It’s been a while, but I’m happy to be writing another review. Even before I started playing Tomb Raider there was a lot riding on it, this was my first new game in a while and I was a desperate to find a game to somewhat fill the void left by Uncharted. Did it deliver? Let’s find out.
I shall briefly outline the plot, we find Lara Croft and friends stranded on the mysterious island of Yamatai, an island dominated by storms making escape impossible and forcing Lara to discover its secrets. Perhaps the most significant fact about this game’s narrative is that it is set during a time in which Lara Croft has yet to become the famous Tomb Raider and the player sees her forced to adapt to events of the island and being the journey to becoming that infamous heroine. It is also worth noting a number of people believe this plot could be used if the Tomb Raider film franchise also gets a reboot in future.
I will begin be addressing something of the elephant in the room, a criticism often levelled at this game, is essentially a reskin of Uncharted. The opposite is even true to a point, during its development Uncharted was rather affectionately nicknamed ‘Dude Raider’. Now I’m not going to try and argue that similarities don’t exist between the two games, I’ll admit a few sequences in Tomb Raider got me thinking, this reminds me of Uncharted. The most obvious example being the now almost cliché, walking on a bridge/platform and part of it breaks putting you in danger sequence. However this fact shouldn’t be used to devalue the achievements of Square Enix, the similarities exist as both games sit with the action-adventure genre, which many will argue that Uncharted helped bring back into the spotlight, thus tropes of the genre are almost guaranteed to appear in both series. Want more proof? Recent footage of the upcoming Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End shows for the first time Nathan Drake equipped with a grappling hook, while admittedly not present in the Square Enix iteration the grappling hook has been a long standing feature of the Tomb Raider franchise.
However if you dig a little deeper into Tomb Raider you’ll start to realise there are stark differences compared to Uncharted. First and foremost is the sense of depth of the game as a whole. Don’t get me wrong I love Uncharted but it’s somewhat difficult to argue it as little more as a run and gun platforming game. I feel that the sense of depth comes from the more open and exploratory nature of Tomb Raider versus the somewhat linear progression of Uncharted. If you want to look for them there are albeit not very well hidden ‘secret tombs’ in Tomb Raider not to the extent of previous instalments of the franchise but they’re there. Testament to this is the fact that even with a pretty decent amount of exploring I finished the story with only 61% completion, if you want it there’s more to do in Tomb Raider than meets the eye. Speaking of tombs, I will just briefly touch on the puzzle elements of this game. Puzzles played a major role in the original Tomb Raider series as well as the first reboot beginning with Tomb Raider: Legend. Conversely the 2013 iteration lacks puzzles in the traditional sense, instead going for a more lateral thinking approach. Basically the answer of open a door is not hidden, it’s in plain sight you just have to approach it in the right way. A great example is at one point having to move a hook around overhead lines to open a door. You start thinking, if I pull it over there does that mean I will be able to get it back over there?. I should stress these are often rather simple and people with the right sort of mind will solve it in two seconds, it’s just another little thing adding to the overall depth of Tomb Raider. The ‘secret tombs’ do help to increase this game’s puzzle credentials, I’m very much glad they’re a feature as it shows despite being a reboot the developers haven’t forgot the heritage of the Tomb Raider franchise. Although this is one area that is perhaps in need of expansion in the sequel.
Secondly (this is an area I normally don’t discuss) the character development is another clear difference between the two. Playing Tomb Raider really put Uncharted into perspective to me, looking back Nathan Drake as a character seems a little shallow, known mainly for just witty remarks and sarcasm. Contrast this with the Tomb Raider-in training we have with Lara Croft, this might just be me or it might just be good storytelling but it really felt that as the game progressed so did Lara, she became battle hardened, in fact to quote the final image of the game, “A Survivor is Born”. There is also a much greater sense of progression in Tomb Raider, it managed to do the thing every good game does, just when you think you’ve mastered everything it chucks a new mechanic or weapon to keep you on your toes. Compare this to Uncharted, which to my mind had little if no progression of this kind. Frankly my only example is learning to throw back grenades about half way through Uncharted 3 and honestly that’s such a major combat mechanic I think it should have been there from the start.
That rather nicely brings me on to my next segment, let’s look at some of the gameplay mechanics in more detail. Firstly we’ll start with ‘Survival Instincts’ tap L2 or equivalent at any point and the world turns black and white with key objects that you need glowing, it will also show you a compass point marking where you need to go. From what I’ve seen two major criticisms have been levelled at it. Firstly it appears to be a blatant copy of Assassin’s Creed’s ‘Eagle Vision’ and secondly the compass mark shouldn’t be in an adventure game because they should be about exploring and finding out the way by yourself. My response to this? Well first I’d say if it really bothers you don’t use it, unlike ‘Eagle Vision’ it’s not a necessary part of the game, it’s simply there to aid you if needed. Furthermore I don’t think it’s the worst thing for one developer to be inspired by another, Square Enix is basically saying to Ubisoft, well done we like your idea. Otherwise what would’ve happened is the developers would have been so obsessed with distancing themselves from established mechanics that their new mechanic would be something that probably wouldn’t work and would just annoy you. Secondly the compass issue, yes it does somewhat go against the spirit of the genre, but let’s look at this practically, one of the worst things I feel that can happen in any game is that you have no idea where to go next and you’re just stuck going in circles, features like this just give you a nudge in the right direction so you never end up in that situation.
Next up we come to the ‘Salvage’ system. Salvage is the system used to upgrade your weapons throughout the game, for example it may cost 200 salvage to upgrade your pistol to improve its accuracy. Salvage is gained through the looting of corpses and the breaking of boxes scattered around the map. In theory bar one occasion you don’t have to do this, however if you don’t you’ll also miss the chance to collect weapon parts which allow you to completely overhaul and improve your weapon. Secondly it helps to inject a sense of exploration into the game, furthermore the perfect balance was found with the position of extra boxes, not so close that you don’t have to stray from the game’s main path and yet not so far that you think, I really can’t be bothered going all that way. For me collecting in games can be very hit and miss, the charm and aesthetic of LEGO games means I found collecting in those games fun and not in any way a chore. In most other games however, Uncharted included I don’t really bother as doing it often serves little purpose beyond gaining achievements. Thus I think it should be seen as proof of quality that this game got me obsessed with exploring and collecting. It is worth nothing that footage of this game’s upcoming sequel Rise of The Tomb Raider shown at E3 2015, highlighted that the salvage system has been expanded into a full crafting system meaning particular items are needed for a particular purpose, i.e. leaves are needed as part of a health pack, something to look forward to perhaps.
Lastly we have the ’Skill Point’ system, of course this is nothing new to anyone whose played an RPG but a rare thing in a game of this genre. As you gain experience points through general progression and particular manoeuvres you gain skill points to ‘spend’ on a particular area. This is a welcome addition as it allows you to tailor Lara to suit your style, if you’re an explorer pick the upgrades that increase the XP or salvage you get. This also helps to contribute to the great sense of progression in the game, early on there is effectively no melee combat, all you have is the ability to dodge attacks. But if you spend your points right you can create a more melee focused Lara, allowing you to deliver timed attacks to stun enemies to be followed up with a melee ‘finisher’.
To stop this review sounding incredibly unbalanced I will mention one albeit incredibly minor criticism. I have never liked the fact that in 2 out of the 3 Uncharted games the final boss is basically a sequence of quick-time events. I prefer a more traditional boss battle in which you have a big enemy with lots of life that you have to kill in a small area testing all your skills. Did Tomb Raider deliver? Well sort of, I won’t spoil it but the penultimate fight in the game is a ‘traditional’ boss battle which then leads into the final boss which is once again mainly quick time events. My compliant? I wish those two fights were swapped round, the sense of satisfaction I got after a pretty gruelling battle during the penultimate fight made me feel I’d really been tested, I was then slightly annoyed that the final fight wasn’t much of a test at all. But as you can see this this is a very minor criticism in an otherwise nearly perfect game, and for all I know maybe a QTE final boss in just another trope of the action adventure genre…
Now sadly I’ve reached both the end of the game and this review, one of my best gaming experiences in a long while, from now on I’ll just be praying for Rise of the Tomb Raider to get its release date and perhaps even a rumoured PS3 release. Although if Rise turns out even half as good as the first it may be time to invest in a PS4.
Updates: As mentioned in my previous article, I did make an appearance on the One Track Gamers Podcast, talking a little about Tomb Raider and just having a fun discussion about games in general, give that a listen at www.onetrackgamers.com
As far is the blog is concerned, currently unsure what my next review will be. Although I do have a couple ideas for some other articles that may appear in the coming weeks so keep an eye of my Twitter (@AnotherGmgBlog) for details of those.
Tomb Raider is back, and it has managed to reclaim the crown of best action-adventure game, the ball is in your court Mr Drake… An absolute must-play, if you own a current or last gen console pick up a copy now.