When the news broke that Tomb Raider was set for a reboot on home consoles, I nervously felt that one of my all-time favourite gaming franchises might never be as enjoyable again. Whilst my hopes were set pretty high, I did not for one moment think it would ever be the most amazing gaming experience with an extraordinary story that has you hooked with every moment as it was. Every step and every breath I played of Lara Croft reeled me into the survival-adventure further, then before long my heart was pounding with the anticipation of what could happen next. I felt practically star struck whilst unable to and unwilling to turn off or look away. Unable to stop, I knew this was the adventure of all adventures! Crystal Dynamics and Square-Enix has well and truly delivered on this occasion – It’s a virtually flawless experience and a truly epic journey.
I have to say that to date, this is THE most enjoyable game I have ever played in 2013; so when something this good can instantly in the first 20 minutes of gameplay shoot down all the other top releases of 2013 from January to March – the news has to be spread – and I don’t want to come across like a preacher, but it’s been a long time since a game has come along where you feel the characters sense of endearment and desperate search for hope. The new Lara Croft will take you into the unknown, pull at your heart strings and then rely on you to escape from a long-lost mythical island where history combined with gruesome acts of cruelty try their best to imprison you. Lara is a young woman who has to rely on stealth and instinct to advance through the environments; so in the new rebooted Tomb Raider, it’s less about puzzle solving and very much about survival in a tomb raiding experience I can guarantee that you have never experienced! There are still small reminders of the older games with environmental puzzles to solve when accessing ancient tombs, and swinging from ledges, ropes and roof tops – but this is a story of “do or die”, a fight to live experience for Lara where combat and adventure now deliver you the best Tomb Raider of them all.
The story itself was penned by Rihanna Pratchett (Mirrors Edge, Heavenly Sword) and starts off with a team that includes Lara Croft being led by a celebrity archaeologist on a ship named ‘Endurance’ in search of a mythical lost island known as Yamatai. The team consisting of Lara Croft, family friend Roth, computer nerd Ross, Scottish Seaman known as Grim, as well as a small handful of other specialists for such a trip are led into the dangerous Dragons Triangle on the advice of Lara as they pursue the ancient ruins of the Sun Queen. Early on as the team are unfortunately split, Lara fears that no one may never make it off the island alive and something here is keeping them trapped. Lara’s instincts and investigative mind-set help her unravel the greatest escape plan possible giving the circumstances. Sacrifices, risk-taking, and dabbling with the unknown encase Lara’s world and turn every moment into a situation of life or death – equipped with just a Bow and a few weapons, Lara is soon very much on her own, where the lives of her team are dependent upon her actions.
I really do not want to give much of the story away since the element of surprise and what you don’t know about the plot will make your experience within the game more enjoyable and thrilling as there are plenty of surprises in store from start to finish. As a new adventure title, Lara must also investigate the surroundings of each environment that could give clues to situation and dangers that lie ahead – giving her an advantage over how to plan an attack or her escape route. Various objects and even weapon parts are scattered around in boxes that can be collected as part of Lara’s survival gear and other objects more traditional to past Tomb Raider games such as ancient Relics and historical Documents.
In the early stages of Tomb Raider, Lara is equipped with a basic weaponry set and learns to use her Bow, as well as picking up a much needed Shotgun, Rifle, Hand-Gun and Axe by the time you’re half-way through. All items can be upgraded by finding weapon parts and looted salvage gear to implement modifications that improve damage, accuracy and handling amongst many other upgrades that deal a damaging or deadly blow to your enemy. You can however only upgrade your weapons at Camps, shown as small lit fires usually at the entrance part to new locations found around the island, and these Camps can double up as a travel route to other island locations by using a Fast Travel option – so this saves all the back-tracking should you need to return to another location. Lara’s signature weapon seems to be the Bow and Arrow though which can also be upgraded to shoot fire arrows and napalm arrows for an ultimate kill-streak. The Bow is also be used to attach rope to other objects with rope so that they can be joined, in doing so Lara can advance across platforms that might not otherwise be reachable by a single jump, and pulling down objects can swiftly aid in your survival when faced with a team of enemies.
There is a button specifically for Survival Instincts which can be pressed to guide Lara in the right direction as a way point marker or using upgradable Skill Points, the Survival Instincts can equip Lara with more survival skills to locate places of interest, animals that may need to be hunted for food and other environmental options to ensure she is equipped with all the best tools on her journey. This instinctive setup will also allow Lara to be aware of any nearby tombs that can be raided for treasure, relics and other special items. Once you have found your way into the tomb, you are presented with a puzzle that must be completed to allow you full access to the raid and this includes a basic setup of moving boxes, and using your logic to manoeuvre the tomb elements so that you can get across to area where the treasure chest is being kept. It is no way near as hard to complete the tomb puzzles as in all previous versions of Tomb Raider, since this is a reboot the focus is mostly on the exploration and the survival aspects of the game, it is in itself a real challenging adventure!
One of the key foundations for a video-game to make you enthralled by its excellence is to captivate you as a player. Tomb Raider not only captivates you by its riveting story and plot lines, but it emotionally charges you to have a need to succeed with Lara’s great overall plan. It’s not often that a game can come along and really make you feel involved in the outcome – and Tomb Raider goes all out to make sure you have the greatest experience following Lara Croft on her journey of survival. Elements of suspense, emotionally charged reactions and a fearful Lara who often seems to be in a situation that requires quick-thinking combined with brutality will make you sit on the edge of your seat. I felt whilst playing Tomb Raider that no other game in my collection mattered at this moment in time, I wanted to end this journey and free Lara from the curses that seemed to be imposed on her from this mythical island.
Whilst my opinion on visuals is often criticised by those who know me, but I firmly believe that for a game to be absolutely outstanding it has to look equally as good as it plays – and Tomb Raider is a gamers eye-candy in that I have not been this impressed with a game visually since the release of The Witcher 2 last year. Every scene is depicted in vast detail that portrays the essence of the story as you play along. Each part of the island from the snowy mountains, the shanty towns, the beaches, tombs, and undiscovered forests all strike a graphic portrayal of a lost island as exactly as you would imagine it to be. It is a very polished game with exceptional detail on every wall, corner, building, character and environmental element in a destructive yet magical land. Because Tomb Raider plays the part, looks the part you just can’t put it down for a minute and when you do – all you can think about is your next instalment of the adventure!
Keeping the spirit of Tomb Raider alive even after you have completed the campaign is a Multiplayer offering serving up four online Game Modes to choose from. Rescue is a round-based mode where Survivors recover medical supplies to live and the enemy team must execute them with melee kills. Team Deathmatch, a mode in almost every online game known to man is a high-score round-based team killing online frenzy. Cry for Help is a round-based mode where Survivors must activate radio transmitters and at the same time preventing the enemy team from obtaining their batteries. Lastly, Free for All is a survival of the fittest where if you kill enough players without dying, you’ll become the “Executioner” and secure your dominance before it’s game-over!
There are five maps included on-disc with extra DLC planned for the very near future. Beach is a storm wrought beach filled with broken buildings and wrecked landscapes. Shrine is a serene temple that rests at the top of the mountains, frozen in time. Chasm is a sun-bleached dry land with blinding storms. Underground is as you would expect, underground, but an old submarine is the map centre piece with everything else surrounding by what appears old-worn military style settings. Finally the last on-disc map is Monastery, a cavernous ravine surrounded by a maze of deadly ridges with a huge ancient mythical structure in the centre of the map. Each of the maps on-disc contains similar qualities to the locations on the Tomb Raider campaign with ammo and salvage gear scattered through-out. Noticeably the multiplayer maps are not of the same graphical quality as the environments in the single player story, but are more than adequately designed for each of the games modes.
Additionally as well as a small selection of online Game Modes, there is a Character selection screen to play as any of the main games characters with the option to unlock more as you level up within the online multiplayer and Prestige. There are two factions when playing online, Survivor and Solarii giving you twenty-four characters to choose from overall where each can have their own loadout consisting of Primary weapons, Secondary weapons, Varied Skills to improve your gameplay and explosives. There are of course challenges too in the form of Feats and Setbacks earning you bonus XP in exchange for completing the different outlined tasks which range from killing a player 5 times, earning Headshots, and getting the most kills in a match. All of the online modes and options are a great addition to the Tomb Raider game, but the campaign is a strong enough offering where multiplayer feels like a decent bonus to a fantastic game.
It’s really difficult for me to contemplate how anyone could find many faults with Tomb Raider, and although as one of the best action-adventure combined survival-exploration titles you are ever likely to find on the Xbox 360, if I had to give it any fault it would be that some of the puzzles could have been more challenging or more included, yet this is a complete reboot, but Tomb Raider without puzzles does feel a little different than what we have been used to with Lara Croft. The new Tomb Raider is one of the best games ever available for the Xbox 360 and I can only compliment my review with the highest score based on how I was gripped and taken in with the story, the exceptional visuals, and that I never wanted to put this game down.
I’m putting this out there now that you simply have to own this!