STAFF REVIEW of Tomb Raider (Xbox 360)

Friday, March 8, 2013.
by Brent Roberts

Tomb Raider Box art There is one word that seems to be becoming a growing trend in the video game world and that is reboot. It's this word that we have seen developers and publishers alike throw around when talking about iconic video game franchises and their future. What a reboot means is essentially take every game prior to this latest release and throw it away. Then focus on beginning another story with this new game. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have decided that the next video game to receive a reboot is the Tomb Raider franchise and the once overly voluptuous Lara Croft. If you haven't played any Tomb Raider games before in the past, you're in luck since this is now the official beginning of the series. If you have played any or all previous games, forget everything you already know because all the other Tomb Raiders are now obsolete and the Tomb Raider official cannon apparently starts now.

When you hear the title Tomb Raider your mind instantly snaps to qualities such as: amazing treasure, perplexing puzzles, quick reflexed combat, body destroying traps, and more. It's these core platforming mechanics that must not only be introduced, but overhauled from scratch due to the reboot and still provide the utmost quality and if possible, improve on what we all know and love about the game. To accomplish this herculean feat Crystal Dynamics set off to provide gamers a quality balance of exploration and puzzle solving mixed together with intense but fluid combat and cinematic beauty. And they topped it all off with some high quality polish that brings Lara to life like we've never seen her before. On paper all of this sounds like a great recipe to make a truly spectacular game so has Crystal Dynamics' reboot of Tomb Raider found the discovery of a lifetime or does it get crushed to death by a rock? Let's find out.

First and foremost you have to understand that in this reboot of Tomb Raider, we are literally experiencing Lara in her infancy when it comes to exploration and hunting treasure. While the beginning of the game does very little to help establish any sort of meaningful connection with your supporting cast, it does though manage to integrate past experiences throughout the game in order to allow some form of meaning when it comes to your team. One of Crystal Dynamics' biggest successes with this reboot of Tomb Raider is how we as gamers get to experience Lara's evolution and growth as she progresses through the story. While the beginning tutorial of the game is relatively slow with occasional moments of high paced action, you will find that once you progress through the basics of Tomb Raider, the world opens up to you and allows you one amazing experience after another. Make no mistake, this story of Tomb Raider is a dark way to begin the reboot experience, however, when faced with challenges head on that involve choices that impact whether you live or die, you do what you have to do to survive.

Now that Crystal Dynamics have provided a dark, evolving story of Lara Croft, their next success comes from their gameplay mechanics. Scampering up walls to higher ledges, flying down zip lines, jumping from platform to platform on your way to treasure are just a few of the platforming elements that made all the previous Tomb Raider games what they are, and in this latest reboot of the franchise we experience a very fluid and straight forward control scheme which allows you to focus more on exploration and combat than camera control and checkpoints.

Not stopping there, Crystal Dynamics has also included some new gameplay innovations to Tomb Raider that push the single player experience from great, to absolutely brilliant. This is accomplished by adding the ability to upgrade Lara's characteristics such as getting more xp from hunting animals, to scavenging more scrap to allow you upgrade your equipment and weapons faster and so on. Yes scavenging for scrap is what it will take to survive through Tomb Raider. This is how the second innovation takes shape. Crystal Dynamics is allowing Lara to upgrade her equipment via the use of scavenged scrap which you can find from animals (with the right character boost purchased), enemies, chests, etc. These upgrades are weapon specific; however, they greatly change the mechanics of gameplay when you start getting deeper into the story of Tomb Raider.

Graphically speaking, Tomb Raider and Lara Croft have never looked better. Stunning rays of light creep through the foliage while cascading waterfalls produce breathtaking backdrops to your adventures. Lighting effects from your torch and campfires are gorgeous and even the Tombs themselves are beautiful in their own dark and perplexing way. Even though the graphics are blindingly beautiful, adding additional support from the sound department allows the island and all its inhabitants the treasure seeking experience of a lifetime. Crackling of fires, creaking of foliage under your feet, the voice over acting, all of it and more has been done with precision detail giving your ear drums an auditory sensation like no Tomb Raider ever before.

Now everything so far sounds pretty good, however, there are a few drawbacks that cause Tomb Raider to take an arrow... nevermind. The main drawback of Tomb Raider rests squarely on the multiplayer. While the single player is done brilliantly with only a few minor drawbacks, the multiplayer however does not feel as polished as the campaign, is a pain to get loaded up and configured, and ultimately is the most broken and boring aspect of the game itself. You can find Atlantis in the time it takes to load one multiplayer game and in-between rounds you have time to write a bestselling novel based off your adventure. The level design is not the best and when you get to the point where you can customize your loadouts in multiple ways, you will have already lost interest because you will feel that Tomb Raider's multiplayer was compiled at the last minute and when you throw in a poor multiplayer into a stellar single player story mode, that really does give Tomb Raider a black eye.

So overall has Crystal Dynamics pulled off a successful reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise? Undoubtedly so. By providing a dark and ominous storyline with exceptional play control mechanics and a vast island to explore with secondary tombs to uncover, this is the Tomb Raider that gamers around the world have been waiting for. Stunning graphics, amazing sound quality, and innovations for both weapon and character upgrades make this adventure one that shouldn't be missed. Throughout the past few years there have been reboots of other franchises, but none of those can compare to the quality that Crystal Dynamics brings in their reboot of one of the greatest platforming, adventure franchises of all time; Tomb Raider.

Either improve on the multiplayer to bring it to the quality of the single player experience, or let it go to focus only on the single player experience. Also some more depth to the secondary characters to help give the story more of a sense of meaning and involvement between the characters.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.4 / 10
Sound: 8.8 / 10


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