What makes this game most interesting is not that it’s just another Tomb Raider game; but that it’s the first Tomb Raider game. All great heroes have a beginning and this is Lara’s beginning. However, unlike most prequel/reboot stories, Lara’s first adventure is not an easy or pleasant experience. The game’s mature rating is well earned as you will be witness to some truly graphic and tragic scenes never before seen in a Tomb Raider game. Is this jaunt worth the trip? Let’s find out.
The PC version of Tomb Raider is a Steam exclusive, downloadable ONLY game. This means that no matter where you purchased it from – Amazon, Green Man Gaming, or Steam itself, you’ll be playing through Steam’s servers. The game also supports SteamWorks, which includes a plethora of additional online features like achievements and cloud saves.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
Being a “PC gamer” means that we’re picky about the way our games look. Fortunately, Tomb Raider supports all of the latest graphical features including DirectX 11. With everything set to “Ultimate,” the game looks fantastic! Looking out for miles across the island details abound – the differences in foliage, abandoned buildings in the mountains, cloud formations in the sky, etc. It’s all beautiful! Excellent use of textures also bring the island to life. Forests look dense. Tombs look appropriately moody and spooky. Decomposing corpses and decaying military vehicles litter the island with history. It’s all unique and awe inspiring to look at; so far the best looking game of 2013.
All of the characters including Lara herself look great. Skin textures look realistic with sweat, dirt and blood. Lara also has numerous little animations that help bring her to life. Is a younger Lara Croft still “hot?” Yes! But being covered in dirt and blood strip any of her sexuality away making you focus on her situation instead.
The only drawback to the mightily impressive graphics is some stability issues particularly on nVidia cards. One effect in particular titled “TressFX” enables more realistic looking hair on Lara. TressFX is an effect created for ATI graphics cards. On an nVidia card, the game stutters constantly so I played with it turned off. Another issue some users are reporting is a lack of effects such as lens flares while playing the game in full screen (in both ATI and nVidia cards). nVidia claims to be working on updating their drivers so hopefully a fix will be out soon. Although I experienced a few “hiccups,” the game never crashed on me running a Geforce 480. UPDATE: as of the time of this writing, the first official patch has been released for the game. Although it has improved some issues, the game has crashed repeatedly on me.
The sound work in Tomb Raider impress as much as the graphics. From the sounds of the jungles to the bullet fire of your weapons everything just sounds right. With full on positional 7.1 surround sound you always know where your enemies are. The score composed by game veteran Jason Graves (Dead Space series, F.E.A.R. 3) also delivers.
The game begins with a fresh-out-of-college Lara Croft on her first expedition to the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai. She is soon shipwrecked by a mysterious storm and left to fend for herself on the island. As she struggles to meet up with her crew she discovers that the island is home to other stranded inhabitants following a crazed cultist and an ancient evil. Lara Croft goes from being a scared kind-hearted girl, to the fearless adventurer we know today.
Although this may sound stereotypical of most action games, it’s the way in which this change unfolds throughout the game that makes the experience fresh. Lara’s first human kill is impressionable and unforgettable. The first time she has to sacrifice an animal to eat brings a tear to your eye. The cuts and scrapes that cover her body make you feel her pain and discomfort. Her genuine concern for her friends makes you want to protect her during her journey.
Two new weapons make their first appearance in a Tomb Raider game. The first is an “ice axe” which Lara uses to climb mountainous surfaces, slide across ropes and use as a melee weapon. The second is a bow & arrow which she uses to take down enemies silently or to activate puzzles from a distance. These two new mechanics are introduced early in the game and you’ll be using them plenty right up until the very end. Later in the game you’ll get several guns (pistol, shotgun, and rifle) and they can all be upgraded over time with salvage you find laying across the island.
Lara’s skills can also be upgraded over time. As you complete missions, find collectables, and kill enemies you gain experience which can then be applied to enhance your hunting, survival, and melee abilities. These lite RPG features really add to the experience and make you feel like you’re growing with Lara; though the game was never really that difficult to begin with (I played it on normal).
Combat itself is a mixed bag in Tomb Raider. On the one hand all of your weapons feel very satisfying. When enemies are nearby, Lara automatically switches to a squatting crawl. She instantly snaps to cover and peers over using the “aim” button (a la Gear of War). All of this happens before combat even begins! This gives you the opportunity to choose between silently taking out each enemy individually or going in guns blazing.
Once combat begins and the enemies start shooting, the AI go to hell. Although they do a great job of flanking you, they do an even better job of attacking you. They can mysteriously see through walls and waste clips of ammo shooting at your cover no matter where you hide. Grenadiers can drop bombs on you with pinpoint accuracy no matter how many obstacles are in the way. Several times I’ve even seen them blow themselves up (or their friends) with their own bombs. It breaks the realism at times.
Tomb Raider’s single-player experience is a semi open-world adventure. Most of the levels are linear in nature that open up in spots where you can explore. You can also revisit previous locations to collect any missing collectables and complete optional special challenges. It’s not exactly Just Cause 2 where you can go anywhere your eyes can see, but then again, you’ll never feel lost wondering what to do next. Along the road you’ll come across hidden tombs. These areas feature various puzzles with no enemies. They’re an homage to the previous games, however they are extremely short; some requiring only 5 minutes of your time to solve. There’s so much to do within the game however that it’s not really an issue.
Tomb Raider is the first game in the series to feature a multiplayer mode. It features 4 different modes – Rescue, Cry for Help, Team Deathmatch and Free-for-All. Although they are fairly competent on their own, they are all largely forgettable. At the time of this writing (approximately one week after the game’s release) ranked servers remain empty. I played a few unranked matches (only a handful of players) and found them mildly amusing.
It’s clear no one purchased this game for its multiplayer. So what are you missing? Nothing you haven’t experienced in other games. If you’ve played the PS3’s Uncharted multiplayer, then you’ve played Tomb Raider’s. If you’re really into competitive multiplayer you’re better off playing something else. It’s not really worth your time as the meat of this game is in its single-player experience.
Tomb Raider is a mixture of so many other great action games. It has the graphics of Just Cause 2, the shooting combat of Gears of War, the melee combat of Batman Arkham Asylum/City, the puzzles of previous Tomb Raider games, the limited open-world and backtracking of Metroid/Castlevania, and the big action set pieces of Uncharted. Although it doesn’t reinvent any of these games, everything it does do it does perfectly. Despite its bugs and forgettable multiplayer, I enjoyed the game tremendously. With a 15-20 hour long single-player campaign the game is well worth your time. The reboot of Lara Croft is here and damn, it is good!