Lara's Triumphant Return: Tomb Raider Review

''Tomb Raider'' combines gameplay, story, graphics, sound and characterization into one heady, engrossing adventure

The initially slow opening doesn’t set an example for the rest of the game. After introducing combat, survival and maneuvering through stages, Tomb Raider cranks up the heat. The main story lasts between 12 to 15 hours, and in that time it rarely pauses. Set-piece after breathtaking set-piece keep Lara constantly moving, whether fighting hordes of the game’s antagonists, the Solarii, or having to navigate across windswept chasms, crashing her way down a river or running through a burning building. It’s a relentless onslaught, but it never feels repetitive. Action is confined to areas, with a player alerted through audible clues when they have removed all threats. Should they press on, Tomb Raider will throw them into the next puzzle, climbing challenge or gunfight that awaits them.

Such a constant barrage of danger and exploration could become tiring were it not for Tomb Raider‘s setting. The island of Yamatai, where the game’s story takes place, is stunning. Crystal Dynamics has crafted an incredible playground, with players moving between snowcapped mountains, beaches coated in traversable shipwrecks, deep, dark caverns, musty, bloody tombs and crypts and open, windswept villages. Tombs are filled with crumbling passages, scurrying rats and decaying statues and mechanisms. The makeshift shanty town is a symphony of driftwood, detritus, recycled materials and human filth. Cliff-faces crumble under the elements, waterfalls soak the screen in splashes and snowfall builds on the ground, slowing Lara down. It’s a fascinating, beautiful, detailed, lived-in, constantly captivating place. Indeed, Tomb Raider‘s graphics will keep you in a state of awe, with cinematic cutscenes and deliberately forced camera angles guiding the player in their appreciation of the locales and settings they visit. One in particular rendered me speechless, and saw Lara forced to climb a radio tower to signal for help. As she climbed, the camera switched between the steep fall that awaited a wrong move, and the vast openness of the surrounding vistas. When I reached the top, the camera panned around to reveal an incredible sunrise behind Lara. I watched, as an exhausted Lara sat down and gazed at the scene before her, and it blew me away with its beauty. Tomb Raider is one of the prettiest, most detailed games I’ve ever played.

It’s also one of the goriest, with visceral blood spatters, rotting corpses, rivers of blood and human waste, frequent executions and some harrowing death scenes for Lara should you make the wrong move. It initially surprised me with its brutality, and the frequency with which characters and enemies are killed and the number of revolting and bloody scenes that await discovery. It’s deliberate, though, and as you wade waist-deep through human blood you come to understand the desperation of Lara’s situation. Tomb Raider will shock you with its graphic content, but Lara, too, is shocked. You experience it with her.

This immersion is backed by some great audio. Camilla Luddington takes on the role of Lara, and does a stellar job of bringing her character to life. The desperation in Lara’s voice, the sighs as she gazes at the distance she must travel, the grunts and shouts as she battles through enemies — it’s a fully realized performance that captures the essence of Lara Croft. Indeed, the finest moments are when Croft examines tombs and treasures, with the excitement of her discoveries and the forming of theories offering a joyous respite from her harrowing situation, as well as offering insight into her deep education and cultural knowledge. Secondary characters offer up similarly well-rounded voice acting, with each being believably genuine, though the writing occasionally strays a little too far into cliché for some. Tomb Raider‘s island setting is injected with its own personality, with violent winds, crackling fires, screeching birds and rustling leaves all adding a sense of realism and depth. Guns and explosives are suitably deafening, voices reverberate through narrow passages, and doors and mechanisms creak and grind with suitably aged response. Yamatai feels as though it’s existed for centuries, and the audio helps back up the detail in the games visuals with aplomb.

If there’s one area in which Tomb Raider lets itself down, it’s multiplayer. It consists of 4v4 games played across 5 maps and three game-types, and features many of the weapons and abilities of the single-player adventure. It’s not particularly bad, per se, and I enjoyed the few matches I played. The controls are no different to single player, though, and the deliberate nature of scripted encounters doesn’t carry well to frenetic unscripted action, but it shouldn’t matter. Those who want to sink hours into multiplayer, trying to get the achievements and trophies are free to do so. What’s important about it is that it doesn’t detract anything from the main campaign. Nothing feels sacrificed to make way for it, and there’s no lack of content to justify having it. It’s simply there.

Those who ignore it have no end of content in the main campaign. Once the story is complete, there are challenges, tombs and collectables to find. Players can fast travel around the island, completing mini-tasks and side quests, finding hidden treasures and discovering Tomb Raider‘s tombs. I finished the main story after 13 hours and was told I’d only completed 66 percent of the game — and I’m a thorough gamer, so there’s no telling how long a player can spend combing every inch of the island. Tombs, by the way, are Tomb Raider‘s fan service. They offer self-contained areas with one-off puzzles, and are much more like the original games. Offering a slower pace and a much harder level of difficulty, they can be found across the island. They’re worth completing, not least for the reward, but also for the additional backstory and detail each contains at its end.

TOMB RAIDER
starstarstarstarstar
Square Enix
Crystal Dynamics
$59.99
PS3, Xbox,
PC Download
www.tombraider.com

When all is said and done, what is Tomb Raider? If I want a well-made, cinematic, beautiful and captivating action-adventure game, I could play any of the Uncharted franchise. Tomb Raider‘s new, fragile Lara Croft draws many comparisons to Nathan Drake, with Sony’s franchise setting the bar for adventure gaming this generation. Well, I can comfortably say that Tomb Raider reaches that bar, offering a life-or-death aspect to gamers that Uncharted does not. Lara is fighting for her life. She doesn’t want to be on the island, she doesn’t want to be in this situation, she just wants to get her friends and get out of there. That struggle, that need to keep going and keep fighting and save herself translates beautifully to the player. When I messed up and sent Lara hurtling off a cliff, or into a rusty spike, or caused her to die at the hands of an enemy, I felt like I had failed her. She wanted to save herself, and I was stopping her.

Tomb Raider combines gameplay, story, graphics, sound and characterization into one heady, engrossing adventure. Seeing Lara’s story to its conclusion is a heart-stopping, breathtaking, adrenaline-filled experience, and it’s one that, whether a fan of the original Tomb Raider or not, every gamer should play. Tomb Raider isn’t necessarily better than Uncharted — rather, it matches its excellence in a way few other games can, for one stand-out reason: gaming’s greatest heroine.

Lara’s back, and she’s never been better.

Rhuaridh Marr is one of Metro Weekly's contributing editors and covers cars, technology, gaming and world news. He is usually found with a game controller in one hand and a smartphone in the other and can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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