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Review: Tomb Raider

Last updated on: March 29, 2013 09:53 IST

Review: Tomb Raider

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Murali Venukumar

Tomb Raider is the perfect spectator game, says, Murali Venukumar. Murali is a full-time marketing exec, part-time writer and a life-long gamer.

The last handful of Tomb Raider games weren't innovative as much as they were utilitarian. After the Angel of Darkness debacle and the departure of Core, the original developers, Crystal Dynamics were probably more interested in building a game with gameplay that at the very least worked. There wasn't a whole lot of innovation going on, but the series felt like it had been snatched back from the gates of videogame heaven.

Cut to the present. It's been a few years since we've seen Lara raid a tomb. Murmurs around Crystal Dynamics suggested that a franchise reboot was being planned, which was probably for the best. Lara Croft had to change to adapt to a post-Uncharted world. And with the reboot now upon us, the aptly named Tomb Raider is probably everything we hoped it would be and then some.

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Photographs: Crystal Dynamics / Square Enix
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What stands out most about the game is the massive leap in production values. Everything from Crystal Dynamics' proprietary engine, to the soundtrack, the art direction and even the in-game interface is stunning to look at and perk your ears to. For a game that's mostly stuck on a dank island off the coast of Japan, there's a lot of character and detail in the visuals. Lara herself emotes and moves about wonderfully (with some inspiring transitions between her animations), while the environment around her is filled with plenty of incidental detail detailing its sordid past.

Wall inscriptions, shrines and altars are all over the place, and the focus on an Eastern aesthetic is welcome. The voice acting on the other hand is competent at best, with some good performances mixed in with some truly awful hamming. Also worth mentioning are the seamless transitions between cutscenes, quick-time events and gameplay.

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Photographs: Crystal Dynamics / Square Enix
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The game takes place in the Dragon's Triangle (think of it as an Asian version of the Bermuda Triangle), where Lara and her band of generic explorer chums find themselves shipwrecked and hunted by a band of mysterious gun-toting cultists. The story is alright for what it is, but there's a huge disconnect between Lara's supposed growth from a mild mannered grad student to the titular raider of tombs.

The developers clearly tried their damnedest to make that transition plausible, but it's still jarring to see Lara sobbing after her first kill in a cutscene, and immediately follow that up with you decimating an army in oftentimes brutal ways. Some of the melee kills seem especially out of character. The old videogame cutscene and gameplay discrepancy strikes again!

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While the game doesn't let you free-roam, the map of the island shows you all the areas you can fast travel to once you unlock them. Each area logically flows into the next and is filled with trinkets to find that fill out the backstory and new areas that open up based on how to spec up your Croft. 

And while most of the main game is comprised of a mix of Uncharted-like ledge clambering and platforming, and some cover based third-person shooting, there are plenty of moments where the game lets you explore the reasonably spacious maps to pick up salvage, find collectibles, forage for plants and hunt small game. All this ties into your leveling system wonderfully, and even something as small as finding an inscription while rotating a 3D model of an ancient Japanese artifact can yield XP – and not to mention give you more of the island's history to chew on. It's all a bit Lost-y, but there's more than enough of its own character in it to redeem itself.

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Even the aforementioned platforming and combat are meaty enough to feel unique. Lara upgradable pickaxe is a brilliant tool and using it to leap across chasms and latch onto a rock face is always fun. What isn't as cool is the auto-cover system that pops you into a low crouch before you even realize there are enemies about. It takes the fun out of stumbling onto them yourself. The weapons are also upgradable, and can be customized to a degree depending on your playstyle. The bow you receive at the start is especially memorable, being used to distract enemies, light them on fire by shooting out oil lamps above them, and generally just being a stealthy way to take them out without an alarm being raised and having to deal with reinforcements.

There's also a lot of content on the disc. This isn't another 8-hour adventure game, especially for completionists who want to go back and explore for collectibles. There are also hidden tombs that you can find and puzzle your way through. Unfortunately, they're nowhere near the scale and majesty of the tombs from some of the older games in the series – back when the game itself was built around the concept. With the new focus on third-person combat, the tombs seem to have taken a back seat. And while the sense of exploring a strange new world remains, veterans will undoubtedly miss what made the series great when it first started out.

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Adding to the longevity is a competent multiplayer mode that feels like it was tacked on at the last minute to prevent trade-ins. It's the scourge of the industry at the moment, with resources that could have been to used to lengthen single player campaigns or to just increase production values, being used instead on full featured multiplayer modes that will probably be deserted a couple of weeks post release. And that's primarily because there's nothing here that hasn't been in every other multiplayer game ever.

Tomb Raider is the perfect spectator game. It's supremely cinematic and is as much a joy to watch, as it is to play. As good as this game is, what's truly exciting is Lara's future. This is a great start, and with Crystal Dynamics at the helm, the only way to go from here is up.

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