Hands On – Tomb Raider
I haven’t played Tomb Raider extensively, in a meaningful way, since the original. I’ve put in no more than an hour in to each with the exception of Tomb Raider Underworld which I put a solid 7 or 8 hours in to. Having enjoyed at least a few of the previous games really made me want to like a Tomb Raider game. Thank goodness Tomb Raider(2013) delivers!
Lets start with the visuals. This game is gorgeous! I’d probably classify it as a true next gen game. Even on my AMD A10 with an AMD Radeon 7660G GPU on medium settings the visuals are stunning. Expansive draw distances are everywhere and managed with no visible popping or anything of the sort. The set pieces in the game take that huge draw distance and fill them with huge, high, beautiful terrain. The attention to detail is off the charts. Not only is the game beautiful earning it that “next gen” title but there is new technology at play with things like TressFX and the Crystal Engine in general. TressFX will destroy your performance unless you are running a beast of a graphics card so flip it on, see how it runs, and then flip it back off if your system can’t handle it. Crystal understands that they’ve thrown some new tech at you and has graciously included a benchmark in the game so you can play with settings and get a feel for what your hardware can handle.
Game play rests heavily on the concepts and foundation laid down by the likes of Uncharted and of course earlier Tomb Raider games. None of that is a bad thing. While Uncharted’s some what awkward stumbling, loose footing feels a bit heavy and maybe slow at times most of Laura’s trips, stumbles and frequent falls feel lighter and faster. If that is supposed to be indicative of the characters different size and weight that’s fine but the pace and weight of Laura’s bumblings result in a much tighter well controlled experience. Speaking of a tight well controlled experience the shooting in the game is beautiful. It doesn’t float, Laura changes stance and grip on weapons based on the cover available and her own stance at the time(sneaking vs. upright). While I’m sure some shooter fans, tactical shooter fans no doubt, want more control over the character these auto adjustments really make the game fun. It frees you to spend less time figuring out how to approach enemies and more time looking at the environment that those enemies are in. As mentioned above its such a beautiful environment!
The story is not unlike many ship wreck stories told so many times except that the setting is some what unique for video games. That is an island that is decidedly Japanese filled with rich Japanese style and a hint of world war 2 artifacts that succeeds at both feeling real and yet fantastical at the same time. This is an island that isn’t just difficult to find but one that has been inhabited by both descendants of those Japanese souls that resided there so long ago as well as previous survivors of both boat and plane wrecks over the many years since the island was lost. The story is ultimately an intricate interweaving of both survival but also discovery of the secrets contained on the island. This is pulled off VERY well! You are sucked in to this world and want badly for both Laura and her friends to survive. At the same time you crave finding out whats in the next room or over the next hill.
Multiplayer runs in the vein of some of the Tom Clancy games or the the likes of Uncharted. This is in no way a bad thing. The same solid shooting from the game makes it’s way in to the multiplayer and a wealth of unlockables for character skins, weapons and weapon attachments. Everything is up to snuff. The only real points I could dock Tomb Raider comes in the form of a lack of multiplayer maps. There are 4 or 5 game modes but only a grand total of 5 or 6 maps including the one currently downloadable. Some of these maps also appear to be ready made for particular game types. I played several games of death-match and every game was the same map. I also played quite a few rounds of the supplies game type and only experienced 2 maps. Sadly this makes multiplayer rather repetitive. As of this writing a new map pack has been released on the Xbox 360 but wasn’t showing up for the PC version yet. Hopefully it’s a large number of maps to make the multiplayer experience a truly well rounded experience.
While other reviewers have nit picked how these elements play out or are integrated they seem to miss the fact that they then point at the game as a whole and call it a great game. This is because all the elements are measured appropriately. To use a food analogy the ingredients are individually delicious and leave you wanting more of each but when you put them together you eat them up like a fat kid eats cake. Having the craving for more is not a bad thing.
All in all this game is spectacular. I highly recommend it to any one who fondly remembers Tomb Raider or if you’re just after a grand adventure game that will have you climbing to the top of a radio towers on top of a mountain and then climbing to the depths of a dank tomb.