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Review: Tomb Raider

I almost didn’t buy this game.  Honestly, I’ve never been a Tomb Raider fan – never cared for the early games, and although a few of the more recent games were ok they never held my interest through to the end.  When this latest reboot was first announced, I paid it virtually no attention.  I didn’t watch the trailers everyone was buzzing about.  I did not care.   But as luck would have it, last month while trying to find the best deal on the PC version of Bioshock Infinite, a game I am very much interested in, I found a deal that basically got me both it and Tomb Raider for the price of one game.  I figured it was basically “buy Bioshock, get Tomb Raider for free,” and that was my price to give Tomb Raider a shot.  Now that I’ve played the game, I can tell you that I was a fool – Tomb Raider is an incredible game worthy of everyone’s attention, fan of the series or not.

tomb-raider-2013-screen-11The story is relatively simple – while on an expedition, Lara and her crew crash on an island inhabited by a strange cult.  The story is just a backdrop for the character development that takes place, as this is really the story of how Lara Croft became the adventurer we all know her as.  Over the course of the game they do an excellent job of showing her grow from a naive inexperienced girl to a strong decisive woman.  Now you may have heard other reviewers complain about how the action doesn’t always mesh with this narrative – how Lara may act afraid and unsure in a cut scene but then deliver head shots the next time you’re playing.  Well…this is a game.  In the same way I accept that characters in movies can become really good at sports during a musical montage, I accept that what I’m doing while playing may not match up 100% to the character I see in cut scenes.  It’s gotten tons better than it used to be, and in my opinion it’s close enough here that it never stood out to me at all.  But that’s just one of those suspension of disbelief things you have to accept while playing video games.

sc_1600x900As good as the character stuff is, it’s the gameplay that’s the star of the show.  And boy, does it deliver!  Tomb Raider is an adventure game first and a shooter second.  What I mean by that is that exploration, environmental puzzles and traversal take the forefront here and the shooting is secondary.  Structurally, I’d say the game is like a slightly more linear Batman: Arkham game.  During the course of the game you will gain equipment and weapons that will allow you to access previously inaccessible areas.  You can quickly travel to previous areas at the campfires scattered throughout the game.  While the story moves you forward in a linear fashion, this mechanic coupled with a ton of collectibles that actually add value to the game cause you to want to thoroughly explore and backtrack.  In addition, you gain experience points not only through combat but through exploration and finding hidden items.  When Lara levels up, she gains a skill point she can spend in one of several different categories such as Survivor, Hunter or Brawler.  In addition, looting bodies (either enemies or animals you have hunted) and finding hidden treasure caches will give you scrap which you can then use to upgrade your weapons and gear.  These RPG elements go a long way towards strengthening the feeling of character growth the game emphasizes.

130756gegnnc4zln8gze5f All of that sounds great, but this is one of those games where the little touches really make the game.  Where you get completely drawn into the game’s world because of all of the detail the developer paid to…well, everything.  When Lara gets to certain camp sites, she starts narrating diary entries while you navigate the upgrade menus.  Every single journal entry you find scattered across the island – and there are quite a few – is fully voiced.  Areas seamlessly flow into one another with no blatant load screens – load times are instead masked by short areas where Lara can only move forward at a tomb’s entrance.  Speaking of tombs, they are scattered across the island and while short, offer some fantastic environmental puzzles.  Each area has a set of objectives to complete, such as finding and shooting lanterns.  There are also subtle cues that let you know when a fight is coming, such as Lara automatically crouching down and drawing her weapon.  All of this stacked on top of fantastic voice acting and incredible graphics creates a vivid world that feels alive.  Especially on the PC, the graphics seem to be a glimpse at the next gen.  The much touted “Tress FX” – an option that causes Lara’s hair to move very naturally (most of the time) as individual strands instead of one clay-like lump – is definitely something worth seeing.

Bottom line, the game is fantastic.  I have no significant complaints with it at all – everything just works.  It tells a fascinating story with some very strong character development, throws you into a world so detailed you will WANT to explore every inch of it and peppers the experience with some great combat.  It’s the full package.  For the first time, I truly care about the Tomb Raider franchise and can’t wait to see where it goes from here.  The future truly looks bright for Lara.

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