A Pacific island with history from World War Two and ancient cultures. Old tombs and ruins to explore. Skills and weapon upgrading system. Wild animals to hunt. Fast travel between camps. Am I talking about Far Cry 3? No, this is the new Tomb Raider which while it might share a few ideas with Far Cry stands on its own two feet and heralds a new beginning for Lara.
Ms Croft begins the adventure as part of an expedition crew searching for a lost civilisation within the Dragon’s Triangle in the Pacific. The team is led by a once famous explorer, Dr Whitman who is seeking to restore his fortunes with a successful trip, Lara is a young adventurer hoping to establish herself and manages to persuade the crew to take the ship further into the Triangle. A storm mysteriously whips up and hits the ship sending it crashing into an island.
Lara finds herself swept onto a beach on her own where she is promptly taken and captured in a cave system. Her bad luck is just beginning really. When you finally get to control Lara and start to escape the cave. A few classic tricks are employed to start the escape by setting fire to ropes and pushing boulders around, this though is followed by a sequence of quick-time events to kill your captor (or was he really the captor, was he trying to help?) and exit the caves. These quick-time events are plentiful, cropping up at regular intervals during the game. On their own they don’t take away too much from the game, and their implementation in combat is actually quite enjoyable adding some variety. The shame is that there are alos many events whereby you lose all control of Lara where you would expect to be fully in control.
I can deal with QTE’s for the most part, and in Tomb Raider they are largely handled well, but times where all control is taken away really infuriate. These moments aren’t just during cut-scenes, it can happen when climbing ladders or just walking around different areas. There was one particular moment when you are scaling the sides of a ship being blasted apart by a heavy machine-gun where you lose control of Lara’s movement instantly ruining the tension of the scene. The very end of the game is also heavily populated with QTE’s and non-player control, while they serve to save us from the travesty of awful boss-fights, I would rather have some more control over what Lara is actually doing.
When you are in control things certainly improve and taking Lara around the environments is a breeze, but there is certainly a Uncharted feel to things. Climbing is easy, but routes are often clearly marked, some ledges are inexplicably covered in white paint letting you easily see where you can perform a wall jump to climb up a little bit higher.
While it makes it easy to explore and get around, it often lacks lacks a sense of adventure and daring-do as your path is so often clearly signposted. The risk and reward strategy of previous titles is sorely lacking during the main game. If you do find yourself stuck you can readily use Lara’s sixth sense, here called Survival Instinct. It is reminiscent of Arkham Asylum’s Detective Mode as it highlights collectibles and various surfaces and objects which are useful to progressing through an area.
For the large part I didn’t find this too offensive, but I do wish that the creativity found in the optional tombs you can explore was more prevalent in the main game. The tombs are some of the best moments in the game offering a degree of challenge not found in too many parts of the story. Timing the switching of various levers and using objects in the area to activate various systems are welcome brain teasers to keep you involved away from the exploration and combat.
You don’t need to engage your brain too much when it comes to fighting though as Tomb Raider adopts a pretty standard third-person cover-based shooter mechanic. Lara will automatically duck behind cover when you move towards it and you can then pop out when you aim with your weapons. As you get further into the game things become a bit more exciting in combat thanks to the various weapon upgrades you can use. The rope arrow is perhaps the best, I tried, and largely failed, many times to grab an enemy with the rope arrow and drag them off a ledge. A bit of sneaking around allows you to perform stealth take-downs and after upgrading your skills you can perform special finishers with your weapons when up close and personal.
Skills and upgrades are handled at various camps throughout the game, some of which also provide fast-travel camps in other areas. Lara will huddle around a camp fire (why she doesn’t find a coat at some points I don’t know) occasionally providing an internal monologue as the story permits. Different areas of the game have various numbers of collectibles to find which increase your XP along with wild animals to hunt. The documents you find add to the history of the island while relics and GPS caches add little to the game beyond XP pickups. They would perhaps be more involving if they weren’t marked on your map when you activate your Survival Instinct. Some areas though do have more secretive challenges such as stealing bird eggs or lighting a fire at a prayer point, these are definitely worth exploring the different open-world zones to complete.
As you level up you get skill points to increase Lara’s range of abilities in combat and exploration. You will also see yellow crates full of salvage and you can search the bodies of your enemies as well to pick up salvage. At camps you then use the salvage to upgrade your weapons. It is a system which certainly adds something to the game and helps chart Lara’s journey from innocent archaeologist to a hardened explorer. Her outfit also degrades over time and she appears more battered and bruised the further into the island you get.
The story which guides you through the game is relatively simple and you can predict what is going to happen and understand things before Lara seems to realise herself. The tale of Lara finding her identity is told quite well though with the help of the supporting characters. At heart though, the story largely feels like it is tacked on to provide a reason for the various set-pieces, some of which I admit are quite stunning.
Tomb Raider is a fine game and a welcome reboot for the franchise, you will find plenty to enjoy as you explore the island zone by zone. It is a semi-open world with some solid third-person combat with a certain ease to getting around the place. It isn’t a game to set the world on fire, but not every game is able to do that, it is just really quite enjoyable.
Verdict – Head Shot
Platforms Available – PC, 360, PS3
Platform Reviewed – PC
Steam key provided by publisher. Head here for details on our scoring system.