by Lisa Thrasher
previewed on PS3
A More Realistic Take
Lara Croft brings an image to just about every gamer’s mind…usually a scantily-clad, busty female with dual pistols and a British accent. Tomb Raider has come quite a way from the original Playstation game in 1996, becoming a huge franchise of books, movies, and ten video games. From actress Angelina Jolie to model Allison Carroll, Lara Croft has taken different forms throughout the years, but none of them could have prepared us for the new Lara.
Where Lara has previously been a mature, confident woman who is a seasoned adventurer, this is not your father’s Lara Croft. Instead, Tomb Raider takes us back to the past with a girl barely out of her teens with the curiosity, excitement, and passion to go on her first adventure. The Lara from past games always seemed to have the innate ability to never get dirty and to never lose her head. This young Lara crawls through mud, stoops into small cave openings and fights off ferocious beasts. She gets hurt and has to find a way to fix her own injuries while simultaneously being covered in a layer of dirt and grime.
Lost at Sea
Lara is accompanied by her mentor, Captain Conrad Roth, an elderly gentleman and famous adventurer who captains the Endurance. However, before Lara can get to the adventure, a massive storm strikes and shipwrecks the boat, cleaving the vessel completely in two and separating her from the rest of the crew. She drops into a cave where she is accompanied by nothing but fear and loneliness on an island off the coast of Japan. Of course, your ability to keep her alive will be there for her too, and she is definitely in need of them.
The entire point of Tomb Raider this time around is survival. The first event after the shipwreck leaves a bone gouging from Lara’s side, requiring you to master a quick time event to pull the bone out. But the danger isn’t over yet as Lara is left bleeding and unable to get by without medical attention, so you must lead her through environmental puzzles relying on the physics of water and fire to escape the cave.
Friends and Foes
However, it wouldn’t be an adventure if Lara was truly alone. There are natives on the island as well as some crewmates from the Endurance that made it through the wreck, but the survival of both Lara and the crew relies on your ability to succeed in the actions you put Lara through. People aren’t your only enemies though, the atmosphere suffocates you with a sense of claustrophobia and tension. The storms and weather are also dynamic, which affects climbing conditions and the entire world around you, sometimes shifting enemy spawn and locations. Every moment is pressure-filled as Lara encounters terrifying situations much in line with Dead Space or Resident Evil.
Momma's got a Brand New Bag
Along with the atmospheric and character changes, the gameplay has been altered quite a bit. Equipment and abilities that Lara acquires are better utilized and platforming segments are interspersed with harrowing survival segments, lifelike puzzles, and a few moments to catch your breath to solve problems that arise and keep the story moving. Lara is now equipped with an ability a bit along the lines of Batman’s detective mode in Arkham City. Survival Instinct highlights pieces to assist the player in solving a puzzle, but it can only be used if Lara is standing still. In true tension-rising fashion, if you stand in one place for too long, the ground may just fall out from under you and the puzzle you were stuck on will be the least of your worries.
Instead of the traditional dual pistol wielding, this time around you can create your own weapons. Salvage is an important part of the gameplay experience and allows you to piece together new items and equipment as well as upgrade ones you’ve already acquired. There are also talent trees that let you choose between different abilities and improve them, allowing you to become more proficient with various skills in order to make it through the different challenges the game presents you with. There are also multiple base camps that provide respite from the terrors of the open island as well as give the player the ability to travel between discovered base camps.
Back with a Bang
Crystal Dynamics is trying their best to reignite the fire for the Tomb Raider franchise, and they seem to be on the right track so far. The gritty, realistic take on Lara is making an incredible difference on my perspective of the series already. I really like having a girl protagonist who can handle herself, but is also reacting to situations in very real ways. Having the fear and tension seep from the screen to your own environment seems like a great way to bring newcomers to the franchise and give returning fans a new outlook. The graphics look like they should be on a next-gen system, and rolling up gameplay aspects that remind me of Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil, Arkham City and a slew of RPGs certainly doesn’t hurt my opinion. But although Tomb Raider does seem to borrow some traits from other games, it will be a completely different experience than any other game in the Tomb Raider library.