At last summer’s Gamescom, I referred to the new Tomb Raider game as the first chance that PC and X360 owners would have to experience Uncharted-esque gameplay on their systems. Merging classic Tomb Raider elements with the cinematic presentation and storytelling of the PS3-franchise, I couldn’t wait to explore this prequel in the Lara Croft saga. Now that the game is finally here, how does it stack up?
Tomb Raider effectively sets the stage right away. The game starts with a younger Lara aboard a ship that has set sail on an expedition to find the ancient Yamatai kingdom. Not yet the seasoned explorer we’ve come to know over the past 15 years, Lara is a young archeologist whose fresh ideas strike a chord with the ship’s captain. He decides to pursue Lara’s theory, which eventually (or actually, rather soon) ends in disaster as they shipwreck off the coast of a mysterious island.
This is where we take control of Lara, clinging to life at first as she tries to get to safety. Before long, Lara has to use her problem-solving abilities as well as her athletic abilities in order to survive. Elements that Tomb Raider veterans are no doubt familiar with, but this time presented through cinematic camera angles and cutaway shots that are more reminiscent of Nathan Drake’s adventures in Uncharted.
The key question, however, is how this change feels to the player. When taking cues from genre standards, you’re always at risk of coming across as a sub-par alternative to the original. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Crystal Dynamics’ latest. Not surprisingly, the presentation fits the franchise perfectly, with impressive vistas, tight enclosures and dramatic action sequences pushing the story forward. A lot of thought clearly went into picking the right camera angles and zoom levels for each scene, and it pays off. Sure, it comes at the expense of the level of freedom we had in earlier Tomb Raider adventures, but it’s a trade-off I’m more than willing to make.
As Lara’s story develops, so does she. Initially an inexperienced archeology student, she quickly has to learn how to survive in the wild. Before long, she’s wielding bows and guns like it’s her second nature. At times, the pace at which Lara picks up these news skills seems improbable, but it fits with the cinematic theme and never distracts you from the story for long. This is partly due to the quality of what is perhaps the most important non-player character in the game: the island you are stranded on. The location is not only fitting for a game of this type, it is also convincing and believable.
With a wide array of local wildlife and natives, the island feels alive with an almost otherwordly sense of nature, culture and history. Because of the historic setting (this all started as an archeological expedition, after all), all the tombs, statues and other structures you encounter make sense. The way everything is constructed and decorated fits with a culture that has lived isolated from western society for ages, and the harsh conditions of the island’s environment can be seem in everything that has been built. These are the same conditions that got Lara shipwrecked, and the experience is consistent throughout the entire game. What’s especially impressive about that is that the game manages to do this while still offering a very diverse gameplay experience during the entire 10 or so hours that it took to complete the campaign. The game also offers multiplayer, but these modes are fairly generic and I personally would prefer a second playthrough of the single player game over the multiplayer aspects.
Tomb Raider is everything that I had hoped it would be. It takes the Uncharted formula and adds the athleticism that Lara Croft is known for to create an adrenaline-filled action adventure worthy of Lara’s repution as the premiere videogame heroine. Polished to near perfection, I’d be surprised if we see a similar game that surpasses Tomb Raider before the next generation of consoles arrive.