Platform : Reviewed On PC (Available for PlayStation 3 and XBox 360)
Release Date : Mar 2013
Price : £29.99 (Steam)

Back in the 90s, the Tomb Raider games were among the most popular titles on the Sony PlayStation with early entries in the series selling around 8 million copies. Lara Croft was as well known a character as some celebrities at the time, appearing on adverts and magazines and Hollywood movies. Yet it all went wrong somewhere and by the time of the PlayStation 2, Core Design, the developers of the series, released Tomb Raider – The Angel of Darkness to less than positive reviews and mediocre sales, which led to the next game that they were working on to ultimately be cancelled by Eidos, the publisher of the series at the time.


As a consequence that could easily have been it for the series, if not for Eidos handing it over to Legacy of Kain developer Crystal Dynamics. Their first game, Tomb Raider Legend, overhauled the mechanics of the series and was released in the launch window for the then-next generation consoles and went on to become a financial success, returning the series to profitability. They went on to produce another two games in this series forming a loose trilogy before deciding to dramatically retool the franchise.


 This new Tomb Raider is a complete reboot of the series, featuring a younger and less experienced Lara who isn’t yet the character we’d known from the previous games. I’d never been a massive fan of the series back in the PlayStation days, and it wasn’t until Crystal Dynamics took over that I’d really gotten into any of the games, so the reboot wasn’t too much of an issue for me but as with anything there were many who were sceptical about ditching the history of the series. They really shouldn’t have worried. This new Tomb Raider is a very different game to those that have come before, but still retains enough of the familiar gameplay to still be recognisable.


Previous Tomb Raider games were generally world spanning affairs, with each game taking place in multiple countries and locations. This new game however is set in just a single place, Yamatai Island. As the game begins, Lara is on an expedition with several friends and her mentor Conrad Roth and as is the way these days, they’re filming a reality TV show as they travel. Naturally everything falls apart very quickly when they are shipwrecked by a storm on the island and very quickly have to begin fighting


Without giving too much away, I found the story of the game most enjoyable with some twists and turns along the way and an ancient evil for Lara to fight.  At first it seems that the survivors are simply trapped on an island run by bandits and pirates, but as you go on you discover that they are all part of a large cult group led by a mysterious man and you’ll discover more of the history of both the group and the island as you go.


The group of survivors are all quite well rounded and distinct, though it has been a couple of months since I originally finished the game and it was only Roth who had really stuck in my mind until I went back to it the other day. The other characters fit into your general stereotypes, there’s the best friend, the computer geek (complete with t-shirt proclaiming this), the big tough looking guy who is really peaceful, etc. Most get at least a couple of key moments in the story that let them shine, and none are annoying as you so often get with supporting characters.


There are also the titular tombs to raid, though these are quite infrequent. This made up one of the biggest changes from the game design of the series, as previously entire levels would be designed around the traps and mechanisms of the entry into each tomb, while the tombs of Yamatai Island are a much smaller affair. These generally consist of a single puzzle, with a treasure chest at the end usually granting you a weapon upgrade and/or collectable, and are completely optional as you can finish the game without entering any of them. The collectables are also found dotted about the various areas of the game and give you experience for levelling up skills and weapons as well as back story for the island and characters.


The game is stunning. Even on my home system, a modest Core 2 Duo with a Radeon 7770, I was able to run it on high settings with the only thing really missing being the TressFX technology that creates more realistic looking hair. It looked amazing, but I couldn’t deal with the massive hit in performance I took with it. On higher end systems than mine though, it’s definitely a setting you’d want turned on.

 

Despite being set in one place, the game still manages to display a range of locations that are visually distinct. Early on you’ll visit a wooded area, and then an ancient village built into the sides of a mountain. There’s a snowy area, a shantytown, World War II era bunkers among other places, so there is quite a variety as you progress through the game.


The character models are superb too. While the generic bad guys are all…well, generic, the rest of the cast have unique and detailed character models. Lara herself is motion captured by new voice actress Camilla Luddington and naturally has the largest range of animation and is always smooth in movement. Her fellow survivors all have very distinct designs that match their character and are similarly well designed. During the course of the game Lara becomes a bit worse for wear, with cuts and scratches, rips to her clothing, mud and blood and dirt that accumulate on her. She still manages to keep her hair tidy somehow though...

 

The game controls very well. The shooting mechanics are good and precise, though I was expecting the aiming to be a little shakier due to Lara being inexperienced, and the jumping and climbing controls are spot on. HUD wise the game is quite minimalist, apart from button prompts, the only time you have an overlay is while you have a weapon out, with your ammo counter visible. The now standard health regeneration gameplay means there is no health bar, with the screen becoming redder as you take damage until you hide somewhere to recover much like you’d expect.


Lara carries a climbing axe that you’ll often need to swing at just the right point to catch hold of cliff faces and ledges, combining this with jumping and swinging from ropes make for some great platforming gameplay. You can also use the axe to perform melee finishing moves on enemies that are quite satisfying to execute.


The weapons in the game are also quite good. The guns all sound like you’d expect them to, and all can be upgraded during the game by collecting parts then levelling them up using XP. You’ll end up with your usual array of attachments, grenade launchers, red dot sights and the like. Lara also carries a bow, which can be upgraded to have fire arrows and to fire a rope to create new routes. While the bow was very fun in the early parts of the game, I found I’d stopped using it completely by the middle of the game as upgrades to the assault rifle left it feeling underpowered.


Long-time Crystal Dynamics collaborators Nixxes provide the PC port of the game. As well as porting every previous Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider and the Legacy of Kain series, they are also behind the superb PC port of Deus Ex Human Revolution and more recently Hitman Absolution. As I play with an Xbox controller the game plays exactly like it would have on the console, however a quick try of the mouse and keyboard controls found them to be fluid and intuitive, though they didn’t seem quite as good in the games Quick Time Events as the button prompts were not as visible.


In addition to the single player story, the game has a multiplayer aspect as well; this was a bit of a controversial addition, as the series had been single player only until this point. I have played a few rounds of it, but it didn’t immediately grab me like the single player did. It’s a nice bonus for those who do want to play it, but with a campaign as fantastic as this game has it almost feels unnecessary. By the time I finished the story I felt that I had more than gotten my worth out of the game, and wouldn’t have missed the multiplayer or felt like the game had less value if it wasn’t there. I did think making Lara an unlockable character was a nice touch however, as it means you don’t have to play multiplayer matches with everyone playing Lara, as you’d usually expect to see.


In summary, it’s fantastic and deserves to be played by everyone. Tomb Raider is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, and if you’re in the market for a new graphics card can currently be got for free with select AMD Radeon graphics cards, such as the 7850the 7870, the 7950 and the 7970.


 

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