It has been 17 years since a Tomb Raider title held my interest for more than ten minutes. The problem with the previous Tomb Raider iterations was that Lara was marketed as a sexual icon and Rambo-esque action hero. Players never had the opportunity to experience the struggling Lara who had wants and needs. This newest Tomb Raider definitely took a step in the right direction but is still missing something.
At its core, Tomb Raider is a game about survival. It’s a reboot that pulls no punches. This game is dark and gritty. People get arrows shot through their skulls, innocent women are sacrificed and Lara even trudges her way through a river of blood.
Lara’s latest adventure takes her and her crew aboard the Endurance to the Dragon’s Triangle in search of the ancient kingdom of Yamatai. After the Endurance is destroyed by a supernatural storm, Laura must survive the treacherous land of Yamatai and save her teammates from being killed by the Salarii.
In the first half of the game, Lara starts off as a victim. It is pure horror. She is constantly being attacked by the enemy the Salrii, and the island that is frequently tearing itself apart. The story was excellent until Lara, out of nowhere, became a full-blown ruthless killer and began to mow down everything in her path. There wasn’t even any transition. It just happened and it detracts from the realism that the game was trying to portray.
Yamatai is gorgeous. A majority of the game incudes wet, soggy rainforests, lush daytime jungles and fluorescent caves. One of my favorite graphical aspects in Tomb Raider was the fire; it burned with a beautiful fluidity.
The gameplay has its ups and downs. This time around, Crystal Dynamics decided to make Tomb Raider into a sandbox title and it works. Players can quick travel via the game’s basecamp settlements or they can traverse the land on foot. Lara can also get around the island by climbing rock walls with her climbing axe and creating zip-lines with her bow and arrow. The zip-line feature is pretty cool seeing as the player can climb and jump down them whenever he or she pleases.
The majority of Lara’s mobility is based on her sole ability to perform crazy parkour stunts. Lara can jump from extremely high places and shrug it off with a roll. She can also swing off poles and vertically hanging flags to move across small ravines.
Every gun has its own unique feel. The bow feels powerful but stealthy, while the handgun is slightly more robust. Lara can also use her climbing axe to perform brutal takedowns, which are absurdly gruesome. There is a stealth aspect in Tomb Raider but it usually falls flat because Lara is forced to fight every enemy she sees.
The shooting sequences are rough but addicting. The problem with the shootout sequences is that the A.I. is too good. They will know where Lara is no matter the setting. Enemies without night vision goggles should not be able to see Lara when she is hiding in the Jungle in a pitch-black setting. If the player can’t see the enemy, the enemy should not be able to see the player. They also seem to be able to perfectly land molotov cocktails on Lara when she is 30 feet away from them. They never miss. It is ridiculous and unrealistic.
Players can upgrade Lara’s weapons and moves via the base camp. She has three sets of skills that the player can upgrade: survivor skills, hunter skills and brawler skills. Each upgrade acts a perk; the player does not necessarily need them but they are good to have. To purchase the upgrades, the player must obtain skill points by killing animals, enemies and completing challenges from around the island. In theory, the whole system sounds complicated but is actually quite simple. During the course of the game, the system runs its course smoothly and it never interferes with the gameplay.
Players can also upgrade Lara’s weapons. Each weapon, excluding the climbing axe, has ten upgrades. The weapon upgrades are the most helpful because they add adversity to the weapons and make them stronger. To upgrade the weapons, players must collect salvage and weapon parts from around the island. Salvage is very easy to find because it is sprinkled throughout the island. Some of the best weapon upgrades came from the bow, which had exploding and napalm arrows.
There is so much to do in ancient Yamatai. While on the island, players can locate new checkpoints, documents, relics, GPS caches, treasure maps, raid tombs and complete numerous mini side-quests. Once the player collects everything on the island, the single-player portion is basically over.
Crystal Dynamics was also kind enough to provide Tomb Raider with a multiplayer section. The section has four modes: rescue, team death match, cry for help and free for all. Rescue and cry for help are the two original modes and they are fun. The only problem is that the servers contain way too much lag and it interrupts the experience. With only four modes and ok servers, the multiplayer honestly feels like a rushed after-thought.
Tomb Raider is great in some aspects and lack luster in others. It’s a very on and off kind of game. It’s a step in the right direction but not the Tomb Raider of my dreams.