Tomb Raider (PS3) Review – Some of my favourite gaming memories were formed playing the original Tomb Raider. Everything about it resonated with me to a point where I could overlook its flaws and just focus in on what made it so special. It is fitting then that the origin story of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider captures that same special feel. But for very different reasons. Tomb Raider of old this isn’t.
The story surrounds the secrets of a lost Japanese kingdom, but while this serves to drive Lara’s objectives on her adventure, her growth as a character is most certainly a deliberate focus for the developer. From her first kill to her last, Lara is taken on a journey from young inexperienced academic to battle-ready hardened adventurer. And the transition is handled incredibly well for the most part. She struggles against nature, against stronger, faster enemies and against the realisation that being a killer comes all to easy once a weapon is in your hand. While most definitely not a weak character at the beginning, it is easy to come away feeling like you’ve experienced a life-changing passage in Lara’s life. Of course this is all caveated by the fact that some of this genesis has to be sped up for the benefit of crafting a decent gameplay experience. But what you come away with is an understanding of the human will to survive.
Tomb Raider simply delivers one of the best gameplay experiences you’ll find. Everything about the game just felt like it had been crafted just for me. The exploration, while not featuring as heavily as it had in prior games, is addictive and encourages you to look in every nook and cranny of the environment. It even encourages revisiting areas once tools and abilities are acquired later in the game to get to areas that can’t be reached earlier in the game. And with the very basic levelling system collecting relics, journals and scrap all help to level both Lara and her weapons up, giving you that added incentive to keep an eye out for hidden nooks. Not that I needed that extra push – as a fan of Japanese folklore and architecture, the game’s environments were a real treat, and felt organic in a way that most games just don’t. The natural features were as stunning as the derelict man made wreckages to form a strangely beautiful and functional world, and the handful of optional tombs were suitably atmospheric and felt stale and untouched. All of this led to the sense that the game was taking place in a real location that over the course of the game you will come to know intimately, making you want to stay in the world as long as possible just to soak it all in. While moving forward was always the objective it wasn’t without stopping to smell the roses along the way.
Exploration has always been a key part of what makes Tomb Raider games so enjoyable and so while it is fantastic that it does this better than almost every game out there, including its own lineage, it is the combat that is truly the star of the show. It may seem high praise, like I’m riding the Lara Croft high, but I feel that the latest Tomb Raider game outshines every other third person shooter I have played. The limited set of upgradeable weapons carry a decent weight to them and prove satisfying to use throughout the duration of the game, and enemies don’t take super human amounts of damage before going down. The cover system is equally intuitive, which automatically moves Lara into any cover to avoid incoming fire but doesn’t ‘stick’ Lara to any surfaces making it incredibly easy to move in and out of cover while taking opportunistic shots at the enemy. The melee combat, particularly the counter system, is also simple but effective, and later in the game becomes vital to seeing off stronger well-armoured enemies. In tandem all of these mechanics make each and every enemy encounter something special. Lara is still the adventurer she was in games of old, but don’t be fooled, Tomb Raider is essentially a very well-polished third person shooter.
The new Lara is younger, more naive and more innocent. But she is also more interesting and I can’t wait to see where Crystal Dynamics take the character next. I never really completely fell off of the Tomb Raider wagon, but the new game has lifted my expectations and excitement for future games featuring Lara Croft to new heights. How long has it been since you’ve been able to say that?
Follow me on twitter – @oldgaulian