Shipwrecked on a mysterious island populated by vicious natives, Lara must broadcast a radio signal from the top of a mountain. While the setting may ring familiar to the point of cliche, what really sets Tomb Raider apart are the solid gameplay mechanics. If you loved everything about Uncharted, bar its shoddy shooting, then Tomb Raider should definitely be on your watch list.
Croft versus Drake
Comparisons can, will and should be made to Naughty Dog’s treasure hunter. Both feature superb narrative pacing, emphasise a connection between the gamer and the on-screen protagonist and utilise Assassins Creed’s stellar climbing mechanics. The main story difference between the two, is the mood.
“It’s a very story driven game which has parallels to Uncharted, but the way we tell our story is a little bit more grounded. Theirs is more quippy and jokey. Ours is much more mature and serious in tone,” says Brian Horton, senior art director of Tomb Raider.
This mature storyline has its benefits. Sure, there are few one liners, but the atmosphere within – the eerie environments, mysterious cults, Lara’s verbal hesitation – all fuse together to create an experience far more immersive. When you’ve just stepped out to the view of a jaw dropping snow-capped mountain base after hours of torrential rain and caves filled with sacrificial remains, who cares if you lose the humour in the process?
Shoot em’ up
Something which wasn’t lost in the process is the gameplay. One of the biggest complaints of recent action adventure games has been their combat mechanics. You could wield a bow in Assassins Creed 3, but the frustrating lock-on system and lack of a free aim alternative was far from ideal. Then there was Uncharted’s shooting, which was quite frankly terrible. In Tomb Raider, firing with a bow and arrow is the way it’s supposed to be. As Lara draws the arrow back for extra power, the target reticle turns red or white, indicating if your arrow will hit or miss. Arrows spring forcefully and follow a realistic trajectory before impaling themselves in the meat of a deer’s leg.
Gunplay here is also solid – if your aim is even a little off your shots will miss. When they do hit, the reaction from enemies is satisfying. The real gameplay surprise however, and what will surely become a talking point for fans, is the surprisingly strong hand-to-hand combat. Rather than relying on quick-time events and button prompts, Crystal Dynamics instead chose to include a style more commonly used in hardcore fighting games. You roll to evade then strike while the bad guy is vulnerable; a system that should be familiar to Dark Souls enthusiasts.
No more stupid puzzles
Most adventure games have their share of puzzles. The kind that require you to memorise lines of text, move random blocks of stone around, or experiment with symbols in different combinations. It’s refreshing then to see Tomb Raider’s puzzles heading in the physics based direction popularised by titles such as Half Life 2.
“We have a lot of love for the potential of physics to be a much more intuitive means to solving puzzles,” says Horton.
This more intuitive approach to Tomb Raider’s puzzles sees Lara using fire, water, wind and weight to her advantage. You can thank the gaming gods that she doesn’t carry a leather bound journal in her backpack, with answers to every obstacle encountered.
Oh look, a tomb!
While still a largely linear game, Tomb Raider allows curious players to tread off the beaten path if they desire. Often when arriving in a new area, there will be a way forward and multiple alternate paths that allow you to discover side tombs. Many of these will be inaccessible without the proper equipment, so once you’ve advanced through the storyline and collected the appropriate tool you gain access. These side tombs hold loads of goodies, many masking details of the island’s unique history.
The opening two hours of the game makes heavy use of cut-scenes and quick-time-events. Most are welcome because they contribute to the tightly scripted narrative and Lara’s character development, but some are utterly pointless. These are the two second moments of C.G.I as Lara lands a long distance jump or delivers a finishing blow. While far from a game-breaker, they do jar the game’s flow to an extent. The campaign also looks a little on the short side at around 10 hours and seeing as multiplayer is unlikely at this point, its longevity will be decided by your determination to seek out all the collectibles.
Considering these were the only two qualms we could find during an extended demo it’s a compliment to the high production value of Crystal Dynamics’ upcoming offering.
Are you excited for the Tomb Raider reboot or have any questions for us after having played it? Let us know in the comments below!