Tomb Raider PC Review: A Real Hero is Reborn

Tomb Raider nails this arc in Lara, to the point where I connected with her more than many — perhaps most — other heroes in games. She has a true progression as a character; it’s true that she goes through her first kill rather quickly, nearly retching for a second before moving on to start killing droves of enemies (I’ll not spoil what their deal is except to say that there are a lot of them, but paced well and presented in a lot of interestingly disparate scenarios), but we still get a sense of who she is. Lara starts the game by trying to reason with her attackers, and moves on to screaming triumphantly at them as they flee from her toward the end. An early sequence in which players must carefully sneak into a dark cave that serves as a wolf den is thick with danger, but by the end of the game, a pack of wolves is little to fear. Crystal Dynamics perfectly captures each of these challenges in moment-to-moment play such that there’s never a time when you feel like you’re more than a match for your enemies. Each challenge is perfectly suited to Lara at that moment, and they all feel like they add something to her abilities as a character.

The gameplay itself is smooth and crazily fun. There are elements of stealth, exploration and cover-based combat mixed throughout, but Crystal Dynamics does a great job with systems that other games better-known for them flounder to execute. The trick is that Tomb Raider knows what you’re doing, and through Lara, adjusts your gameplay. When there are enemies nearby as Lara is sneaking up on them, she drops into a crouch and automatically takes cover behind objects. When the danger passes, she’s up and ready to explore. The game knows when stealth is necessary and when you’re going to be climbing up rock walls and compensates perfectly. You don’t have to worry about throwing down combat rolls when you mean to stick to a wall because Crystal Dynamics has thrown that crap away, keeping every moment incredibly fluid. Every battle feels intuitive, every dodge feels harrowing, and most every execution kill feels well-earned.

While playing through Tomb Raider really was a great deal of fun, it’s not quite a perfect experience. Perhaps the biggest black mark against the game in general is that it’s too easy, especially when it comes to things like puzzles. Whenever Lara runs up against a puzzle, it’s usually a clever bit of level design that’s fun to look at and better to execute — but it’s over in a hurry. There are several “secret” tombs you can find and explore, and each amounts to a single room and a puzzle with a solution that’s usually pretty easily divined. Even through the course of the main adventure, it’s rare, if ever, that a puzzle really challenges. Combat does the job a little better, but if you spend the time searching through the game to find extra salvage and earn experience points, you’ll usually find that while you’re never overpowered for a scenario, you’re not precisely at a disadvantage, either.

Collectibles, too, feel like they take up way too much of Tomb Raider’s headspace. The game is absolutely brimming with crap you can pick up, and often it gives little back to the overall game experience. Lara can find journal entries that fill in backstory from a number of different characters, plus antiquities that add nothing to the story except to give Lara a chance to sound super-intelligent (which works for her, though), and GPS caches that do almost nothing until you collect a pretty large number of them, eventually rewarding you with some additional journal entries. The journals are at least interesting as you uncover more about the island, but the number of items around to collect would be an overwhelming and irritating contrivance if not for the character progression system. At least there’s a reward for all that crap you pick up.

That reward is the large number of improvements you can make to Lara and her equipment. Finding random parts for your weapons allows you to improve their capabilities, and gathering “salvage” can be applied to upgrades like fire arrows, lower recoil on your machine gun, and so forth. By the end, you’ll be carrying a veritable arsenal of military grade murder implements, made even better as Lara unlocks skills that suggest she’s becoming more proficient with them. By far the best are the stealth kill abilities that turn Lara from hunted into hunter, but all the improvements feel like you are earning the ability to be better at Tomb Raider, not to make it easier. The upgrades add new strategies and possibilities for the most part, although a few stray toward making Lara a little too awesome in a combat scenario.

It works because Crystal Dynamics never quite turns Lara into a superhero. There’s a ridiculous amount of violence in Tomb Raider, most of it executed against Lara. She gets her ass kicked more than John McClane ever did, but it works — in fact, it’s almost refreshing — because every time Lara bounces off the side of a mountain or takes a chunk of rebar to the abdomen, it reminds us that she’s human, mortal, fallible and not somehow a magical messiah of video game ass-kickery. She succeeds through pure force of will; she earns her ability to survive, fight, and triumph. And more game developers could take a lesson from her characterization.

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22 Comments on Tomb Raider PC Review: A Real Hero is Reborn


On March 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I’ve read several reviews, and all said the combat felt fluid and fairly natural. What stuck out though was how rediculously fast she turns from frightened school girl to a bad, head shooting momma. Not only is she incredably brutal, but she has moves that most military killing machines don’t even use. Then you talk about her showing she’s human by getting hurt, but that only last as long as the cut scene, because in no time she up and about slaughtering at will again with no slowdown, even after being run through.
Even with all this (if you can get past the rediculousness of it all) the game was fairly fun to play. I’m kinda on the fence with this one. It sounds interesting, but unsure if it’s worth the price of admission.


On March 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm

@TheDog. You just described 100 percent of the games out there. “Ridiculous” fits the bill comparing any video game to real life. I can easily look past all the “rediculous” in any video game and take it for what it is ,
Just a game. The real problem is the people that cant distinguish the difference between the two.
Maybe one day there will be a game thats not so rediculous and and mimic real life. Doubt it, be to boring.


On March 12, 2013 at 9:55 pm

@…and GPS caches that don’t do anything at all but hand over small amounts of experience points…

Oh, but they do if you collect them all. They open up two journals. From the story perspective that’s definitely “something”

Phil Hornshaw

On March 12, 2013 at 10:23 pm


Hope you don’t blame me for not tracking down every single GPS cache. I completed at least two sets and they didn’t yield a whole helluva lot. It’s still a huge amount of collectibles for very little story content. Most players will likely never track it down.

Phil Hornshaw

On March 12, 2013 at 10:41 pm


A lot of people have complained about the “speed’ of the transition from Lara killing someone to Lara killing lots of people. From a practical standpoint, it didn’t bother me — Lara did what she said she had to do, for a start, and her dialog and characterization clarified that she was struggling with killing people. In addition, she’s NOT immediately brutal — she can fire a gun or a bow, but that’s it. The brutal stuff is earned over time.

Regardless of that fact, if you’re hung up by the speed of Lara’s transition into a killer, I wonder if that bothers you in other games? From a practical standpoint, I feel like if Lara took longer to become a capable fighter, everyone would be complaining about that — both because the game would be less fun, and because we’d all be discussing why Crystal Dynamics made a woman character a less-capable fighter than a man.

But still, for my part, the story stayed just as powerful as if the “killer” transition had taken longer. It takes Lara a long time to ramp up into the majority of her combat encounters to begin with, and for me, this transition is a nitpick that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the experience.


On March 13, 2013 at 12:01 am

I haven’t finished the game yet, I’m scared to because I’m having so much fun I don’t want it to end.
Just wanted to chime in regarding the ridiculousness and fast transition into killer. At the beginning she’s has to survive, understand what’s happening to what is ‘real life’ to her.

She realises fast that she’s got to do what it takes to survive but also to save her friends

She *spoiler alert* gets told several times that she’s got the material to achieve those goals because she’s a ‘Croft’ and to me that isn’t an empty statement given I’m not playing this game in a vacuum but rather with the knowledge of what she’s going to do growing up (having played the other TRs)

It might seem fast, how she transitions into a killer but if she hadn’t she’d be dead as well as her friends. In similar circumstances we’d have to do the same, it’s brutal but life doesn’t ramp up softly ever.

The only ridiculous thing *spoiler alert* is she manages to survive being beat up a crap ton, falling from heights unimaginable, etc. That I’ll concede but it still didn’t make me enjoy the game less.

To me this is probably the best game I’ve played in the past 5 yrs. I’m so glad I waited for the PC version too.. aiming with a controller just plain sucks.


On March 13, 2013 at 12:47 am

@Phil Hornshaw

lol No, I’m not blaming you. Just pointing out an error which may lead to people reading your review never try to collect GPS caches and miss out a bit of a story/hint on a sequel.

I agree that it may be tedious to try to collect everything but some people love it and love the lore/story rewards associated with collectibles. I loved it in Batman Arkham series and I loved it here. The only thing I passed on in TR is the “search and destroy hidden stuff” – now that was totally pointless activity.


On March 13, 2013 at 6:17 am

It’s an incredibly fun game and I agree, the shooting and fluid movement makes me love this more than uncharted (seriously). The’ve built the grounds for something great here.


On March 13, 2013 at 8:30 am

With just over an hour and a half of game time logged I can say this game is fun and the first TR that appeals to me. I mean: I played TR2 which had nice puzzles, but never before has Lara been depicted as a human and not some kind of jumping sex doll.

The fast transition is ok with me: just assume you’re in that situation. You can either “learn” fast or die. It would have been cooler though, if there was some kind of mechanic that made this more obvious at the beginning. Maybe like bad aim because Lara has a hard time pointing the bow at the deer or a human. Apart from that: this is still a game, and its primary focus should be “is fun to play”. And that’s def. the case.

In any event, I’m really happy I’ve picked this up. It might not be 100 % perfect, but sort of 90+ %. And that’s more than most games offer.


On March 13, 2013 at 9:16 am

The only problem I have with the game is how they took out most of the platforming roots of the game, removed most of the puzzle aspect has well and focused solely on action and set pieces.
The game is good but it needs less cinematic moments and more me thinking about a puzzle for an hour before I can progress. That’s what I loved about Tomb Raider.
It does get a pass on that being a reboot and all but I hope the sequels mixes the old with the new.

Phil Hornshaw

On March 13, 2013 at 9:31 am


Good point. Made a chance in the text. Thanks for straightening me out.


On March 13, 2013 at 9:56 am

Out of interest, does the game have difficulty settings?

Phil Hornshaw

On March 13, 2013 at 10:11 am


It does, but I don’t think it has any effect on puzzles.

Mr Glassback

On March 13, 2013 at 11:29 am

Although I liked a lot about this game, am I alone in thinking that it was a bit style over substance? There were too many instances where I was not actually doing anything for 10+ minutes. Crawl through a gap, slide across a zipline, crawl through another gap, watch a cut scene.
Loved the combat though, and I’m still not bored with bows and arrows yet.


On March 13, 2013 at 11:36 am

To be honest, I doubt it would bother me too much, other than feeling it overly rediculous. Just from the videos I’ve seen, they take it a little over the top of what other games do. I haven’t seen most games taking a young girl and have her put a gun under the chin of someone and blow there head off. Most games have you kill from a distance without special up close gruesome deaths. Picturing a sweet inocent young girl doing something like that would more than likely make me laught at the whole idea of it, but definitely would not stop me from playing.
I haven’t heard anything really wrong with it and lots of people seem to really enjoy it. I might actually have to get this one. Thx.


On March 14, 2013 at 6:11 am

Great review, can’t wait to pickup the game. I’m always reminded why I visit gamefront, this quality of a review is one of those reasons.

Phil Hornshaw

On March 14, 2013 at 10:45 am


Thanks! Pop back in and let me know what you think when you play it.


On March 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Tomb Raider is a good reboot buddy you should play it.


On March 18, 2013 at 12:56 pm

I’m quite enjoying the new TR. I’m about 50% through and having a blast.

Yes, I find the transition hard to deal with. In the cut scenes, she’s vulnerable, but out of the cut scenes, she’s death incarnate. I actually find it rather funny how tough she is. I mean… she takes some serious damage at the beginning of the game and essentially walks it off.

(There is at least one place where she’s really injured, has to find medical assistance, and is very limited in what she can do, but it doesn’t seem to affect her aiming ability!)

I really don’t mind the transition oddities. We really didn’t buy the game to have our character be a crybaby in play time. So, I think the cut scenes work just fine in showing us her mental state, even when we control her killer instinct.

Yes.. she’s a Croft. And she’s been ruthlessly trained by Rolf (is that right?), so she’s in incredible shape.


On March 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Look this awesome gameplay!


On March 20, 2013 at 1:12 pm

“What stuck out though was how rediculously fast she turns from frightened school girl to a bad, head shooting momma. Not only is she incredably brutal, but she has moves that most military killing machines don’t even use.”

In the game it does mention a few times through diolog that she has been trained by Roth who is basically her fathers version of Race Bannon or Brock Sampson. It feels to me when playing that she has the knowledge but has never had to use any of it. She gradually grows and becomes a more effective killer as she does it more. She doesn’t immediately start out pulling off crazy hand to hand undrr the jaw kills, you have to build to that. Her first kill is an emotional reaction, by the last kill she has learned to kill effectively.


On March 21, 2013 at 1:01 am

Oh man i hate to start like this, but it seem that i’ m gifted for that.
OK let’s do this quick and painfully :
- one of the good cut scene ( the last matchstick ) is goofy, and it kill the power off the moment.
- they have a little bit over used, the slide and fall scene ,playable for sure but so predictable.
-! Spoiler ! i don’ t understand how the two bad guy team on the island manage to have so many fresh dead body.
- two many useless gore, man this isn’t Mortal Kombat but …why not, some of them are cult.
- ! Spoiler ! You probably have to dig two much, to understand the longevity of Mr ” M ” but maybe my memory just gone.
- the game is a bit two easy( medium ), this is the first time i’ have managed to play a TPS with a paddle and with so many head-shot but why not this isn’t Gear of war after all.
- I’m missed dive sequence ,shark , and more wild life,but i ‘m not worry about it ,because all that smell like, DLC to come spirit ‘s, but why not, although the game for a first try is pretty great :
- in most ancient TR the shooting system were unfinished and now, it’s done.
- the physx is well use for the puzzle and fighting .
- they don’t try to mess with my, with stupid silicon boobs improvement.
- the 3d stereo is really optimized unlike some false Capcom game 3d optimized game’s.
- the design level is great without the need of some huge cpu / gpu power’ s
Therefore the new Tomb-raider ,just rock.