Tomb Raider PS3 Review
I’ve never been a fan of the Tomb Raider series. During the jump from 2D to 3D back in the 90, games went through a weird phase, causing a number of issues for player and camera movement. The first couple of Tomb Raider games are a prime example of these problems, which really took away from the experience, annoying players instead of entertaining them – although, I did enjoy a few of the newer games in the franchise, namely the twin-stick adventure Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and what little I played of Underworld. Still, I never thought I’d be excited for a Lara Croft return… until E3 2011 when I sat wide-eyed, jaw-to-the-floor for the entirety of Tomb Raider’s release trailer. It simply blew me away with the new, younger design of Lara and showing the darker, more dangerous side of her adventures. I was amazed but I knew that the game itself could never live up to the trailer. Yet, once again, I was in awe as I watched them play the live demo and observed how drastically the franchise had changed, taking a turn for the best. For almost two years, I waited in complete anticipation to get my hands on the game and became even more eager with each new trailer or bit of information revealed. I was not disappointed.
The game starts fast, throwing you into the deep end just like Lara herself. There’s very little about the story learnt at the beginning and you are lost for some time with only one objective – survive. As you slowly make your way through underground caverns full of traps and simple puzzles, the atmosphere draws you in with its subtlety. Each little noise sends your heart racing just as much as the quick action sequences and escapes. The game is tense and you begin to connect with Lara as she mumbles her scared, self-consoling words. It was in these dark moments, searching every corner with a dim torch, that you begin to understand Lara and just how she’s feeling. Eventually you make your way out into the open, and as Lara looks out from the mountainside, across the island, you know it’s only the beginning of a great adventure. The whole opening is brilliant, reminding me of last year’s Far Cry 3 opening, but not quite as insane.
You soon find a bow and begin to hunt a deer for food. Using a skill called Survival Instinct, you can check your surroundings for anything useful, including items, enemies or wildlife, which later becomes invaluable. This is how the majority of the game plays – hunting things or fighting your way through waves of enemies. Although the tense crawling around caves of enemies and searching old tombs does return, it is only between the huge, action-packed chapters. After a little more exploring around a few of the smaller open areas, you are captured and forced to kill to escape. This is where Lara becomes a master – the art of killing. Only a short while after mentioning that she hopes she isn’t turned into a murderer, she later goes on to explain that she wasn’t scared by her first killing but in fact, “It’s scary just how easy it was.” This is definitely a good thing because she will be killing a lot more – a hell of a lot more. She’ll kill with a variety of different arrows, a number of explosives and guns, and even with her trusty climbing pickaxe (ouch!). The whole game shows you how she grows as a survivor, doing anything to come out on top. It’s dark, morbid and really lets you see into Lara as she becomes a relentless killer who is desperately clinging to her morals.
The fighting parts are normally presented in two ways. Firstly, you can take a stealth approach, distracting distant guards and taking each one out when they are away from the pack. Secondly, you aren’t really given a choice and must fight your way through a barrage of oncoming enemies to progress. Many times, taking out a group of guards silently is way too easy and you can just pop them off one at a time with a single shot of your bow per person. It mostly doesn’t even need to be a headshot – although, if you are sighted, it quickly becomes a firefight anyway. The mechanics are nice and simple – you can take cover and you can shoot. The enemy AI impressed me as they were always sending grenades my way to push me out of cover and many enemies even try to rush you down, forcing you to think fast and dispose of them effectively. I noticed that although it’s not so hard to take out the enemies; it’s fairly easy to die. A few shots from a guard can take you out quickly, but this only happens when you get too close or can’t get into cover soon enough.
Not only is the world beautiful and full of vast backgrounds, but it’s also extremely traversable. Almost anything that you see, you can climb, and it’s incredible easy and smooth. Every time you leap off something, Lara reaches out to grab a hold of anything nearby, often saving you. You can take high falls, scale walls and generally navigate around with little effort. It’s not overly accurate, allowing for long jumps and satisfying manoeuverability. As you progress through the game, you’ll always be stumbling upon new weapons, upgrades and new items altogether. These help you roam the world and are mostly required to move forward. Although it adds a little more to the climbing and adventuring portions of the game, there were only a few cases of me spotting an area I couldn’t get to and had to go back later to reach. For the most part, you can always reach everything you can see, but need these special tools for the actual story to advance.
There’s also a number of upgrades for Lara and her weapon stats. By collecting treasure, killing anything you see and raiding tombs (yes, you raid several tombs, even after Lara ironically says “I hate tombs”), you gain experience. Becoming more and more popular in action-adventure games, the RPG system of leveling up a character and rewarding them with extra powers and strength is always welcome. It gives you something to strive for as you play the game. For example, many people wouldn’t want to scour every inch of a new area looking for hidden items, but if finding these items rewards them with stronger firepower or faster climbing, they have a reason to search. Personally, I loved finding the items because each one has a story. There are a number of diaries from each character laid around that help you get a bit closer to understanding them. Then there’s the treasures. When you find a treasure, Lara explains what she thinks it might be, and often you can rotate them revealing a hidden meaning and having Lara explain a little more. It’s just interesting to find these weird objects from all over the earth and from different time periods; it makes you feel like an explorer.
The story itself constantly borrows from the Uncharted series, which is certainly a good thing. Merging ancient myth and unknown magic, the story is based on the Sun Queen. The story is that she ruled Japan with her beauty and ruthlessness, controlling even the weather itself. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that you can’t escape the island without confronting the leader of the enemy troops and finally uncovering the truth behind the Sun Queen’s reign. There’s mystical elements shown throughout that not even the opposing Sun Queen worshipers are sure of. Crazy weather will send you crashing down heavy rapids, have you parachuting over a beautiful forest scene, and will smash you into obstacles as you make your way to the Sun Queen’s tomb. There’s also number of huge, frantic interactive scenes where you must control Lara to avoid obstacles and escape a variety of insane dangers. There are two types of interactions during these sequences. Firstly, there’s almost full control where you must move Lara and occasionally shoot out blockades to safely pass. The other interactive parts are simple quick-time events which require you to either hit a number of buttons in order, or quickly hit just one button. The quick-time events are unforgivingly fast and can happen anytime, often surprising you and forcing you to watch a gruesome death scene.
Unfortunately, every character besides Lara comes off as two-dimensional. You never spend enough time with anybody to really get to know them, but the game still expects you to connect and feel for them. In the cast of Lara’s friends there are the veterans, the geek, the friendly giant, the selfish one and the pessimist. You just can’t get more cliché. Each one of them acts exactly how you’d imagine them to, even if the game makes it out to be some kind of big change for the pessimist to come around eventually. There’s no surprises or character plot devices, and I could tell what was going to happen way in advance of it happening, even with the enemies. The only twists you’ll encounter are story-based, and even then they were fairly transparent. It was the smaller things that pulled me in – the ledges that suddenly break, the falls that Lara takes and all the horrible injuries she sustains. These are what created the magnificent experience that continued throughout the game.
Once I’d completed the game, I returned to the camps where I’d missed a few things, thanks to the use of fast travel. It took a few extra hours of exploring and an enormous amount of survival instinct uses to finally collect everything, but it was fun. I didn’t think I’d collect every little item when playing through the story, but going back and exploring was a different experience. It doesn’t require your full attention and it was fun to just roam around – although, enemies don’t spawn often and you will only see two or three in the biggest of areas. This is extremely annoying when trying to acquire trophies that are unlocked by killing enemies in a certain way. Without the option of a New Game+, it means that you must start the entire game again, reach the part where you receive the required weapon and then try to get the trophy again, which simply takes too long. I would have definitely liked at least one area to spawn enemies after the game had been completed, even if it was the stronger, samurai armour-wearing Stormguards.
The multiplayer, I didn’t particularly enjoy. Although it’s nice to see an online game that isn’t a generic shooter, it didn’t always work very well. At one point the matchmaking had me, a Level 6, fighting four high-level players. That’s right: 4-on-1. Needless to say, I got destroyed, especially since the game mode required me to slowly move a package from point A to point B, meaning I needed people to cover me. As it was near-impossible for me to accomplish my mission, it basically deteriorated into me trying to get as many kills as possible before inevitably being ganged up on and maimed, although when the matchmaking didn’t mess up I did have fun. Setting traps and scaling walls to hide from your enemies is pretty awesome and getting a headshot with a bow from across the battlefield makes you feel like a true adventurer. One thing I noticed is that the melee pickaxe is terribly overpowered. I killed a number of people by running circles around then mashing the attack button, which they probably didn’t appreciate. In all, if I was sure that I wouldn’t be waiting 10−15 minutes just to get a 10-minute game, I could see myself playing a whole lot more of the Tomb Raider’s multiplayer, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. I was constantly waiting for people to join and jumping into a quick game always threw me into games with less than two minutes left.
The reboot is a complete success. I enjoyed every second of the single-player campaign, from the huge sequences to the little moments that are integrated perfectly with the gameplay. Lara Croft has been given a second chance, reborn as a character that can finally be taken seriously and connected with. The multiplayer is heading in the right direction, but has room for improvement with the matchmaking and variety of game types. It’s clear, as you see Lara dual-wield pistols in her classic stance, that they’ve waved goodbye to the original games, making way for the future. I’m sure we’ll see more of this series soon and I can’t wait to see what it has to offer. After all, I’ve never been a big fan of the Tomb Raider series… but now I am.