It’s not often I find myself in a position to make a u-turn on my feelings for a game when I’ve already played some of it and wasn’t keen.
Here’s the main part of my comments on Tomb Raider having played a section at the Eurogamer Expo last September:
“I know I joked about it previously but if you only have an XBox 360 and haven’t played the Uncharted games then you’ll love this. Sadly for me, while it plays well, Tomb Raider is just a clone of Uncharted. Hopefully the story will lift this above that status.”
Perhaps a busy exhibition floor wasn’t the most suitable place to experience the game because within 10 minutes of starting Tomb Raider at home I was impressed.
Graphically the game looks pretty amazing, with good character models and some great lighting and fire effects. Lara’s movement is fairly smooth and animations for both the good guys and enemies are nicely done.
Crystal Dynamics have delivered on their promise of a reboot for Lara Croft. Gone is the Lara of old with the wonky body shape and in her place is a more realistic Lara, both in terms of appearance and character. As a wannabe archaeologist Lara is not a trained hunter/killer and is still wet behind the ears after coming out of college/university.
The opening few hours are definitely the strongest here – Tomb Raider is at its best during tense moments with just one or two enemies. With Lara coming to grips with the fact she’s going to need to do whatever it takes to survive. It’s been talked about a lot but her first kill is handled perfectly.
Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for Lara to start mowing down 10 or 20 enemies at a time. And it jars more here than it does with something like Uncharted. Possibly because of the tone of the game, I’m not sure but I think if they could’ve found a more creative way to deal with this it could’ve made this one of the best games out there.
The answer isn’t immediately apparent – maybe keep adding new enemy types to keep things fresh but keep the fighting to small skirmishes with just one or two enemies. And then keep that 25 enemy fight for the end of the game? Possibly they could’ve incorporated the great optional tomb puzzles as main quests?
Regardless, on a personal level at least, using the bow for the most part (Lara had studied Archery) and guns as a last resort enabled the disconnect to not be too serious for me.
Jason Graves (of Dead Space fame) delivers once again with the score and incidental music – this is one of the better scores I’ve heard this year so far. The voice acting is strong and it’s nice to hear so many different local UK accents in one place!
There will no doubt be the inevitable comparisons between Tomb Raider and Uncharted but I think they are different beasts – for now at least. Lara’s origin story is gritty and harrowing. For the most part she is alone, fighting to get her friends back. Nathan Drake spends a lot of time with Sully/Elena/Chloe and that brings with it the opportunity for a few wisecracks and conversation.
In fact the part of the game that felt like Uncharted-lite was the multiplayer – not bad in any sense but the addition of traps isn’t enough to differentiate this from Naughty Dog’s superb online offering. As I said at the top there, if you only have an XBox then you may love this online as it’s different to most stuff out there on the 360.
Overall though Tomb Raider is a fantastic game. There are a few annoying difficulty spikes here and there but that’s par for the course in most games. Lots of action packed set pieces and climbing/falling moments raise the bar but it’s the quieter moments in Lara’s journey that really struck a chord with me. Considering I wasn’t massively psyched for the game it’s nice to genuinely recommend it as one of 2013′s best offerings so far.