This is the first time I’ve felt compelled to write about a game in a long time, and it’s one I got ‘accidentally’ (accidentally in this case is me pre-ordering it a long time ago and forgetting about it until it appeared on my doormat.) The game in question is Tomb Raider, the recent prequel/reboot of the franchise. I’m still firmly a living room player, moreso with the arrival of my son, so this is all based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
I really liked the first couple of Tomb Raider games, way-back-when, much like the rest of the world, but the more recent entries in the franchise left me a bit cold. They weren’t bad games, they just didn’t do much new and became stale very quickly. With this in mind, I was very excited when I heard about the reboot, and that excitement grew when the first videos leaked showing just how gritty they’d made it. I’m not usually a fan of making things more ‘realistic’ in games – it usually just means adding more shades of brown and grey to the palette, but this was a series due a good overhaul.
The first thing to strike you about Tomb Raider is the presentation; it’s off the charts. Lots of games have tried in the past to feel like you’re playing a film, and most have failed. In fact the only one I can think of in recent memory that came close was the excellent Heavy Rain on PS3. Tomb Raider redresses the balance though, you can tell from the title screen that this is a game that’s had a lot of love (and cash) thrown at it. Everything from the little graphical touches (like Lara touching the rocks as she moves close to them in passages) to the excellent sound (train-of-thought narration, ambient effects and voices) just shines.
The thing is though, does all of this polish make it a good game? After all, you can put lipstick on a monkey, but you’re not going to want to spend a quiet evening in with it. While the gloss might not make it a good game, the underlying gameplay and story do, and they’re both winners. Penned by Terry Pratchett’s daughter, Rhianna, the script and direction are awesome. It throws you headlong into the story with a few cut-scenes to add atmosphere and backstory, and it really takes you on a rollercoaster ride from there. Gameplay is tight, responsive controls, great combat and – naturally – lots of good platforming and clambering action.
If you’re expecting a game like the original, you’re not going to get it I’m afraid. This one is much more about the journey around the mysterious island and what happens along the way than about raiding tombs. But then again, it’s a prequel. It’s before diminutive Lara Croft became LARA CROFT!!!, and how she got there. That’s not to say there’s no puzzling and raiding, but the tombs are hidden around the landscape, so you’ve got to find them before you can try to figure out how to reach the treasure in each.
I’ve still not finished the main game yet, despite a very dramatic set-piece which made me think I was just about there, but I think for once I can honestly say it’s one I’ll come back to after the credits roll. There is an absolute ton of extra stuff to find and do, away from the main story. There’s the tombs I mentioned above, GPS caches to find, relics, books, and that’s without even mentioning being able to upgrade Lara herself (through experience points spent at campfires) or her weapons and equipment (looted from salvage crates and the bodies of people stupid enough to get in her way). For once, I want to 100% this game.
So in a nutshell, it’s a fantastic game, dripping with atmosphere, movie-like presentation and action, and a lot of ways to get things done. If you’re a fan of the Tomb Raider series it’s a no-brainer, you have to buy this game. Even if you’re not, I strongly urge you to consider it. If you enjoy 3rd-person action like the recent Batman games or Assassins Creed series, you’ll love this. There’s a lot of rubbish around at the moment when it comes to games, do yourself a favour and pick up this gem.