Tomb Raider Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC
Tomb Raider Box Art
System: Xbox 360*, PS3, PC
Dev: Crystal Dynamics
Pub: Square Enix
Release: March 5, 2013
Players: 1 Player, Online 2-8
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood and Gore Intense Violence Strong Language
Will To Survive
by Joshua Bruce

Reboots aren’t always the best things for longtime fans. Often, they end up as nothing more than re-skinned versions of outdated formulas. Other times, developers just can’t seem to bring the characters back to life in a believable or dynamic way. Most commonly, though, reboots are just sad attempts at resurrecting dead gaming franchises simply because the developers have run out of fresh ideas. Thankfully, Tomb Raider doesn’t suffer from any of these pitfalls.

Our tale of hardship and survival begins in the Dragon’s Triangle, a stretch of the Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Japan similar to the Bermuda Triangle, at the beginning of Lara Croft’s blossoming archeological career. The crew of a ship called the Endurance is in search of the mythical island of Yamatai, the ancient home of Himiko the Sun Queen.

In the opening sequence, the Endurance turns further East and deeper into the Triangle at the urging of the young and eager Lara. Depending on your perspective, this was either exceptionally brilliant or colossally ignorant on Lara’s part, because they do, in fact, find their fabled island. However, the Endurance (despite its ironic name) is quickly torn in two by an unnaturally violent storm, forcing the crew to abandon ship.

Tomb Raider Screenshot

After being knocked out cold by an unknown assailant, Lara awakes to find herself bound and hanging upside down in a bleak underground cave of some sort. The stage is set for one of the most spectacular and terrifying escape sequences that a gaming heroine has ever had to traverse. It’s frantic and blindsiding, and it brilliantly sets the tone of the game at a full sprint.

Emerging on the island, Lara finds herself on a cliff face, looking out on a bay full of wrecked ships with no idea of where to go or what to do. For just a split second, the player feels exactly how Lara must feel, lost and alone. Crystal Dynamics managed to create a moment here that cannot be ignored, forcing players to connect with the character on a basic level of uncertainty and fear.

Tomb Raider Screenshot

A shivering and hungry Lara finds shelter and starts a small fire, introducing a core gameplay element. While warming yourself around a campfire, you can assign skill points to one of three unique skill sets: survivalist, hunter, or brawler. Each skill set has three tiers that can only be unlocked once a certain amount of skills have been attained. The skills get progressively more powerful, and you’ll eventually acquire skills you’ll wish you’d had the entire game, like Cartography, which shows you the location of all the collectibles in the game on your map.

Lara can also upgrade her weapons with salvage she has found from around the island. Through salvage gathering, you can upgrade your weapons with accuracy, damage, and reload enhancements, as well as different projectile types for different situations. Believe me, you will need them all. This becomes decidedly important as the game progresses, ultimately leading to some serious hardware.

Tomb Raider Screenshot

For example, Lara’s signature bow works flawlessly and feels natural in the island environment. Even though I eventually found much more powerful weapons, I still went back to the bow because of its versatility and sheer awesomeness. You can make rope bridges with it to help traverse large canyons and cliff faces, upgrade it to shoot fire arrows, and ultimately (my favorite) upgrade to explosive arrows.

In terms of gameplay, Tomb Raider definitely seems to be a love letter to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, emulating the successful acrobatic-archaeologist formula that has been brought to life by Nathan Drake. To be fair, though, the original Tomb Raider series was an obvious inspiration for Uncharted, so inspiration comes full-circle here.

Still, Tomb Raider does an extraordinary job of separating itself from its counterpart by taking place in a living and breathing open world, with an entire island to explore. It is entirely possible to sprint through the storyline without getting bogged down by the many extras the game provides, which should take roughly eight to ten hours. But why would you? There are plenty of hidden tombs to locate and additional puzzles to solve, which are throwbacks to former Tomb Raider titles. There’s nothing like rushing to the aid of an injured companion, only to stumble upon a secret tomb and taking thirty minutes to explore its wonders. I’m sure that companion will be just fine for a little longer, right?

The additional tombs and optional areas have brought back an element that a lot of recent games have been shying away from: timing. This was prevalent in former Tomb Raider titles, where players were forced to time a jump just right to hit a moving platform or pull levers in a certain sequence and run for an unlocked door. In this title, there are a healthy amount of hair-pulling puzzles that take not just logical thinking and true problem-solving skills, but also adept player control and character skill mastery.

Another important gameplay mechanic here is Instinct Mode. This is designed to help you visualize Lara’s instincts, pointing you in the right direction or showing you where points of interest are on screen whenever activated. This can be invaluable when you get turned around, because Instinct Mode displays a directional marker pointing you toward your next objective or showing you points of interest in a puzzle you may have overlooked.

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