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TOMB RAIDER (REVIEWED ON X-BOX 360. ALSO AVAILBLE FOR PC & PS3.)
I’ve been a fan of the TOMB RAIDER franchise since the first installment was released in 1996 for the Sega Saturn, PC and the original PlayStation (my console of choice, back in the day). The gameplay combined the best elements of a shooter with challenging puzzles. TOMB RAIDER could keep you stumped (and engaged) for hours, running from one room to the next searching for a hidden lever, etc.
Though Lara Crofts’ boobs got bigger with each successive installment, elements that made the first game great, unfortunately, began to fade into the background. Each new chapter started feeling more like a rehash of the one before. Same game, different locale. That’s why I was excited to learn about an overhaul and reboot of the franchise when it was first announced in 2010. The road from development to release took a bit longer than expected but, it was worth the wait. The new TOMB RAIDER is easily the best in the series since the original.
Developer Crystal Dynamics decided to make this installment an origin story and it’s the breath of fresh air the franchise desperately needed. Once a heroine with basketball-size boobs and bravado to match, Lara Croft has been re-imagined as her younger, more vulnerable self. Not only does she bleed and cry, the character actually shows a full range of emotion! The make-over also replaced the the comic book-esque proportions of her upper body with something far less salacious.
Without giving too much of the story away, the game begins with a shipwreck that leaves Croft and her traveling companions stranded on a mysterious island. Of course, they’re not alone. Croft gets separated from her group and is captured. She eventually escapes and is thrust into the dual odyssey of learning to survive on her own while also trying to reunite with her ship mates. As the game progresses, we are with Lara Croft during her gradual transformation from terrified victim to hardened survivor. Being part of this personal evolution is what makes TOMB RAIDER such a blast to play.
The first hour of the single player campaign is pretty much dedicated to a tutorial of the basic game controls and allowing players to get familiar with the lay of the land. Both are executed in clever ways so that neither process ever gets boring
Things really start to heat up fast just as you’re getting acclimated to the world of the game. The combat system is easy to use. At any given moment you have several weapons at your disposal but, the bow and arrow is where it’s at! You’ll have so much fun silently stalking and dropping enemies with a well placed arrow to the head, you’ll never want to use a gun!
The single player campaign took me 10-15 hours to complete and there are plenty of optional achievements to extend your playing time and amp up the replay factor.
The game is wonderfully presented and one of the best I’ve seen on the Xbox 360 platform. The lighting and fire effects are particularly well rendered. Camilla Luddington (GREY’S ANATOMY, TRUE BLOOD) does impressive voice work as Lara Croft. The rest of the cast, not so much, though it’s a negative that never detracts from the game.
TOMB RAIDER is billed as open world but, it’s not on the same level as FAR CRY 3, for example. Though there are side missions and tombs to raid, these are completely optional and don’t affect the outcome of the game. In all honesty, I didn’t find the puzzles challenging, making this the only disappointing part of the TOMB RAIDER experience. I give them a pass on this simply because the origin story is the real focus here and it’s so well done!
Given the record-breaking sales of the game, the re-boot appears to be a commercial success. I’m hoping the next installment will spend more time on the tombs and the puzzles. Still, if you’re a long-time TOMB RAIDER fan like me, you should be quite happy with the state of the franchise. If you’ve never played a TOMB RAIDER game, this is a perfect way to start.
The tagline for the new TOMB RAIDER is “A Survivor is Born.” Thanks to the care and creativity of the TOMB RAIDER team at Crystal Dynamics, it’s also safe to say that a franchise has been reborn!
PETE HOGAN IS AKA SKUNKAPE30 ON XBOX LIVE.
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