Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tomb Raider Review

I had no intention of playing the latest Tomb Raider reboot from Crystal Dynamics. Despite all the hype and E3 awards, everything I saw seemed to indicate nothing more than a typical 3rd person action game. I never played the original (yes young gamers, this is a reboot) for more than a few minutes; therefore, I saw little appeal for me. Let's just say I was terribly misguided because Tomb Raider is easily the best game I've played in 2013 and an early contender for Game of the Year.

So what convinced me to actually play Tomb Raider? Reviews played a significant role, but the ultimate deciding factor was when I started hearing the game compared to titles like Batman: Arkham City, Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4, and of course, Uncharted. We certainly expected the latter, but the other games surprised me. I was tempted to play the game simply to see it fall far short of these titles I consider among the best ever. Yet again, I was wrong.

Tomb Raider doesn't reinvent the genre, but it does perfect it. Younger gamers may not remember Lara's original adventures, games that clearly inspired Naughty Dog with the Uncharted series. I can't say that Tomb Raider is an all-around, better game than Uncharted 2, which recently made my list of top 5 games this generation, but I can say it goes toe-to-toe and even bests it in many categories. Consider this: Uncharted 2's main advantages are its graphics, story and characters, which are all slightly better than what you'll find in Tomb Raider. Aside from Lara, who's equally as interesting as Nathan Drake, the other Tomb Raider characters are largely forgettable. The storyline is predictable and most of the twists are telegraphed from a mile away; even so, the story is solid enough to hold you through to the end. The game looks beautiful, but it's still a step below Uncharted. 
Do young gamers remember this...at all?
As for Tomb Raider's strong points, its most significant advantage is in the game's pacing and overall flow. Let's be honest, with Uncharted, you're essentially playing through a movie, albeit, a very beautiful movie. You have to climb up this rock and you must explore this cave. Tomb Raider presents players with a very solid linear experience...if that's how you choose to play. For gamers, like me, who prefer a little exploration, Tomb Raider will appease you as well. The game differs drastically from Uncharted by offering tombs to raid, treasures/items to collect, money to earn, and weapons to upgrade.

Those comparisons to Arkham City, Prime, and RE 4? Completely valid. Crystal Dynamics borrows liberally from those classics, but everything makes sense. For example, you're stranded on an island and start out with a very limited arsenal, both in weaponry and tools. Over time, you gain new items that allow you to traverse new paths you couldn't access before, a la Metroid.

Enough with the comparisons. Tomb Raider stands as on its own as an amazing title that breathes new life into an age-old franchise. The gameplay is rock solid and you'll love getting to know Lara. I really want to applaud Crystal Dynamics for having a game with an incredibly strong female lead, who isn't hyper-sexualized. Yes, Lara is female and yes, she's attractive. But it's far from the focus. I wouldn't say the game deemphasizes any of these factors; however, it doesn't flaunt as so many other games (and movies) tend to do. Lara is a real person and you care about her motivations. You care if she rescues her friends. You care if she lives or dies.
A survivor is born...and a gaming legend reborn.
If you've been a consistent reader of my blog, you've no doubt heard me mention the mixture of fun and quality, a battle critics must consider when reviewing all forms of media. For Tomb Raider, it excels at both. The game is polished, yet incredibly fun. Tomb Raider offers further proof that games can deliver a polished, contained story, while still allowing ample room for exploration. I have no reservations highly recommending it with a score of 9.5/10.

Haven't bought Tomb Raider yet? You're in luck. For March 26, 2013, it's Amazon's Gold Box Deal of the Day, which you can nab for only $41.99. Enjoy!

Score: 9.5/10

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