First of all, apologies for missing last week. I’m going through something of a gaming slump right now. Nothing seems to keep my attention for longer than 10 minutes so I couldn’t even think of a topic. But with the release of the Tomb Raider movie, this is as good a time as any to review one of my favorites.
Way way back in 1996, Eidos released the very first Tomb Raider on the Sega Saturn and PS1. One of the best selling games of the generation, it introduced us to the butt-kicking, wall-climbing, relic-hunting heroine Lara Croft. Spawning a number of sequels on a myriad of consoles, it got stale into 2000, with sales dropping and it’s popularity dwindling. In 2013 Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix stepped in and rebooted the whole franchise. And unlike some reboots that are pretty much the same except for a few graphics overhauls (Devil May Cry I’m looking at you), Tomb Raider manages to strip away the old tired mechanics and give us a new origin story that is compelling, driven and most importantly, playable.
The Lara we get here is completely different from the old Eidos Lara. Where the original was sure-footed and confident (with ever-expanding boobs for some reason), this new version is more accessible, more down-to-earth, more human. Even slightly naïve to the world. Flung into a desperate situation, we see her grow up quickly and learn the skills that have made her such an icon for so long. Gone are the massive chest and skimpy shorts, replaced by a simple vest and jeans (or other outfits if you have the definitive edition) it’s about what she can do rather than how she looks doing it.
Obviously gameplay is the key. Its not the jump and shoot affair of the older games, a complete overhaul has given it an edge it’s needed for some time. Starting off with basic skills, throughout the game she learns new techniques such as dodging attacks, using her grappling axe as a weapon (along with the other firearm she acquires conveniently when she needs them) and hunter-gatherer skills she needs to craft more useful weapons with extended magazines, recoil dampening and the like. These can be done at camps, which are basically just a fire in random locations. From certain camps you can fast travel to other locations, which will be necessary if you intend to upgrade Lara to 100%. Some areas aren’t available straight away, instead you have to revisit once you’ve unlocked a certain piece of equipment. Which is nice when the story only takes between 10-15 hours if you bash through it without too much thought, but you can add another 30 to that searching for gun parts or finding the 6 optional tombs scattered about the areas (the first one Lara declares she hates tombs which I found amusing).
Graphics wise, I can’t fault it. Lara looks great as I mentioned, but so does everyone else. They seem to have put as much thought in to the supporting cast as the main. And it’s so detailed, right down to Lara squeezing out her ponytail after being in water, everything has been thought of. The surroundings are just as good, mixing thermal caverns and mountain ranges with Asian style palaces and villages. Certain parts require a decent amount of climbing, and these can be good times to take in the view if you’re so obliged. Other than exploration, battle is the other big part. Starting off with a simple bow and arrow, you hone your skills by gaining exp points and unlocking parts on 3 different skill trees- Hunter, Brawler, and Survivalist, each one having a different set to learn. Some give abilities in fights, others find you valuables and collectibles. You can eventually unlock everything but not in a simple story run. It’s going to take alot of finding and looting but it’s possible to get every upgrade available. Battles take place either as an assault on a hostile location, or in a bit of stealthing. Both are just as fun, although stealth opportunities are few and far between and feel a bit forced at times. This is my only gripe with the game. The options are there but rarely do you have an opportunity to do much more than just shoot everything in sight and hope for the best. It’s something they build on in the next instalment, and build on well, but it seems a bit unnecessary in the context.
An ace game with a rich history. Tomb Raider brings a dated game into the current generation all the while staying true to the basics of it’s predecessor.