By: Stephen Duetzmann, Editor in Chief
Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Release Date: March 2013
Reviewed for PS3 (Also available for Xbox 360 and PC)
This is not the Tomb Raider that you remember. It might be hard to scrub the images of the original Lara Craft flipping around tombs dual-wielding pistols. But, you’re going to have to do it in order to play this game.
Crystal Dynamics took a chance here by reinventing one of the most iconic video game franchises in history. Tomb Raider games were a huge deal in the past, but they had fallen flat in recent years. The developers decided to reboot the franchise and take Lara Craft back to her roots and explore how a young woman could turn into a cold, confident killer. It was definitely a risk, but it paid off. The result is a game that is much grittier than the originals, but shows the pain, hardship, and danger that helped create her modern persona.
The story starts with Lara on an expedition south of Japan. She convinces her team to travel into “The Devil’s Triangle,” and the ship is caught in a very sudden and equally powerful storm that sinks it. She and much of the crew find themselves on an island that turns out to be “less than deserted.” The result is a string of events that lead up to a climax that caught me by surprise. Most importantly, the different steps of the narrative help us see Lara evolution as a person. This adds weight to every conflict and deeper meaning to everything that she says and does. In short, the storytelling is superb.
Game play is very similar to most third person shooters. I felt like there was a lot of variety to the encounters will enemies and never felt constrained with “one correct way” to deal with a fight. The combat is heavily centered on her bow since it can kill silently and from a significant range, but she does end up with other weapons. One thing that I found interesting is that there are very few options in melee combat. She never picks up a knife or a sword. Instead, the game encourages you to use guns at close range.
There are Quick Time Events (QTEs) spread throughout the game, but they never felt like they got in the way. Also, the interaction buttons were always the same based on context. For example, I would always be asked to use the square button to catch myself while falling.
Family Gaming Assessment:
I’ll be blunt here. This game is not intended for young children. The tame gun play of the original Tomb Raider series is gone. Instead, gun play results in generous splashes of blood and realistic death animations. I would not recommend putting this game in front of someone who was not mature enough to understand what was going on.
The game also features a lot of foul language. I lost track of the specifics after a while, but just about every colorful four letter word imaginable was thrown into the script for this game.
There is no doubt that this game is challenging. Just about every button on the face of the controller finds itself used at one point or another. You are given more options slowly though, so it never feels overwhelming.
The hallmark of the series has been the puzzles. In previous years objects would flash if they could be interacted with. Crystal Dynamics ignored that in favor of adding visual cues to the environment that tell players what to do. For example, anything covered in white cloth or canvas can be set on fire and boarded up doorways covered in barbed wire can be blasted through with a shotgun. This limited some puzzles to games of “Where’s Waldo,” but it helped me remain immersed in the story.
There are so few games with female protagonists that this game is a must play for just about anyone old enough.
I can’t stress enough that this game isn’t for young children, but if you have a teenager who is struggling to appreciate strong female characters in fiction, then this is something to show them.