Tomb Raider Xbox 360 Review
The previous Tomb Raider adventures featuring Lara Croft all seemed to have a few things in common. She always wore shorts and a ponytail, kept everything on her person in pouches, including a few on her thighs, and she dealt with a crap load of mystical civilizations. Well, with Square Enix joining Eidos and Crystal Dynamics to make this Tomb Raider reboot, you still have Lara Croft as an archaeologist who has a fairly diverse skill set she learned from her father. But her appearance is a little more realistic, from her figure (still above average, but not over-the-top) to her hair (a little less composed than the previous games, although still in the pony tail) to her clothing (she wears cargo pants and boots). The game is set on a fictional island in the middle of a real oceanic phenomenon. This phenomenon the Devil’s Triangle, Japan’s own version of the Bermuda Triangle, and similarly, the site of many a disappearance and strange occurrence. The game makes its own little explanation for this, and the result is quite the ride.
You start out with Lara Croft and her ship mates talking about trying to find a mythical island nation called Yamatai. According to real legends (because if you’re going to make a game that focuses around a female archaeologist, you might as well use stories taken from real texts instead of inventing something), Yamatai was the seat of power for a powerful ruler named Himiko, the Sun Queen. Because plenty of people have tried to find this place and failed in the past, Lara believes she’s got a better plan. Accompanying her on this journey are Samantha “Sam” Nishimura (who is also apparently a descendant of Himiko), family friend Conrad Roth, the ship’s pilot Grim (he has a real name but it’s barely ever said), the ships mechanic Reyes (also the mother of Roth’s daughter), computer specialist Alex, the ship’s cook Jonah (who apparently has strong spiritual ties and has the same last name as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s grandfather because he’s Samoan), and celebrity archaeologist Dr. James Whitman (self-centered and hoping to land a big find for his own glory). While Lara is not apparently the nominal leader of the expedition, she seems to have the respect of pretty much everybody except for Whitman.
The real adventure begins when, upon entering the Devil’s Triangle, the ship gets hit by a massive storm, complete with a huge amount of destructive force that cracks the Endurance in half. Lara manages to escape alive, but is separated from her group. The rest of the team finds each other, but Lara is captured by an unknown man. After escaping, she finds shelter (camp fires become your check points throughout the game), finds Sam, then wakes to find she’s been left to the wolves – quite literally. Although she does have a bow and arrow – get used to using it, it’s going to be the only weapon you’ve got for certain points in the game – she barely manages to fight them off before the rest of the crew, sans Roth, finds her. What results after that is a fight against the people that have been marooned on the island for ages, as well as discoveries that this island has been the site for many incidents in the past. Every last minute of the game revolves around Lara and the rest of the ship’s crew trying to find a way off the island, with the truth of the Sun Queen being hand in hand with that escape. Because the regular inhabitants of the island view Lara and her crew as dangerous outsiders (“Kill the Outsider!” is a common theme among many of your NPC enemies), Lara loses some allies, most of which die trying to save her or, in one case, what remains of the crew. Each loss is definitely emotionally jarring, but it makes Lara’s resolve that much clearer.
The island has quite a few diverse environs through which Lara must journey in order to achieve the escape of her crew. These include forests, above ground sites from the ancient Yamatai kingdom, a shantytown, and the remains of a military base that is far more recent than you would expect from a supposedly “lost” island. All of them are rendered beautifully, and in full detail. The only downside is that in certain stages of the game, these detailed environments can kill Lara in an amazingly high number of ways. Impalement is a common possibility in certain situations, but falling to your doom or drowning because you took a wrong step also exist. It definitely heightens the feeling that the whole island, not just the people on it, are out to get you. When you finally encounter the final stage of the game, including a final boss that seems impossible to defeat at first, this feeling becomes even more clear, and it feels like everything you’ve encountered could not possibly be filler. The final scene in the story feels even more fitting, because it’s clear that even after everything she’s seen on Yamatai, Lara Croft is not done with her adventures.
As far as the action-adventure RPG genre in to which the game fits, Tomb Raider is the definition of a game like this. While combat occurs frequently enough that you do have to figure out ways to defeat large numbers of enemies efficiently, it is by far not the most interesting part of the game. The story has far more depth gained from exploring the island for relics and documents, as these help you learn about allies, enemies, and the people that were here well before either of those groups. It’s also a small education in to ancient and more recent Oriental cultures – you find some Chinese relics along with the Japanese pieces – that prove just how detailed the game makers were with this. Finally, true to its name, there are special underground sites to which the game refers as tombs. These are locations that are entirely platforming puzzles, and the experiences gained in them definitely help in solving later stages of the game. Furthermore, the platforming puzzles that a player solves in the regular story are fairly challenging and interesting, and make it feel much more like an adventure than a simple “shoot everything and everyone” style of game. The upgrades that you have for both Lara (related to passive survival skills, active combat skills, and melee combat skills – gained by experience) and Lara’s arsenal (a bow, a semi-automatic pistol, a shotgun, and a machine gun – all with secondary firing modes) are great rewards for exploration beyond just the basic linear plot.
Of course, you can’t forget that this Tomb Raider also has a multi-player mode. Because of the nature of the game, a co-op version of the story is somewhat impossible, but you do get an impressive death match mode. Although your arsenal is basically limited to the weapon types you get in the game, you can similarly customize it as you progress and play multi-player more. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that, if you take a while to get in to the multi-player, you’re screwed. Yes, it rewards more consistent players, but the equipment with which you start is still fairly formidable. Between that and the ability to choose different character models with different physical attributes, and it is not just something that developers Eidos, Crystal Dynamics, and Square Enix slapped on so that people would keep playing.
Finally, a review like this would not be complete without mentioning the incredible audio work on this game. The voice casting is superb, with each voice actor matched almost perfectly with the character that they voice. The dialogue for a lot of the extras (save for during combat sequences) is similarly unique, with no apparent voice actor repetition (even if there was some). Similarly, the musical composition is something quite incredible. The production videos included with the game disc – two trailers and three development videos – include one bit about the music in the game. Along with regular instrumentation, almost all of which is developed around the main theme, they built a custom instrument from metal and glass. Playing it with different items – including a bow that resembles the bow with which Lara starts to build her arsenal – generate a fairly unique sound. Similarly, the atmospherics are all spot-on. Without all of this work, the game would feel diminished, and truly, it is something incredible.
Of course, there are a few complaints, but it’s mostly on the end of gamer error. A few times in the game, a slight bit of mistiming means you have to re-start from a checkpoint. Also, there are some bits of environment where you can get trapped without anything happening beyond a first-person view of you being trapped. However, these are minor concerns compared to the overall game experience.
+ An expansive and detailed environment
+ A story based upon actual legends
+ A story line that never seems to have filler
+ Platforming that is always challenging and creative
+ Side quests that contribute to the main story and experience
+ Incredible audio work
+ A fully-developed multi-player mode
– Some parts of the game that result in Lara’s death for small errors
Overall Rating: 9.5/10