Pros: State of the art graphics and sounds with a solid story.
Cons: If you're not into adventure games and solving puzzles, it may not tickle your fancy.
When the character Lara Croft first appeared in the original Tomb Raider in 1996, she was possibly the most talked-about videogame character since Mario. Back then the PlayStation was just two-years new and there was no Xbox. There had never been a female protagonist like this one in a game. Lara could find lost artifacts like Indiana Jones, perform acrobatics like an Olympic gymnast and handle a pair of pistols like Clint Eastwood. No doubt, Lara Croft was a game-changer for PlayStation and the gaming industry. The original Tomb Raider made proper use of all of the graphics horsepower the original PlayStation had to offer, and gamers enjoyed exotic landscapes in far away places that, at the time, seemed to jump off of the screen with detail.
The success of the original Tomb Raider brought eight videogame sequels, countless posters and t-shirts and two Hollywood movies starring Angelina Jolie as the feisty (and sexy) action star, Lara Croft.
Fast forward to 2013 and Lara’s got a brand new game. Tomb Raider (2013) for PS3 and Xbox is a welcome revisit to the things that made Tomb Raider the phenomenon it was in its heyday. Will this new version spawn a new set of movies? Probably not, but it’s worth every penny to dive into Lara’s past and control her through some rough and tumble enemies. That said, rumors persist about a third film in the works.
GAMEPLAY: Tomb Raider (2013) gameplay consists of problem-solving, storyline cut scenes and acrobatics all wrapped in a fascinating storyline with plenty of twists and turns to keep you wondering what’s next. The story begins as a prequel to all that has come before in the franchise, as a young Lara Croft is a young archaeologist on a boat with a team of explorers and her friend, Samantha (Sam), who is documenting the expedition. Something goes horribly wrong and they end up shipwrecked on and island that, after a while, feels a bit like the island in the TV show LOST. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are some mysterious things happening on the island and Lara’s companions pay a high price for being stranded there. On that note, fans of LOST will probably find one of the cave drawings very interesting. There is a location in the game where there is a drawing on a wall of the tail coming off of the back of a jet over an island that is eerily similar to events in LOST.
Lara has a Survival Instinct capability that lets her focus intensely on her surroundings, which reveals the location of nearby animals, people and clues. This instinct helps Lara to hunt for animals which give her materials to improve her hunting skills.
It wouldn’t be Tomb Raider with tombs so when Lara comes near a hidden tomb, there is a music cue, and something carved or painted on a wall, so you know to look around the area for something special. Once a tomb is found, there is almost always some acrobatics and puzzle-solving to obtain the hidden treasure. The big prize in these tombs is often a map of the area, which makes finding all of the little things tucked away in bushes, trees, waterfalls and caves much easier. Sometimes you can see things are in a specific location, but can’t figure out how to get there, and by this measure the game encourages you to explore the world fully to find a way to your target destination.
As the game progresses, Lara collects objects and upgrades to her weaponry and skill set. You have control of which skills and weapons to apply points to, so there is a sense of playing a hand in what kind of person Lara becomes by the end of the game.
There isn’t a lot of button-mashing like one might find in a fighting game or something like God of War, but sometimes there are tricky maneuvers that must be timed perfectly in order to prevent an untimely death for Lara. One spot in particular gave me fits, where Lara must slide down a waterfall and a jump must be timed perfectly, while sliding, to plunge a pickaxe into a wall and climb up. For experienced gamers, this game might be not be very challenging but it is likely to please, regardless.
GRAPHICS: Much like when DVDs first appeared some of them weren’t mastered as others because the envelope hadn’t been pushed on quality mastering, whenever a new game console first appears, the games of the first year or two never seem to look as good as the ones released near the end of life for the console. That is the case with Tomb Raider (2013). The graphics in this game are a showpiece for the full capabilities of the PS3 and how far it has come. The years of programming for this platform have helped developers to squeeze every last bit of visual goodness from the hardware and this game shows that well.
Sometimes it’s easy to find yourself just stopping and spinning around to see the lush, virtual world around you in this game – it looks that good. When I found myself doing this, I remembered the first time I played Tomb Raider back in the 90s and doing the same thing. I found that just looking around the jungle, or a stone façade, or looking for mines in a bay of water lapping on the shore is thoroughly enjoyable. When combined with the compelling storyline and gameplay it often made me forget the real world for hours at a time. You have been warned!
The only image complaint I have is one that I have with all games at this time, and that is that they never include an extra-wide graphics option for those with constant height setups. The only thing that would make playing Tomb Raider (2013) better would have been to play it in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I guess game developers aren’t into that kind of playback system.
AUDIO: Tomb Raider (2013) is equally enjoyable where audio is concerned. There is full-range fidelity from start to finish so if you’re playing back on a system with high dynamic range or with Buttkickers, you’ll be thoroughly satisfied. Every detail is rendered splendidly, right down to the crackling fire when Lara sets up camp and you get to upgrade your weapons and skills. Moving through the menus during skill selection generates a seriously deep bass tone that makes interesting this simple task that is totally outside of the main game action.
The soundtrack is on par with film and game standards of today. No particular theme stands out as memorable to the point where I’m humming it without realizing it as I did with Uncharted 3, but that’s not a bad thing. If you are one who likes to turn all music off, you will miss half the game though, so don’t deprive yourself of the value that this soundtrack adds to the gameplay.
By the end of the game, as one might expect, Lara has saved the day and we see how she acquired her now-famous dual pistols. Tomb Raider (2013) is a beautiful romp through wild landscapes and boatloads of action and problem-solving. If you want adventure, look no further than Tomb Raider (2013).
THE SYSTEM: This game was reviewed in a dedicated home theater with a Panasonic PT-AE1000U projector, 90” 2.35:1 aspect ratio Vutek Silverstar screen, Blue Sky System One THX Pm3-certified studio monitors (5.1 configuration) Integra DTC 9.8 pre/pro and a Buttkicker transducer and amp.