Tomb Raider – Review

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Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, PC | March 5, 2013
Developed by Crystal Dynamics
Published by Square Enix

The Pitch:

Tomb Raider explores the intense and gritty origin story of Lara Croft and her ascent from a young woman to a hardened survivor. Armed only with raw instincts and the ability to push beyond the limits of human endurance, Lara must fight to unravel the dark history of a forgotten island to escape its relentless hold. Download the Turning Point trailer to see the beginning of Lara’s epic adventure.

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“Great, it’s trying to be the multiplatform Uncharted.”

The scenery and set pieces were attractive, but for the first two hours of Tomb Raider, I felt like I was just pushing forward and hitting a specific button. An elaborate, glorified QTE. Lara learns how to hunt animals with a bow, encounters some bad guys, and squeezes through tight spots while being dirty. Her minor character progression seems strange, as she goes from being extremely upset about having to kill someone, to an absolute stone-cold murderer in about 5 seconds. Headshots. Rocks to the face. And that rebar impalement which happens at the beginning? Ain’t no thing for Lara Croft. She is a “Croft” after all.

Not upset, just bored. Pretty isn’t king. TresFX hairtech looks kind of weird and kills performance.

tr-1Then Lara meets up with one of her friends and is tasked with trying to radio for help. He can’t do it; his leg is jacked. You help Lara fight her way to an impossibly tall radio tower and scale it. Why? Because that’s the only way to get the best signal. I don’t think that part makes much sense, but I’m not an old radioman. As she ascends, the music is more dramatic and Lara is increasingly confident in the face of death. Nearing the top, a half-ladder is her final obstacle. After surmounting it, at the pinnacle Lara locks her legs in, leans back and lets out a tired yet triumphant cry.

I welled up.

In the grand scheme of things it was a small victory for the character, but that’s what made it special. It is in this specific moment that Tomb Raider clicks.

tr-2Increasingly, I was with Lara and she was becoming more resilient and effective. The skill progression unlocks actually make sense in a weird game-cum-story kind of way. You’ll eventually be able to light up the collectibles with her “survival instincts,” which I attribute to Lara just learning to suss it out the more she transverses her environment. “Oh, that’s probably a decent place to stick a ritual mask…”

While pre-release interviews suggested that I’d want to protect Lara, I never felt that urge. There was pity, sure, but never a, “Poor little baby, you can’t do anything without me.” Instead, she became one to admire. Standing in the face of adversity, Lara adapted and overcame. She saves the friends she can. She tries to protect fallen airmen. She justifies that this is just the beginning of her story. But most importantly, she becomes an incredible and capable woman.

tr-3What’s more is that even after the game was over, I’ve gone back in to grab collectibles. From simple “salvage” that allows upgrading of gear, to artifacts and documents that help flesh out the world, there’s stuff everywhere. It’s optional, but there’s something strangely compelling in retrieving them. The last time I felt this same compulsion was with the original Crackdown. My completion percentage hit 100, due to the process providing an almost zen-like euphoria.

Not sure why I keep going. Too bad the DLC isn’t going to be SP. No reason to keep it installed.

Collectibles are my main draw now, not the multiplayer. It’s serviceable and standard at best and boring at its worst. Persistence, perks, and a handful of competitive modes are all checked off the list. The PC version doesn’t have a server browser, forcing you to rely on a friends list and a search function that works 50% of the time. There are some neat rope traps that can tie you up. I guess those are cool.

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And while Crystal Dynamics may have taken many cues from the Uncharted series, they become most successful when striking out away from the bombast and set pieces. Character development stemming from small victories makes Tomb Raider rise above a simple copycat and turn it into a great new direction for the series. The pacing issues that exist throughout are a mere footnote to what is ultimately a worthy reboot of the popular franchise.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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