Tomb Raider - Retrospective Review
By the late 2000s Tomb Raider was in desperate need of a reinvention. After the embarrassing Angel of Darkness back in 2003, Lara Croft had managed to pull back some of her respectability with two pretty solid outings in Legends and Anniversary. However, there was still plenty of issues, namely the character design. Having a super heroine doing crazy back flips whilst blasting hot lead at an angry bear just didn't cut it anymore. If things weren't bad enough, you had the likes of Uncharted and Assassin's Creed threatening to encroach on Tomb Raider's territory. There was only one thing for it: enter the reboot.
Gone was the old gameisms that had dogged even the more recent series instalments and in came "realism". Not only was the new Tomb Raider significantly darker and gorier than its predecessor's it also made an effort to make Lara a real human being. Whilst it was a noble aim it did lead to a few problems, namely the fact that Lara was turned into sobbing wreck a little too much throughout the game. Sure, it was important to ensure she was given a proper character arc throughout the story but occasionally the attempt was a little clunky.
Trapped on a storm-wracked island off the coast of Japan, Tomb Raider placed greatest emphasis on survival. Whether it was getting to the next base camp, or having to climb all the way up an old radio tower in order to send an SOS message, despite the title, this wasn't a game focused particularly on raiding tombs. Instead, Tomb Raider cribbed a lot its elements from other titles. Namely, the character-driven story and gunplay of Uncharted, the secret tombs and platforming of Assassin's Creed, and a Metroidvania progression system;
Unfortunately, this is where Tomb Raider's problems began to show. Despite the story telling you how important survival was, combat was in many cases absurdly easy. Bullets weren't something that needed to be rationed but instead could be fired with reckless abandon. Worse still was the salvage mechanic, which basically had you collecting abstract junk that could be used to upgrade weapons like you were in an MMO. It's not that mechanic itself was bad, The Last of Us used pretty much the exact same thing, the problem was that Tomb Raider simply didn't convey the same level of threat in its gameplay that it did in its cut-scenes.
That's not to say that Tomb Raider wasn't any fun. Crystal Dynamics managed to strike a good balance between the gunplay, platforming and puzzles, even if the latter could have worked your grey matter a little better. The game's secret tombs at least effort some short, sharp conundrums for more inquisitive players to have a go at.
Despite all of the numerous distractions, including a bevy of side content for completionists to lap up, this was still a game heavily reliant on its story to see the player through to the end. Much like the barrage of super hero origin stories that swirl around Hollywood every year, Tomb Raider's tale of one quiet girl finding her adventuring spirit has been done before, but it's at the very least well told.
The surprisingly large supporting cast however, didn't fare quite as well. Grizzled northerner Roth makes for a great teacher and surrogate father for Lara, played well by Robin Atkin Downes. In contrast, the rest of the survivors end up blending into one another, or worse go over the top, as is the case with Dr. James Whitman, the game's pantomime villain, whose role in the story is obvious straight from the outset.
Tomb Raider might have not brought much new to the table, either in its gameplay or its story, but what it did manage to do was resurrect one of gaming's most iconic characters. Playing it safe, ultimately, was a sound decision by Crystal Dynamics, which just leaves the inevitable sequel to build on these solid foundations.
The Definitive Edition
Obviously this retrospective review was written in response to last week's release of the "definitive edition" of the game on Xbox One and Playstation 4. There's been a buzz on some sites that a release like this on new consoles is simply a way of hauling in some more money without having to put out any new content. And while that's certainly the case, it's no different than say, film distributors releasing multiple different DVD/Blu-Ray editions of the same movie; like The Hobbit for example.
The question remains, is it worth getting the definitive edition? If you've already played the game then the answers probably no. Whilst looking absolutely gorgeous on the Playstation 4, with that boosted frame rate (which bobs between 45 and 60 frames per second, depending on the action) it's certainly not enough to justify shelling out full price for the exact same title. The only other really noticeable difference is that Lara's face seems to have undergone a remodelling, making her appear more like she did in the older games. It's something of an odd thing to change, and it'd be interesting to know why they felt the need to do on an update of Lara on a pre-existing game, and not, say, simply alter her in the sequel.
If you've not had a chance to player Tomb Raider though, then this definitive edition is definitely the version to get a hold of, provided you don't mind the inflated price when compared to last year's version.
Tomb Raider was released, for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in March 2013. The definitive edition was released for Xbox One and Playstation 4 on January 31st.
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