Tomb Raider PC Review: A Real Hero is Reborn
I’ve never been a real fan of Tomb Raider. Whether it was because I missed the series in its heyday or what, Lara Croft always felt like a thinly veiled attempt at monetizing nerd boners that never really appealed to me.
But I’ve been watching the run-up to the release of Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider reboot with a lot of interest. Everything about the way the game was described excited me, from its darker tone to its forced-to-survive protagonist. That lessened some with previews and flubbed PR messaging (“You’ll want to protect Lara” and the whole sexual assault-as-character-development-thing), but I’ve still been waiting and hoping that Tomb Raider would be the kind of action-adventure game that would speak to a more adult player than the original games ever managed to access.
Playing Tomb Raider for the last few days has been, I’m happy to report, a complete joy. This is the kind of game whose play sessions stretch from a quick 30 minutes into those bleary 3:30 a.m. what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-me moments. It’s the kind of game that you find making your eyes hurt, and you realize with some embarrassment that the issue is you haven’t been blinking enough. It’s the perfect culmination of everything we had hoped Tomb Raider would be, from its amazing set pieces to its reimagined, believable, heroic and admirable protagonist. Tomb Raider is simply a blast to play from start to finish.
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: March 5, 2013
Every time Lara bounces off the side of a mountain, it reminds us that she’s not a magical messiah of video game ass-kickery. She succeeds through pure force of will. And more game developers could take a lesson from her characterization.
Tomb Raider goes from zero to 60 in a matter of roughly seconds — starting with a shipwreck that strands Lara at a distance from the rest of the crew on a large tropical island in what’s known as the Dragon’s Triangle. Lara is more or less leading an expedition to find an island nation called Yamatai, an off-shoot from mainland Japan that stands as a civilization lost to the ages. Along with her comes family friend and ship captain Roth, her film student pal Sam, a handful of folks who work on the boat, and a weasely fellow archaeologist who acts as the on-camera face of the expedition. But its Lara’s info that takes them to that particular island, and it’s Lara’s story from here on out.
Things go crazy almost immediately, with Tomb Raider filling in the backstory as it goes. Right after washing up on shore, Lara finds herself in the strange cave-hovel of what is ostensibly a crazy hermit, and she spends the next 10 or so minutes realizing that she’s in serious trouble. Escaping from that guy through a series of quick-time events and smashy boulders, Lara finds herself totally outmatched — it’s only through luck and flailing that she gets out alive.
That doesn’t last, however. Tomb Raider is a game of challenges, both for Lara’s survival and for the player. Before long, she’s setting fires and hunting, lest she die. After that, it’s off to find the rest of her crew, lest she die, and skirting the island’s other inhabitants, lest she die. As she discovers paths through the island and weapons left over from others who have been trapped there, she gains new skills and abilities, but it’s a slow and arduous process for the most part. Every time Lara adopts a new skill that makes her a more capable fighter, hunter, climber or seeker, it’s immediately felt in gameplay in such a way that it feels as though we’re growing stronger alongside Lara. It’s a pretty remarkable thing that a game can use a tried-and-true system of adding new abilities to a character in such a way that it feels natural and important to character growth.