Tomb Raider User Review
The first is a gaming experience that had lots of potential, but never quite lived up to expectations.
The other is a gaming experience so terrible that it should have never been made in the first place, not only due to how badly the reputation of the respective franchise will have been tarnished as a result, but also for the psychological torment gamers have to endure in attempting to play a game that has the potential of completely dismantling their previous affection for that franchise.
Thankfully, Tomb Raider falls into the rare exception side of the equation, and while it borrows heavily from other more recent franchises, (Uncharted being one, how cyclical, huh?) it comes off as an enjoyable experience that doesn't tarnish the Tomb Raider name, but instead gives gamers a hopeful outlook for even better sequels.
Vague spoilers impending alert:
Tomb Raider of course is a prequel to all of Lara Croft's previous adventures, and sets her on her first real expedition after recently having graduated from an unnamed university. She finds herself on a ship called Endurance with a mostly forgettable crew that is searching for the island of Yamatai, a place that has reached mythological status in part because of legends regarding the island, and the lack of anyone seemingly ever having been there in recent history, in order to film a documentary, and perhaps make some new discoveries along the way.
While being an extremely intelligent young woman, her youth and inexperience leave her unsure of herself, and almost timid when interacting with the Endurance crew, save for her best friend and college gal-pal Sam. The resulting shipwreck and the events that follow serve to shape Lara into the fierce, witty, and confident relic hunter we all know and love from "later" adventures.
While the story is nothing spectacular, with only a four or five memorable high points found throughout the 12-14 hour experience, it does well enough to serve as the vehicle for Lara's character development, even when considering that her transition from a meek, non-violent person who has seemingly never handled a firearm, to a person who can dispatch the remaining island cultist inhabitants with a variety of projectile weapons without a single flinch, all hinges on her one solitary breakdown over her first human kill.
However, with all of that being said, it is worth mentioning that Lara's character was not only the best developed of all of the characters present in the game, the performance given for Lara by the lovely Camilla Luddington is in a league of its own in comparison to the other voice actors.
As far as gameplay goes, everything from the combat to Lara's effortless traversal of her environment is executed with a level of precision that Crystal Dynamics has never before achieved since taking the reins of the franchise in 2006 that were once held by Core Design.
The only weak point from a technical standpoint was one of the aspects of past Tomb Raider games that made them so great... the raiding of tombs.
There are a total of seven tombs, (eight if you pre-ordered the game) and every single one of the tombs are so simple that they practically tell you how to solve the "puzzles", if you can even call them that. The "treasures" that you acquire for "solving" the puzzles turn out to be something that you never see, and of which the only tangible reward for going into the tombs at all winds up being a few extra bits of salvage to upgrade your equipment.
That brings us to the next aspect of Tomb Raider that was also done well, but again leaves room for improvement in future installments, the skill/equipment upgrade ladders.
The equipment upgrades overall do a good job of seeming like natural improvements that a survivor of a shipwreck could reasonably pull off, as long as they were very distantly related to MacGyver, and add fun and creative ways to take care of enemies, while giving you the means to explore once unreachable areas of the island in the later stages of the game.
The skill upgrades for the most part add new, and helpful abilities to Lara's arsenal of survivor skills.
With that being said, some of the skills seemed rather pointless. For instance, the Animal Instinct skill allows Lara to see animals that are lit up like a Christmas tree in her Instinct Mode, but again, the only reward for killing animals is for some salvage to upgrade weapons.
If this skill had been essential for her survival, like say, if she actually needed to eat food as part of the survival aspect, this kind of skill could almost be overlooked. However, they way it is presented renders it essentially useless, as there are PLENTY of better alternatives to acquiring salvage.
While it has already been mentioned that the story has more than its fair share of fluff, some the cinematic set-pieces that Crystal Dynamics crafted for Tomb Raider could almost be mistaken for something that the fine folks at Naughty Dog put together for their Uncharted series. A few of the more memorable ones involve an airplane, a bridge, or a dilapidated Japanese temple.
Now that the single-player aspect has been looked at, the multiplayer deserves a quick, check that, VERY quick glance.
While none of its 4 different modes are anything to write home about, the overall level designs are ok and matches can be fun, when dealt out in very small servings.
While definitely not the focus of Tomb Raider, the multiplayer adds a very limited reason to put your disc back into your PS3, because unfortunately, there is no New Game Plus mode to entice you into playing the single-player experience again.
So with all of that being said, Crystal Dynamics has put together an experience that while not exactly being the masterpiece they had hoped for, is a strong step in the right direction for the Tomb Raider franchise.
At the very least, Tomb Raider should be viewed as a fairly impressive game from a technical standpoint, even when considering how late in this generation cycle we are, and we should all look forward to the potential that this series has going forward, since it is likely that a sequel will be seen only on the next generation of consoles.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.