Let it be known; I am pro-reboot, but only when a franchise has been beaten so badly that it is completely unrecognizable from what it started as. I mean Batman & Robin levels of abuse is how we get reboots like Batman Begins. So when I heard that Tomb Raider was getting a reboot, for the second time, I was initially skeptical. I had played Tomb Raider: Anniversary, its follow up Tomb Raider: Legend, and found myself quite pleased with these games. They were 100% pure Tomb Raider, and that is the only way to properly describe them. They had their tongue planted firmly in their cheek, which is the correct spot when dealing with the subject matter of a scantily clad woman who lugs around heavy fire arms into the crypts of the dead looking for treasure.
This new Tomb Raider decides to take things into a completely different direction than any of the other games thus far. This time we have a brooding, dramatic (read as “gritty”), version of the titular heroine with very little comedy or nonsense to be had. Well, it worked for Batman with his reboot so I gave this one a shot. Just like with the previous reboot, I find myself surprised with Tomb Raider yet again.
The plot of this new adventure is nothing special and is probably the weakest part of the whole game. This is the third origin story for this character and many elements were known quantities. I found this specific story quite predictable, I was able to correctly anticipate most of the set pieces and major plot points almost from the very beginning of the game. The plot has several elements that have been taken from other titles in the franchise or from other similar stories. It is almost like the developers felt that they needed these set pieces to complete a checklist or a paint by numbers kit. Lara Croft and crew are looking for the ancient mystical tomb of the McGuffin and find themselves shipwrecked on an island not too far from Japan. However, they are not alone and they must fight for their survival. Not only is the story predictable, but it’s pacing is all over the place. At one point I had found myself in a climactic gunfight inside of a burning building and I could feel that this was building up to the resolution of the story, but instead the game felt that I was only half done and that this was a false climax.
As previously stated this is supposed to be an origin story for the character, to try to explain why she is the way she is. She is a young woman who is put into peril and must do anything that she can in order to survive. So with that point established, it is a big deal the first time you are forced to kill an animal and the first time you are forced to kill a human being. Once those cut scenes are complete, they are never brought up again. You are then immediately able to pick up a machine gun and start shooting your way through hundreds of people, making you one of the worst mass murderers in the history of the Earth and the game never brings up the subject again (except for one other time in a throwaway line of dialog).
What this game lacks in story and pacing, it more than makes up for with just about everything else. The visuals, audio, and mechanics are all outstanding and should be given their fair shake. I played the PC version of this game after buying it for dirt cheap on a Steam Sale and the performance was fantastic. I did not have a single issue with the frame rate dipping and I was able to run it at a higher resolution than the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 would have allowed. This game has tons of impressive visual effects; from vast landscapes that you are able to look at when climbing onto tall towers or scaling mountains to the neat little lighting effects, especially things that burn. Fire in this game is really impressive and you will see a lot of it because hidden secrets are located inside of things that you need to burn to access and a lot of your weapons have enhancements that allow you to set things, or people, on fire. For some reason the PC version makes a big deal about Lara’s hair. AMD developed a new video game hair technology called TressFX which made its début with this game. If you were to Google TressFX the results would be littered with screenshots of this game, as well as some jokes about the technology.
I was quite impressed with the voice acting in this game, especially with the performance provided for the main character, Lara Croft. Dialogue seems to have been given the correct amount of seriousness for the situations that the characters will find themselves in. Because there is a small stealth element to this game, large amounts of dialogue has been recorded for the enemies to say to each other. That said, I would like to be able to say that the things that they say to each other are interesting; unfortunately they are not but they are in service of building the world and appropriate to the characters.
Mechanically, the shooting is good and the quick time events, yes this game has them because for some reason every game does, are very forgiving. The PC version supports using a controller so I would occasionally switch back and forth between using my controller and a keyboard and mouse. Though when playing a shooter, on a computer, a keyboard and mouse is always going to be better than a controller so that was my default mode of play. All of the weapons that you collect are able to be upgraded through scrap metal that you find laying on the ground and Lara learns new abilities through levelling up using the game’s light RPG mechanics. The stealth is very minor, typically I could only manage to dispense of one or may be two enemies before the whole situation turned into a full on gunfight. Sometimes stealth is not even an option and I would just be thrust into an arena to fight for my life after a cutscene.
Just about all of the puzzles in the game revolve around physics and manipulating falling or sliding objects to complete your goal. Sometimes there would be timing and skill related challenges but those were few and far between. Just about all of these puzzles take some brain power to be able to solve and actually feel satisfying once you do figure it out. The issue I take, and it is an issue I have with all of the Tomb Raider and even the Uncharted games, is the very notion that these gigantic machines, that are hundreds of years old, would still work at all.
If you are looking for a good looking game to play so that you can turn your brain off for a bit and shoot some dudes, then you’re probably not looking for this game because there are some puzzles. Maybe Serious Sam 3 would be more up your alley; however, this game is a very competent shooter that is quite aesthetically pleasing and very fun to play. I recommend this title not only as a fan of quality video games, but also as a long fan of Tomb Raider. I have played just about every single Tomb Raider video game and I have seen both movies, in theatres, and I can especially say that this game does the entire franchise justice.