The Eight Things the Tomb Raider Reboot Gets Right (and Two that They Flubbed on)

By Peter Paras in Daily Lists, Video Games
Monday, March 4, 2013 at 6:00 am

4. Lara Really Is a Croft!

I'm not saying a great villain like Andrew Ryan or a fun sidekick like Sully wouldn't have made this an even better game, but this is akin to JJ Abrams' first Star Trek. The point of both reboots was to establish a new take on the familiar. For Trek it was the crew, for Raider it's the hero. In Trek, did you really care that Nero was forgettable? We're with Lara 24/7 so her growth is key, not the supporting players.

Lara's constantly commenting on her situation. Grey's Anatomy actress Camilla Luddington did the voice and motion capture for Croft and she gives the young adventurer her most grounded personality ever. Little moments like speaking on her ragged condition (visibly shaking in the rain, starting a fire, pushing herself, "You can do this") to her sudden confidence (guns blazing, "I'm coming for you, you bastards!") go a long way to filling out more than Lara's far-more-practical pants.

Her transformation from innocent, headphone-wearing naif to armed-to-the-teeth killer is a bit too quick but Luddington sells it. I can't wait too see what Crystal Dynamics has in store for Lara next.

NOTE: although her dad the "famous" explorer is mentioned we don't know if the Crofts are as uber-rich was they were in the previous versions since we never see her home.

3. A Well-Paced and Lengthy Campaign!

Value is a big deal when you plunk down 60 bucks. Because they rely on multiplayer, first-person shooters like COD can be finished in six hours. (This game also has multiplayer but that's in a different section.) More satisfying is a campaign that has a good length but doesn't overstay its welcome. As you progress in the game, new skills will allow you to revisit places the were blocked off before. Ah, now I tie a rope to an arrow and knock down that wall! Normally, backtracking can feel like filler. Here the feeling is more Metroid.

There's no actual game time/stat screen, but I played through the story over four nights. I'd say it took a good 12-14 hours. After that, the game opens up so you can return to previous sections to find collectibles. (I was about 70% done.) The real surprise is that you'll want to do this, mainly because the campaign is so fast-paced that the ability to return to unexplored sections without all that mayhem harkens back to the original series, with its more peaceful sense of exploration.

Speaking of....

2. The Tombs Are Optional But Any Fan Will Make Them Mandatory.

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Since Lara and the rest of the stranded crew of the shipwrecked Endurance are busy fighting off cultish island baddies, Lara's stopping to check the occasional crypt is plausible but doesn't make a lick of sense. This is where the post-campaign really shines with caves filled with treasure, wonder and puzzles. Full disclosure: the puzzles are pretty easy but, what's more enticing is the sense of isolation of being in these rugged and worn-out areas.

The puzzles, like the rest of the game, make great use of the environment with varied solutions like the need to use fire to burn down obstacles, or letting the force of a running river propel Lara like some Olympic bobsledder, or good old-fashioned rock climbing.

1. The Island Is An Open World (sort of) Dream for Adventure Fans... and Those Sunsets Sure Are Pretty!

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Most great games offer unforgettable vistas within their world: Rapture, Liberty City, the Ishimura, the list goes on and on. The island that you end up stranded on is no different. Gritty in detail but also brimming with moments of rare beauty (like a sudden change in climate that explodes into a snowstorm that rocks a Japanese temple) the island is a wonderful playground. And like in Metroid, the more Lara's skills are upgraded the more you have to do. Riding ziplines has never been more well, zippy. Not only is this mode of transit a great way to see the areas from up high, it's just so much fun.

I should make clear that although you can traverse any section of the island, by the end of the campaign you can only do this by using campsites for fast travel. Unlike GTA or Skyrim this is really not an open world, but who's gonna complain when being on such a wacky island keeps us so entertained? Certainly not me.


And then there's the bad but fortunately, not THAT bad...

2. The Letters Are Interesting but Menu Screens Are Never Fun to Look at.

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Zzzzzzzz...

As you explore the island, you'll find letters written by those who had the misfortune of getting stranded here too. They span centuries. Lara can read them all; each is voiced by an appropriate-sounding man or woman. (My favorite involved two missing children and their toys left behind.) But in order to hear the whole diary type entry you have to stay on the menu screen; a weird blunder since games like Bioshock and Dead Space have been doing the "voice recording that you find" thing for years now and wisely let you get on with the game. After all, it's only a voice, so why can't we traverse the terrain while we listen? Yes, technically, those other games were using recordings. Here they are letters. But as long as the game "plays" them as voice-over I don't see the difference. Annoying.

1. Multiplayer: Why Did They Bother?

me and cosplay lara.jpg
pajamo
cosplay lara and way too happy geek

First off, even after finishing the game you cannot automatically be Lara for online play. And since every character but Lara is pretty generic there's no incentive to play anyone but her.

Next, hats off to making the action elements of the game shine for single-player, but there's just not enough variety for online play. They do supply tons of leveling, loadouts and more but none of the stages are any place you'll want to be in a firefight for too long. I'm an achievement whore, but even I'm not sure if I'll bother with these.

Even more frustrating: for some reason, in the single-player game, Lara is never given the ability to sprint, but in multiplayer sprinting is allowed. Maybe if ever I do unlock Lara she won't be able to sprint? Only the other characters can? Um... WTF.

Conclusion:

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I'm saying it: the Tomb Raider reboot is as big a leap as Resident Evil 4 was for that series. Everything feels so much bigger and more focused. Like that game, the action does put the exploration on hold for most of the campaign, but all is forgiven once you've completed the story mode and realize that you've got a whole island to explore. Just you, Lara and the elements. As it should be.

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