A Survivor Is (Re)Born
Initial Announcement Trailer
The Elephant in the Room
The original Core Design's/Eidos Interactive's Tomb Raider (released in 1996 for PlayStation, PC, Sega Saturn, and N-Gage devices) was well received both critically and commercially and sold 7.5 million copies worldwide. It was the first action-adventure game to feature a female protagonist and Lara Croft instantly became a fan favorite. So much so that in 2009 it was re-released on the PlayStation Network in North America.
Tomb Raider enjoyed a successful launch of five different games, all starring Lara Croft, on the original PlayStation and PlayStation One consoles. However, when the PlayStation 2 was announced it was inevitable that Core and Eidos would announce the sixth installment in the franchise. But when Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness was finally launched, it wasn't well received by either fans or critics of the game. And it wasn't because of the story line, which was generally well received. Instead it was due to the mixed reviews on graphics and the abysmal reviews on the game mechanics themselves.
Because of this, Core Design was not the next developer for the next installment in the series. Instead, Eidos transferred the project to Crystal Dynamics, who continues to be the developer for the series as a subsidiary of Square Enix. Tomb Raider: Legend (2006) was the first next generation Tomb Raider game to be well received by critics and fans alike, though it was a soft reboot and disregarded the timeline established by Core Design. And was re-released as part of a trilogy set in 2011 with an HD facelift. The trilogy was commercially successful, going on to sell 4.5 million copies. This trilogy included the critically acclaimed remake of Tomb Raider under the title Tomb Raider: Anniversary as a nod to the fact that the series was now a decade old. However, this was the least well received by fans and only sold 1.3 million copies, making it the least commercially successful in the franchise. The third game included in the trilogy was Tomb Raider: Underworld, the last game released on PlayStation 2 in the series, and went on to sell 2.6 million copies while being well received by critics for its less linear style of game play.
The next installment in the series is one of two (as of now) titles to not feature Tomb Raider in the name. Instead, it featured Lara's name as the bulk of the mantle and beginning of the sub-series. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was also the first in the series to not be released on PlayStation 2. Unlike the previous games, it focuses on co-op game play. There is a single-player campaign mode available, as well, but was not the focus of the development. It features a fixed-point camera similar to the franchise's handheld games including Core Design's 2002 Tomb Raider: Prophecy. A subsequent sequel to this was released in 2014 under the title Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris and both have been well received by critics as well as fans alike for the fresh take on the series.
This brings us up to speed to address the 2013 reboot which even includes the original title of the series, Tomb Raider and the 2014 Definitive Edition for the current generation consoles (even Linux!). Originally, the game had been slated for a Winter 2012 release date but was pushed back to March 2013 and received with a positively anticipated hype.
PlayStation 4 Trailer
It's All about the Character Development
Lara Croft has had a long, rich, detailed history over the years but this is the first time that such a hard reboot has been installed in the series. Tomb Raider (2013) follows the journey of a young Lara trying to continue her father's research as well as discover her own place in the world. Unlike some of the previous games, this version's Lara manages to balance vulnerability and power as she navigates through Yamatai, a fictitious island in the Devil's Triangle off the coast of Japan. She also shows a clever balance of intellectual pursuit as well as a strong morality, ultimately deciding that the betterment of society is more important than her own gains.
The story line begins on the Endurance and the crew's (or, rather, Lara's) expedition to find the lost island of Yamatai. You'll be presented with various snippets of footage shot by Lara's best friend from college, Sam, as you come to find out that Lara insists upon a certain charted course. Most of the crew disagrees but the captain, an old friend of her father's named Roth, insists on trusting Lara's intuition. This becomes an overarching theme throughout the game as Roth encourages Lara to trust her instincts and do what she thinks is right. This creates some friction among the crew, which instills a deep sense of guilt within Lara when she and the others end up shipwrecked on Yamatai.
While Lara's character development is well-rounded and complete, it left little room for the other characters to have compelling stories of their own. Most of the information you can find out about them is contained within journal entries located throughout the world that can be collected for survival points and trophies on whichever system you play through it on. Sam and Roth are the only two other characters that feel fully created while Jonah, Reyes, Whitman, Jonah, Grim, and Alex serve as fluff pieces and comedic value at best. At worst, they simply contribute to a sense of drama and Lara's penchant for personal guilt, which is similar to her survivor's guilt from the previous collections of the franchise.
In addition to more realistic character development, the game also follows a more realistic stance in terms of the weapons that Lara will use throughout the game. Gone are her trusty dual-wielding 9mm pistols and, instead, she uses a bow for the majority of the game. There's only a brief nod at the end of the game to this change, which I won't spoil for you if you (somehow) haven't played through it yet. The rest of her weapons are acquired either by finding them throughout the island or if another character personally gives them to her.
As such, following this release, it seems that the bow and arrow are her primary and trademark weapon.
Much of the game is spent trying to regroup with the other survivors and keep them safe while keeping herself alive and fending off a cult known as the Solarii. This installment in the series is soundly more combat based than any of the others, which was a personal drawback for me. It follows an adventuring standard set by Naughty Dog's Uncharted franchise that relies more on fighting off waves of enemies and less on puzzle solving skills. In fact, a lot of the puzzle solving is very straight forward and each area has certain challenges you can unlock for survival points.
The technical aspect of the game in general is very smooth. The glitches are minimal in both the initial release for PlayStation 3 and the definitive version for PlayStation 4. And it takes some advantage of the newly interactive controller for the PlayStation 4 with certain actions following swipe commands on the touch pad as well as voice activation. And, for the most part, the controls are very fluid.
The survival instincts are more polished than the last few installments and help you figure out puzzles as well as find ammo, salvage and survival point items. You can upgrade this ability by spending survival points at camp fires, which feature as the game's home bases and save points for the harder difficulties. Once fully upgraded, helpful and challenge items will glow through walls.
Survival instincts are a sub-tier of the Survivor category. By purchasing/unlocking skills in this category, you'll add to your ammo scrounging abilities, salvaging abilities, agility, and, of course, survival instincts.
The second category contains your Hunter skills. This is where you'll upgrade your capacity to carry more ammunition as well as how well you can use each weapon that you find throughout the game. You'll also unlock some cool techniques to use in close combat settings under this tier.
And the third is the Brawler category. You can upgrade your pain tolerance--which will give you a slight edge as to how many bullets and such you can withstand and is especially useful on the harder difficulty settings where Lara is more fragile than her enemies. You'll also be able to use your climbing axe as a melee weapon with some of these unlockable skills and gain a more comprehensive dodging ability.
Following this example, Lara's weapons are also upgradable with the salvage that you find lying around the island. Some upgrades will enhance damage dealt to enemies while others will enhance Lara's ability to have a steadier hand or hold a fully drawn bow for longer periods of time before releasing the arrow.
You'll gain XP, or experience/survival points, by finding collectibles, advancing throughout the story line, and exploring the optional tombs/puzzles scattered throughout the map. Unlike previous games, you can also go back once you finish Lara's quest to pick up or finish anything you may have missed. This makes the playability a little more open world than most of the games in the franchise. And some areas require you to come back to them at a later time with new equipment or equipment upgrades.
This feature will add some more time to how long you can sit down and play the game or how long it may take you to play through the game in general. The differing modes of difficulty will also impact the number of hours spent playing through it. There's less ammo to be found in hard mode as well as less damage dealt and taken by Lara.
Lara's animations are realistically life-like thanks to the performance capture technique, which was debuted in the series by Tomb Raider: Underworld and originally thought of in Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. and the face of Lara for this one was based on a model named Megan Farquhar and the voice actress used was the debut of Camilla Luddington in the series. Luddington reprised her role again for the 2015 Rise of the Tomb Raider.
All of this has helped to contribute to this being the most successful installment in the Tomb Raider franchise. In its first 48 hours, the reboot sold one million copies. As of April 2015, it has sold 8.5 million copies, which includes the original and definitive editions. Its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, was released exclusively on Xbox One in 2015 with the PC and PS4 options following in 2016.
A (More) Open-World Reality
Overall, the game is very well done and feels like the first proper Tomb Raider game that's been put out in a long time--which is an opinion that many seem to share. So, overall, I'd give it 4 stars out of 5 simply because the combative part of the game does become very repetitive after a while and cuts down on re-playability. But it's a fresh look at Lara's character which I don't think has been shown since the beginning levels of Tomb Raider IV: The Last Revelation. It was refreshing to see such a young and vulnerable Lara find both herself and her inner strength as well as realizing that there's some truth in all myths. She didn't go into this believing in the supernatural but she comes to understand that it exists side-by-side with the natural and, if you dig a little deeper, you'll find it.
Thankfully, you don't have to dig that deeply to enjoy this game. It's an easy-to-enjoy play through for both old and new fans alike that does a proper justice to the franchise.
© 2017 Gaylen Cook