Tomb Raider - Review

Tomb Raider, when you hear the name I'm sure one of two things will come to mind. First of all there's the long running game series, which became well known for having a female protagonist, and then there's the movies. Either way when someone hears "Tomb Raider," they most likely know what it is. Ever since the original game was released on the PlayStation in 1996, it has been a well known game franchise, with millions of fans; however that was around 17 years ago.

Since the original game's release, there have been many sequels, and even a movie series, but before we knew it, it was starting to get old. Now sure each game in the series did bring something new and enhance the experience, but as new generations of gamers began to show up, Tomb Raider slowly lost its steam. So, just how do you deal with this issue? Well, apparently you reboot the series, and release an origin story!

The Story of Lara Croft:

Tomb Raider is an origin story for long time series heroine Lara Croft, and it shows us just how she became the Lara we've come to know and love. The game starts out showing Lara and her crew on a ship as they go toward an old Japanese island, which is said to be the location of a legendary lost kingdom. As the crew spends their days on the ship just passing time, and talking about the legends of the "Sun Queen," they are slowly pulled into an adventure that they never asked for.

Not too long after they set sail, a storm rages, the ship is torn to shreds, and Lara finds herself fighting for her life as she is pulled under the waves with the wreckage of her once ship. As Lara refuses to accept death, she somehow managers to cling onto her last breath, and washes up on shore of the very island they set out to find. At first Lara scans her surroundings to try and get her barrings, but before she knew it, she is bashed over the head, and passes out.

As Lara's consciousness returns, she finds herself hanging upside down in some old ruins. Bodies and bones lay throughout the cave, and that is when Lara realizes what she must do; survive. Before she knows what is happening, Lara is thrown into a living hell, where she must do whatever it takes to live on.

The Development of Lara:

Lara's story in Tomb Raider is a dark and twisted story filled. She finds herself battling members of an insane cult, as well as the elements of nature, and she is always being pushed forward. Throughout the entire game we, the players, get to see Lara as she evolves from this normal girl right out of college, into a survivor who has faced many hardships. The way the game is set up, you really become attached to the character of Lara Croft, and everything about her just makes her seem real. She shivers when she's cold, covers her face when she's blinded by bright light, screams in pain as she is impaled, and cringes as she attends to said wounds.

The way Lara's character is shown in game really adds a lot to Tomb Raider's story as well. While in most games the main character's simply do whatever it is they need to do without asking questions, Lara is always thinking about what her next move should be, and if it is really the right thing to do. Early on in the game she actually fights with a member of the cult who tries to kill her with a gun, and during the struggle she shoots him. While in most games the main character would simply walk away showing no remorse what so ever, Lara has a break down. She begins to cry, almost throws up, and just can't deal with the what she has done; however she also realizes that it HAD to of been done, and that he wouldn't be the last person she will have to kill. As she goes on through the game, she becomes more and more of a killer, and she actually admits that it scares her. How can killing be this easy for her? Why does she no feelings? This is something she learns to live with, no matter how much it might bother her.

Although the game's story is in fact great on its own, Lara is the one who truly brings life to it, and she makes it an enjoyable experience from start to finish.

The Reboot of Tomb Raider:

As I said before, Tomb Raider is a reboot of the old franchise, and because of that it has MANY gameplay changes; in fact, I'll just flat out say it... This is NOT the Tomb Raider you might have once known, but that doesn't mean it is a bad game.

While the intro of Tomb Raider is simply a story section to introduce you to the game's story, the rest of the game is quite open ended and action packed. Although the game does in fact use quick time events from time to time, most of the game is spent with you being in control of EVERYTHING. The basic gameplay of Tomb Raider is that of a 3rd person shooter, or of an action platforming game. You walk through different sections of the island, climb up on ledges, shoot enemies, and pick up items, but really there is much, MUCH, more too it than that.

The game has a big focus on open environments, and each area of the game is packed FULL of items for you to find, and things for you to do. Throughout the areas of the game you'll find salvage, you'll see animals that you can hunt, you'll find ammo and other items for your weapons, and you'll also come across treasure as well. While salvage and weapon pieces will be used to upgrade your equipment later, treasure and other collectible items are used to complete challenges, and provide background to the story as well. Sometimes you'll find treasure that will explain the island's past, and other times you'll find books left behind by other members of your crew; each of these discoveries really help flesh out the story, and they are also pretty fun to collect!

Equipment in Tomb Raider also plays a major role in the game, and it allows you to traverse through the areas in different ways. For example in one area you may be able to climb up a ledge and reach a door to a house, but that house might be boarded up. So, how do you open it? Well, with a shotgun, how else!? But what if you don't have a shotgun? Well, then that means you can't go that way for now. The entire game is filled with moments like this, and it really gives you a reason to back track to areas you have been to before. Sometimes you'll be able to access new sections of the island by using your new rope attachment, and other times you'll be able to access some secret ruins and find some new treasure. Really it feels a lot like them old adventure games, or even a certain old school series which also has a female protagonist.

Platforming and puzzle solving also plays a major role in Tomb Raider, but it still isn't quite the same as it was in the older games. Lara is able to climb up mountain sides, jump from ledge to ledge, and she will even have to escape ruins as they fall apart around her, but these scenes are very cinematic. They keep you on the edge of your seat, you panic when you're not quite sure when to jump, and you truly are relieved when you finally make it back to safety. While there are also other platforming sections (which simply require you to climb up ledges, or jump over to the next area), they really aren't quite the same as they were in the old days. In older Tomb Raider games, just about every platforming section felt like a puzzle where you had to figure out just HOW to get to the next area, while this time around it is pretty clear.

On top of platforming and climbing, the game also features extra tombs for you to find, and well, raid. These sections of the games are more puzzle based, and will remind series fans a lot of the older games. While these puzzles do start out very simple, they do get harder as time goes on, and they make you feel like you've actually accomplished something when you complete them. They are a really nice throw back to long time fans, but its actually pretty easy to skip over them if you don't explore every nook and cranny of the island.

The final main "gameplay" aspect of Tomb Raider is in fact the combat. In the past Tomb Raider never really had too much of a combat system, and it mostly came down to kicking enemies, and shooting the heck out of them with your twin guns; however this time around it actually plays like a 3rd person shooter. Lara has a wide verity of weapons to use (including melee attacks and long range weapons), and the game allows you to decide how to use them. As you approach enemies, Lara reacts with the area around her, she'll crouch down behind objects, and slowly sneak her way up to enemies if they haven't seen her; although some people rather be able to do these sort of actions on their own, this is actually a major improvement from the standard stealth system we see in games today. Since you don't have to hit a button to take cover behind cover, Lara doesn't stick to her cover, and you have COMPLETE freedom over how she moves. You can sneak around to the edge to take aim, you can slowly peak around the corner, or you can even hurry up and get out of cover if needed. It really gives you a lot of control over combat, and was a very welcomed improvement. The weapons however, are a different story.

Really, the actual weapon system in Tomb Raider isn't anything new, but it IS new to the series. Just as you might expect from a game like this, the L buttons are used to take aim, the R buttons are used to fire, and by sneaking up on enemies you can press the face buttons to pull off some kind of stealth or melee kill. It is a system games have been using for many years, and it is one that works VERY well. Mix that with the fact that weapons can be upgraded and changed to suit your needs, and you've got an easy to use combat system that works with all of your combat situations.

Learning to Survive:

The final aspect of Tomb Raider's single player mode, is the whole level up system. Just about every action you preform in the game will net Lara some experience points, which can then be used to learn different skills and abilities. At the start of the game Lara is very limited on what she can do, but as time goes on she slowly evolves into a true survivor.

The upgrade system is actually broken up into categories, and it is up to you to decide just what type of skills you want to learn. Do you want to be able to remove arrows from enemies and animals you have killed, or do you want to be able to notice hidden things in the environment? It's really your call on how you want Lara to improve, but in the end, everything will in fact be unlockable.

The Multiplayer:

Unlike past games in the series, Tomb Raider also has an online multiplayer mode. In this mode you get to pick from one of four different game modes to play in, as you unlock new pieces of equipment, abilities, and characters to use. While the game has your basic team death match mode, it also has a free for all mode, a mode where survivors must steal supplies from the islanders, and a mode where survivors must try to activate radio towers.

Really the multiplayer is quite fun, but it really isn't anything new. You run around, climb up walls, shoot whoever you see, gain experience points to rank up, and then you do it all over again. While basically every mode is a team based game, the free for all mode is still in fact there for anyone who doesn't like team work. For the most part though, nothing about Tomb Raider's multiplayer makes it stand out on its own, especially if you're playing the game on the PlayStation 3. While I personally love the multiplayer mode, and find it addicting, it is just one of them games that will be overshadowed in the end. Please don't let that turn you off from it though!

On the flip side, the ability to set traps in multiplayer is quite nice, it plays quite well, I personally have never seen any lag or framerate issues, and I did find the game modes to be quite addicting; especially the one where survivors try to capture supplies as the islanders defend them.

The Good and the Bad:

I'm going to flat out say it, Tomb Raider does basically EVERYTHING right! The game has very solid gameplay, the climbing is great, the combat is a major improvement, the open world is great, the customization is nice, and the story is great as well; however what really makes the game is Lara herself! Crystal Dynamics payed a great deal of attention to detail in this one, and they really made Lara come alive. The way she interacts with the world around her, the way she deals with the events of the story, and even the way she dies in this game will make you feel for her. Never in my life have I cringed as I watched a main character die, but that is exactly what I found myself doing time and time again this time around.

On top of that, the game looks flat out amazing. Now I'm sure this will be up to very much debate, but Tomb Raider is easily one of the nicest looking games you'll ever see this generation, and the amount of detail put into the world is outstanding. The way the sun shines through the trees, the rain falling down, the bright snow tops of the mountains, the dusty old ruins, the windy valleys, the explosions, and the way water leeks out of barrels when you shoot holes in them; all of these little pieces of detail really help add to the game, and make it a very enjoyable experience. Now sure you will come across the occasional disturbing scene, especially the intro area, but if you can look past them you'll find yourself exploring a beautiful island that you'll want to go back to see even after you've finished the game.

The only real down side to Tomb Raider is the fact that aspects of the game may be over looked. It's multiplayer will be overshadowed by another game (that I'm sure a lot of people will want to compare this to) on the PlayStation 3, and you will come across the occasional glitch or two. other than that, there really isn't much to complain about here! Sure you could nit pick every little detail such as maybe you saw Lara's hair clipping through an object, but no game is 100% perfect, and I could never lower a game's score because of that.

If you're a fan of action, adventure, platforming, 3rd person shooters, horror, or survival games, Tomb Raider is one of them games you just HAVE to check out! In the end, with all things considered, I give Tomb Raider a perfect score of 10/10. Welcome back Lara Croft, we've missed you!

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