an open mind. Having said that, for a while, I thought the reboot looked like it lost some of the charm of previous entries, replacing it with dark and brooding. Turns out, I was right – at least to some extent. If you’re after a happy game, look elsewhere, because Tomb Raider is about as dark as they come. You crash into a mysterious island, Yamatai, off the coast of Japan, which is filled with intrigue, stunning scenery and lots of things that want to kill you.
Indeed, to begin with, Tomb Raider seems to have more in common with Resident Evil than Lara’s previous adventures. You are told that ammo is scarce, enemies are brutal and that you need to kill animals in order to survive. The survival aspect is quite well done, too, as you really do feel weak compared to the enemies and environments you’ll face. Lara shivers in the cold, almost gets raped and just gets through an underground cave filled with corpses in the opening couple of hours of the game – it’s rough, tough and can get very tense. Unfortunately, the survival aspect doesn’t last.
As you progress, Lara becomes stronger and more confident in her abilities. A group of enemy soldiers in your way? No trouble, either sneak up on them, taking them out one by one, or blast your way through. Both styles of gameplay are strong and work really well. You start out with a bow and arrow, but later will find multiple guns (your standard array), cleverly (and not unlike The Last of Us), you can upgrade your weapons and skills at fires – I wonder where they got that from? – allowing you to create super powered shotguns, pistols and even your trusty bow and arrow. Combat in this game is as good as in games such as Uncharted and The Last of Us – so too is exploration.
Yamatai is a dangerous place, but Lara is a badass. Climbing sheer rock faces, zipping down ropes and jumping across huge crevices is just part of her daily activities. There’s a lot to see and do in Yamatai, with a good amount of collectables to discover. There are even a few tombs to raid, if you can find them, which make good, if not limited use of physics-based puzzles. The gameplay is great, then, filled with tonnes of exciting set-pieces to boot. Borrowing from the action benchmark left by Naughty Dog, Tomb Raider leans heavily on set-pieces. Some set-pieces are incredible, with constantly breath-taking visuals and a solid soundtrack to back them up.
Indeed, the visceral nature of Tomb Raider is impressive. The cinematography is akin to a high-budget action film. The camera will swing in to closely follow Lara whenever she’s in a tight spot, moving about as if it were actually being filmed. Visible shaking fills the screen when sprinting across a collapsing bridge. It’s visceral, cinematic, exciting entertainment. There are plenty of wow moments here, along with plenty of moments of disgusting violence. Oh yes, Tomb Raider was given an 18 rating for a reason. Lara herself can be killed in some pretty gruesome ways, which go along nicely with the game’s dark, foreboding atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the pace of the plot and gameplay are often at odds with each other. Too often are there moments of dire panic in the story, but you can traipse along at a snail’s pace. I’m not saying the plot is bad, far from it, but at times gameplay can get in the way of story, and vice-versa. Finding the balance must be difficult. The plot is actually full of intrigue, danger and excitement in equal measures, but it can be spoiled by outdated character designs and poor dialogue that take you out of the game’s dark, foreboding atmosphere.
Lara’s design is brilliantly detailed, with fantastic animations backed up by quality vocal delivery. Unfortunately, the supporting cast doesn’t do as well. Too many characters look like they were taken from the PS2 era of design, with big hair and exaggerated features. They look like they are in a videogame – strange criticism for a videogame, I know. The dialogue is often over-reliant on dodgy, edgy turns of phrase and interactions. For a game with as high production values as this, it’s a shame to see it marred by poor dialogue and outdated character design. Luckily, the plot itself and gameplay are a joy throughout.
Tomb Raider is a quality action game that reinvents Lara Croft for the modern era. It’s a shame then, that the dialogue and overall character design is stuck in the past.