Tomb Raider Xbox 360 Review
Publisher: Square Enix Developer: Crystal Dynamics Genre: Action, Adventure Players: 1-8
Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: PS3
Crystal Dynamics has now been making Tomb Raider games longer than the original developer, Core Design, and their three previous offerings in the series, whilst nicely refined and well executed did little to shake up the formula that was first introduced all the way back in 1996. It’s a long time so, of course, many have long been in favour of a reinvention of the aging franchise, and that’s exactly what Tomb Raider is.
Tomb Raider is a gritty origin story of one of gaming’s most recognizable characters, Lara Croft; focussing on her transformation into the toughened globetrotting adventurer that we know today. It sees a 21-year-old Lara and her crew becoming shipwrecked on a mysterious and dangerous island, beginning Lara’s first real expedition, where she gets a taste for the thrilling business of adventuring.
Lara Croft has long been a gaming icon, though it’s been debatable if she’s been worthy of such status, considering she was highly sexualised with a gargantuan pair of breasts and didn’t have much in the way of personality to speak of. Crystal Dynamics have previously made advances to making the character more human and realistically proportioned, but their newest game features a Lara that is a much less confident and more human character, which is further bolstered by her new voice actress, Camilla Luddington’s impressive performance. Even though Lara’s character development isn’t always handled in the most convincing of ways it’s still the most likable and compelling take on the character by a long way.
The stunning animations of Lara also do their part in adding to the personality of the character. In fact, overall, Tomb Raider is a beautiful looking game, there’s some lovely lighting and fire effects, detailed character models and, in combination with the sound design, your journey across the island is an atmospheric one.
Unsurprisingly, the game is somewhat inspired by the Uncharted series with an abundance of visually exciting set-pieces that sees things blowing up and things crumbling beneath you. It also has the highest volume of combat ever in a Tomb Raider game, of which will irk some. Even though the enemy AI is dim it’s easily the most well executed combat in series history, with a slick context sensitive cover system and conventional but satisfying weaponry on offer. Enemies are largely of the human variety, which considering the assortment of wild animals in previous games that you were up against, is a bit of a missed opportunity in offering something a bit different to Uncharted.
A fair chunk of the combat is optional, allowing you to deal with enemies in a sneakier manner with a silent crossbow or up close and personal by strangling them. It’s stealth mechanics at their most rudimentary, but whenever the option presents itself, it’s a perfectly functional and satisfying method of playing the game nevertheless.
There’s a weapon upgrading feature that allows you to use salvage taken from boxes and bodies of enemies to enhance and modify your weapons, for instance simply making them more damaging, or adding silencers to them to make them suitable for stealth situations. You’ll also amass XP throughout by killing enemies, picking up collectables or simply making progression and, through earning so much, you’ll get a skill point to enhance Lara herself; allowing you to pick from skills that cover traversal, combat and exploration.
Whilst Uncharted is undoubtedly a strong influence, Crystal Dynamics hasn’t completely shed the roots of the series. The chance is still there to go off the beaten path to go in search of relics, documents, salvage, hidden tombs and such, and the game has camps that you’re able to fast travel between to search for missed items in previously visited areas. Completion of the game also allows you to continue your adventuring if you wish, which is welcome.
The level design of the island is well crafted and diverse, resulting in enjoyable exploration. There’s some Metroid like elements that allows you to revisit areas with new equipment to gain access to areas that you previously weren’t able to, though perhaps this would have benefitted from being expanded upon.
The survival instinct ability aids you in your exploration endeavours; highlighting objects that you’re able to interact with around your environment, as well as the way to progress the story, though if you want to discover everything yourself, you’re never forced to use it.
Puzzles are still there, but are largely optional now. They’re most prevalent in the hidden tombs and these mostly physic-based puzzles can be quite cleverly constructed. They’re never particularly difficult though and the giant, elaborate puzzles of previous games are absent, which will be disappointing for those that enjoyed stretching their gray matter to near breaking point to solve such conundrums in previous games.
On top of the reasonably sized primary game, multiplayer is also featured and has all the facets that we’ve come to aspect such as XP, challenges, loadouts and such. It’s serviceable when it isn’t plagued by horrific lag, but also brings little unique to the multiplayer space, and its execution isn’t amongst the best either. Quite simply it feels like an afterthought, rather than something that adds much of note to the package, and with so many better options available elsewhere, it’s difficult to see the game sustaining a community far beyond its release.
Dramatic reinventions of a much loved series are nearly always polarizing and the same rings true for Tomb Raider, which loses or overhauls much of the elements of the earlier games, making for a game that some will find to be too much lacking in the series fundamentals to impress. Still, as a reboot the game is an excellent, well made action adventure that takes the series and its heroine in an exciting and refreshingly new direction.