Tomb Raider

At the time of writing, Tomb Raider is not yet readily available. As a result, we have been unable to test out the multiplayer component, and therefore this review only relates to the singleplayer aspect of the title. Our impressions of multiplayer will follow with our coverage of the PC version of the game in the near future.

Tomb Raider, the franchise, is a storied one; it’s had highs and lows, controversy, excitement, attention, fandom, disinterest, and pretty much anything else that can be levelled (fairly or unfairly) at a videogame. What is undeniable, however, is that since the highs of the earliest games in the series (the first of which was released in 1996), latter games have disappointed.

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After creating the action / exploration / adventure genre, Lara’s crown was stolen from her by a certain Nathan Drake. If the release of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in late 2007 marked the shift in power, Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008) underlined it: the Queen was dead, long live the King.

So it was with some interest, but little hope, that fans greeted the announcement that Crystal Dynamics were to reboot the series; this is the same team, after all, that made the less-than-spectacular Tomb Raiders Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld. This skepticism was further reinforced when the fruits of their endeavour first started to appear; demos that included lots of action, apparently quicktime sequences, and loads of generally un-Lara-like activity seemed to confirm fans’ worst fears: Lara Croft, as they knew her, was dead.

Announced in 2010, this new Tomb Raider is an origin story. It’s about Lara Croft before she had made a name for herself; a young woman very much in the shadow of her father. An aspiring archaeologist, she’s on an expedition to try and find a mythical Japanese island, as part of a team supporting a reality TV star “archaeologist” as he attempts to unravel a mystery that numerous teams before them have tried and failed to resolve. The search leads them into what is effectively a Bermuda triangle-like location, and the predictable happens: shipwreck. It’s a good setup.

After that (and fear not, I won’t ruin the plot for you), more bad things happen. Lara’s world is about to go from trips to the library to leaping chasms; from charts and maps to shotguns and murder. One of the small issues I had with the game is perhaps best detailed here; Lara’s transition from scholar to slaughterer is a brief one.

Initially reluctant, she nevertheless sets about wholesale mass murder of the island’s inhabitants. In comparison to the canon, this is completely acceptable; Lara has always been able to dispatch her foes without hesitation. Here, the disconnect is amplified by two things: one, enemies can often be overheard talking reluctantly about the role they play in proceedings and two, Lara herself has a personality that is markedly different from the aloof monster portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the movies. She just doesn’t seem the type.

It’s no big thing, and it doesn’t affect the score (for reasons I’ll outline in a moment), but it is worth noting for those who look out for such details.

The general gameplay, in case you were concerned by the pre-release marketing material, is not just shooting things and quicktime events. There’s about as much shooting as I remember from earlier instalments, and only a few quicktime events (each of which is brief and well-suited to the situation.) The rest of the game is packed with exploration and environment traversal. There’s also very well realized stealth mechanics, an impressive yet simple to use cover system, and loads of daring jumping into the unknown. It’s brand new and yet . . . somehow it’s also still Tomb Raider - and that’s no small achievement.

Actions you take (and items you find) earn you XP; leveling lets you spend points improving (or even adding to) your skills. You can also find salvage and weapon components around that let you upgrade your basic weaponry - it’s a nifty, if simple, system, and the kind of light nod to RPG styling that action gamers will happily welcome.

The presentation - always of interest in the genre - is nothing short of breathtaking. Cinematic cameras highlight key moments of action, without ever getting in the way. Movie like it is, but at no point does it forget that the key role of Tomb Raider is to be a game.

One important aspect to note here, however, is that the implementation of the game’s violence is as brutal as it is unforgiving. Crystal Dynamics were clearly hoping to hammer home just how perilous Lara’s grasp on life is throughout her island getaway and they’ve absolutely succeeded at that goal. It’s unrelenting, bloody, often gory, and certainly not a game for the younger members of the family.

The visual finesse is more than matched by the outstanding score, as delivered by composer Jason Graves. The driving soundtrack reinforces every moment of the action, amplifying Lara’s perilous journey through every step of her many and varied adventures. It’s so very, very good - expect to hear it mentioned, often, in conjunction with the word “award.”

Level locations are both incredible, and incredibly varied. One moment you’re chest-deep in some sort of murky cave water, struggling to see around the bend, while the next you’re at the top of a tall tower, with visibility that must extend into the miles in every direction. At no point do you feel like you’re in any way retreading old ground (unless you’re deliberately doing just that; the game allows you to re-explore previous areas) - each area is distinct not only from the last but also, typically, from anything else you’ve played before.

The island the game is set on is a character in and of itself. With its various ruins, dilapidated World War 2 bunkers, scientific installations, shanty towns, and monasteries, the obvious risk is that it would feel disjointed - it doesn’t, not ever. Instead, the vibe you get is one of exploring the island from Lost; anything is possible here, and it’s important not to make any assumptions. Tomb Raider, the game, is extremely good at pulling the rug out from under your feet - just when you think you’ve got a good grip on what’s going to happen next.

The puzzles and exploration are fun; the world feels simultaneously open, and yet organic and realistic. You can see how things fit, most of the time, and when you can’t, a little bit of observation and lateral thinking will get you to that oh-so-satisfactory “eureka!” moment. That this is true from beginning to end is testament to the team’s commitment; at no point, I suspect, were the words “that’ll do” uttered within the walls of Crystal Dynamics.

Lara herself is remarkable to behold. Her model is incredibly detailed, her animations fluid, and her textures elaborate. You get to see a lot of her, of course, given she’s in the middle of the screen the entire time, and at no point were any visual glitches (or glitches of any kind) apparent. The other characters, too, are well designed and interesting to engage with. There’s even a big kiwi chap, who speaks of Pania and exudes the kind of casual cool the rest of us can only dream of.

Despite all of that - despite the great levels, the cinematic presentation, the depth of gameplay, and the puzzles - the real star of the show is how connected Lara is to the environment. In other games, you often get the sense that the world is rendered and then the characters are dropped on top of it - not here. Here, Lara is in the world. She reacts to everything; she puts her arms up to fend off the wind, she recoils from flames, she runs her hands along the low ceiling of a cave, she pulls her feet up just so to get through a narrow gap. Smoke and mirrors this may well all be, but you never have reason to doubt it. Lara is real; you feel her pain.

Every jump across a gaping chasm, every blow from a powerful foe - she reacts to it, and by extension, you do too. This is made all the more powerful by the horrible ways in which Lara will meet her demise at your hands; crushed here, shot there, plummeting off a cliff everywhere else - it’s something you’ll seek to avoid not because it will set you back (it doesn’t, particularly) but because you don’t want to experience it.

It’s not perfect, but nothing really is. Instead, Tomb Raider earns its score for daring to go big and then executing on that goal with considerable aplomb in every important area. It looks great, plays well, and is fun from beginning to end. Even more than that, it does all of those things with more skill and finesse than almost any other game before it. It feels dynamic, lets you tweak your experience, and is full of optional exploration for completionists - and those that just can’t get enough of the world.

The few flaws it has, like Lara’s motivation or the bit-part roles the other characters play, just aren’t important at the end of the day. Be in no doubt, it’s an extraordinary game; the kind that only comes along once or twice in a generation. Lara has wrested her crown from Drake’s limp grasp (let’s be honest, Uncharted 3 disappointed) and she is once again the undisputed Queen of the genre.

It’s pretty clear that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics mean business with Tomb Raider. No one in their right mind would spend the kind of time and money making a game like this as a one-off, and the game’s ending, too, hints at things to come. That’s no bad thing in my book; if the sequels are anything like as good as this, I’m all in.

Tomb Raider
"Make no bones about it: Lara is back."
- Tomb Raider
Follow Own it? Rating: R16   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 15 Min


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Comments Comments (42)

Posted by Twilight_Aurora
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 4:48 AM
So glad this turned out well, what with all the disappointments lately (Dead Space 3, Aliens, etc.) Can't wait to pick this up next week! :P
Posted by nimrod76
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 7:42 AM
TEN!! Wow I didn't expect that, now I really bloody want it =(
Posted by LukeB
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 8:32 AM
Glad it's turned out to be a great relaunch of the franchise. Still, I can't decide if I want it for the Xbox or PC :/
Posted by KatalystaKaos
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 8:43 AM
10 !!!!! Excellent news, as with many others the last few weeks of big name disappointments had me reserved in my anticipation of this. Stoked as to read how great its turned out, really looking forward to spending some quality with Lara after this review :)
Posted by rocketman12
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 8:45 AM
I would agree with what the reviewer said at the end about Uncharted 3 being a bit of a disappointment. This could be the 1st game this year actually worth purchasing after the disappointing Aliens Colonial marines.
Posted by supabowl
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 8:49 AM
Wow 10 thats awsome. Now I have to get it
Posted by kiwiatlarge
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 9:00 AM
Fantastic.. almost disappointed I didnt order the CE now.. This could be the rebooted start of great things to come..
Posted by harryhardnuts
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 9:07 AM
sh*tballs a 10 high praise indeed. I knew this was gonna be a goodie but now it is on my must have list!
Posted by rocketman12
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 9:10 AM
I just watched the full review on IGN going to get special edition now, Looks incredible.
Posted by tom_nz
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 9:28 AM
I'm convinced. I've got Simcity coming though... Hmmmm, might pick this up a couple of months after release, something to tide the gap between Simcity and GTA V. Awesome review by the way. Very nice to read.
Posted by sick_wierdo
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 10:12 AM
Holy sh*t, really didn't expect this, i thought maybe a mid 7 score at best, this is excellent news. Wasn't that interested until this review, now after reading I've just preordered it. Suprise of the year maybe?
Posted by guido
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 10:14 AM
Great review thanks and I'm glad it's turned out this well. I enjoy the Tomb Raider series (even the bad ones) and was worried the changes were going to be too great but it sounds like they've nailed it! Can't wait!
Posted by W1NG3R_NZ
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 10:22 AM
Was excited for this before and this glowing review just adds to that! Keen :D
Posted by D4nzy
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 11:18 AM
Uni starts on Monday next week and this comes out on Tuesday. Hmmm might still have to get it! :P
Posted by MA3LK
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 11:35 AM
Wow, i've been waiting since the debut trailer at E3 couple years ago. Good to see that the wait was worth it.
Posted by KiwiSharp
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 4:56 PM
On my wishlist!
Posted by democracy_savvy
On Tuesday 26 Feb 2013 10:44 PM
This can wait DmC's dlc is coming out
Posted by lexcalibur
On Wednesday 27 Feb 2013 6:28 AM
Wasn't even on my radar, now seems like a must buy...damn it, my wallet hates you nzgamer.
Posted by Original_Noob
On Wednesday 27 Feb 2013 9:35 AM
10's what I would have given her too. But what about the game?
Posted by rooper
On Wednesday 27 Feb 2013 9:10 PM
Man it sounds like a real experience! I'm going to have to get it!
Posted by Winger Gee
On Wednesday 27 Feb 2013 9:33 PM
Played the LC Trilogy late last year and thoroughly enjoyed them after getting over the graphics etc- became immersed in the games themselves after a while- knew this was a MUSTHAVE even B4 this review.... just a matter when to tackle this impressive game.
Posted by tuftsdude
On Wednesday 27 Feb 2013 11:24 PM
I hope my xbox doesnt sell so I can get this epic game XD
Posted by KoneHead
On Thursday 28 Feb 2013 12:54 PM
about time they brought out a decent tomb raider again!-- sweeeeet
Posted by Coddfish
On Thursday 28 Feb 2013 4:58 PM
A 10, wow! Unexpected.
Sweet review, also. A pleasure to read :)
Posted by TheClairoyant
On Thursday 28 Feb 2013 5:03 PM
Sweet a 10/10! that will make to easier to explain to my girlfriend that i spent $130 on pre-ordering it.
Posted by Bank
On Friday 1 Mar 2013 11:09 AM
Wowww did not expect reviews like this for a Lara game. Brings a tear to my eyes.
Posted by SpeediePetey
On Friday 1 Mar 2013 4:47 PM
I wasnt really looking at this game but now that i see it got a 10 maybe ill give it try.
Posted by CloudAxel16
On Friday 1 Mar 2013 5:23 PM
Wow, ten! I knew it would be great from the first trailer but didn't expect a ten. Got to play this as soon as possible.
Posted by IIIII
On Friday 1 Mar 2013 5:28 PM
A perfect 10!! Unbelievable
Posted by Bassbooty
On Friday 1 Mar 2013 8:00 PM
Wow a 10 I was not expecting that :O I will add this to my 2013 much play list!
Posted by Neori
On Saturday 2 Mar 2013 10:17 AM
Lara Croft joins the the pack of elites; Red Dead Redemption & Halo 4. I like it!
Posted by rocketman12
On Sunday 3 Mar 2013 9:27 PM
Curse you NZ Gamer ! After reading your review I did a little more research on the new Tomb raider game and my wallet mysteriously opened at an EB Games store and now I have preordered it LOL.
Posted by DarkSynopsis
On Monday 4 Mar 2013 10:33 AM
Glad to see the game getting good reviews! Been exciting since it was first shown but does not look like I will get around to playing it at launch :( Future me has something to look forward to though!
Posted by L3thalDrag0n5789
On Monday 4 Mar 2013 1:41 PM
Sounds awesome!
Posted by Goonertron
On Thursday 7 Mar 2013 6:08 PM
Been waiting for a decent Uncharted game since I sold my PS3 after UC2, this sounds really good but how often do NZG give out 10's?
Posted by tuftsdude
On Sunday 10 Mar 2013 1:33 PM
I doubt it would get a ten if the multiplayer was reviewed.
Posted by sick_wierdo
On Monday 11 Mar 2013 2:22 AM
10 March 2013, 01:33 PM Reply to tuftsdude
I doubt it would get a ten if the multiplayer was reviewed.
It would still deserve a 10 without a multiplayer component at all. Seriously, having just finished it on PS3, I can say this is honestly one of the best games I've ever played, and I don't say that lightly.
Posted by Jermachi
On Friday 12 Apr 2013 8:00 PM
I whole heartily agreed with this review. This game has really hit the nail on the head with a reboot. I have just finished the game and (although being a bit on the short side) it was exactly what I needed after playing games that were becoming stale. It's games like these that remind me why I play games, something fresh and exciting that I could not put down.
Posted by jords
On Wednesday 8 May 2013 7:29 PM
Score is totally justified.
Posted by bubbz1
On Tuesday 14 May 2013 12:06 PM
Is on the top of my wish list
Posted by rocketman12
On Monday 10 Jun 2013 12:52 PM
I loved the campaign and graphically stunning visuals. Can't wait for the next installment.
Posted by Matioroness
On Monday 19 Aug 2013 12:16 AM
this game, in my opinion isn't a 10. played it, clocked it. not that great, fun, but not a 10. JUST MY OPINION :)