Tomb Raider – The PS3 Attitude Review
Tomb Raider is one of those rare videogame franchises that has permeated into mainstream culture; and yet in the last decade, the series has struggled to keep up with similar action/adventure titles. In January, Ninja Theory showed exactly how to reboot a classic videogame series with DmC: Devil May Cry, so has Crystal Dynamics been able to do the same for Tomb Raider?
Lara Croft is one of the most recognisable characters in videogames, so the decision to redesign her was definitely a brave one. It’s admittedly not a huge change; she still looks like Lara Croft, but noticeably younger and with, shall we say, more realistic proportions.
We first meet the new Lara aboard the ship Endurance, and things start to go wrong for her just seconds into the game. In her first ever expedition, she is part of a research team investigating the ancient lost country of Yamatai off the coast of Japan. All of a sudden, the ship is caught in a deadly storm, and Lara finds herself alone on an uncharted island.
Except, she isn’t alone. Hit from behind, she is abducted and wakes up suspended from the roof of a cave. After a brief struggle with her captor, Lara makes a break for it and begins her search for other survivors. It’s a rip-roaring opening to a story that also features a murderous cult, an army of 2000-year-old warriors and a legendary shaman queen. Just another day at the office, then.
Although Lara has always been a likeable character, she has rarely displayed her emotions in previous Tomb Raider games. That all changes in the prequel though, as the less experienced Lara wears her heart firmly on her sleeve.
Her development throughout the game is brilliantly portrayed, by both Rhianna Pratchett’s script and Camilla Luddington’s performance. This makes it easy for the player to empathise with the horrific situations Lara finds herself in. Unsurprisingly, she quickly learns that the only way she and her fellow survivors are going to leave the island is to kill the cultists before they do the same to her.
Tomb Raider places much more emphasis on combat than previous games in the series, so your time is spent pretty much equally between traversing the environment and fighting enemies. Don’t worry though; combat is just as good as the climbing mechanics this time around!
Put simply, the gameplay has a lot to thank the Uncharted series for. It wasn’t too long ago that Uncharted was being described as merely ‘Tomb Raider with a guy’, but now it would be much more accurate to describe Tomb Raider as ‘Uncharted with a girl’.
That said, the game isn’t afraid to shake up the formula when necessary. Certain sections are infused with almost a survival horror element, and there are several one-time only mechanics that we won’t mention here because they could arguably be thought of as spoilers.
Although you proceed through locations in a fairly linear manner during the story, the island is in fact open-world, with plenty to discover off the beaten track (especially after you complete the game). For example, hidden documents are fully voiced and fill you in on the intriguing backstory, while relics are meticulously designed and can be rotated to discover further secrets.
Salvage is used to upgrade weapons, and optional tombs offer the series’ trademark puzzles, which are largely missing from the main story. Though she starts with only a simple bow, Lara is constantly discovering new gear and weapons that allow her to reach previously inaccessible areas.
Pretty much everything you do in Tomb Raider earns you XP that can then be spent on skills to give Lara new abilities. This introduces a role-playing feel to the game, as if the action/adventure, third-person shooter, puzzle and survival horror elements mentioned earlier in this review weren’t already enough.
That may sound like Crystal Dynamics has thrown too many balls in the air, but here’s the thing; it all blends together perfectly and is always fun to play. Even the quick-time-events are surprisingly well implemented and don’t feel half as out of place here as they do in most other games.
If we had one complaint about the campaign, it would be that it could do with being ever so slightly shorter. There are several long shootouts towards the end of the game that we found were a bit of a chore to get through, although they don’t come close to ruining the overall experience.
In terms of presentation, everything from the menus and HUD to the sound and music fit incredibly well, in order to create a suspenseful atmosphere that refuses to let up throughout the entire game.
However, the highlight of the presentation is undoubtedly the phenomenal graphics. You can tell the team at Crystal Dynamics put a huge amount of effort into making the best looking game they could. The character models, textures and lighting effects are all fantastic, and really bring the island to life. The diversity of the environments is also notable.
Tomb Raider games have always run well on PS3, but the latest is especially praiseworthy. Not only does it look beautiful, but you’ll be hard pushed to find any major pop-in, and slowdown only occurs during particularly large gunfights (and even then it’s nothing too bad).
Load times are either incredibly short or completely non-existent, as for the most part they are masked by cutscenes. This smooth performance is made all the more impressive considering the game manages it with no install; a rarity for third-party multi-platform titles on PS3. There is admittedly a day 1 patch, but at only 53MB it’s nothing to get too annoyed about.
You may have noticed we haven’t left much space to write about Tomb Raider’s online multiplayer. The reason why is because it is simply nowhere near as well-realised as the singleplayer campaign. In fact, it almost feels like it’s been shoehorned in just to increase the game’s potential play time, which is pretty pointless considering the campaign isn’t exactly short anyway.
It’s undeniably a competent multiplayer component, with all of the usual bells and whistles included; there are several modes, maps, characters and unlockables, as well as a full levelling system. However, we struggle to think of reasons why someone would put time into the multiplayer when they could be enjoying the far superior singleplayer story.
Series purists will tell you there hasn’t been a truly great Tomb Raider game since the original trilogy back on PSone, and until last week we’d have been inclined to agree.
Lacklustre online multiplayer aside, Tomb Raider is a terrific return to form for the series, and has successfully made itself relevant to the action/adventure genre once again. It may not have many original ideas, but Crystal Dynamics has created an experience that is far, far greater than the sum of its parts, and for us is the first must-buy videogame of the year.