Tomb Raider: Extraordinary and Masterful

Tomb Raider: Extraordinary and Masterful

For me, a masterpiece of a game is one where I am utterly taken by story, character, graphics, and gameplay all at once, to the point that I lose sense of my surroundings and fall deep into the fantasy of its stunning world. It is very rare for me to feel this way while playing a video game as I usually only get this from novels. So I’m only impressed more when a game surpasses the feel of cinematic poop, to spiritual connection.

A famous explorer once said, that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. I'd finally set out to make my mark; to find adventure. But instead adventure found me. In our darkest moments, when life flashes before us, we find something; Something that keeps us going. Something that pushes us.

Lara Croft (Tomb Raider [2013])

Oh Lara

Lara's design gets better and better throughout the decades.

Tomb Raider had me from the very start: gorgeous graphics and realistic environments, smooth gameplay and suspenseful cut scenes, and then the wonderful Lara Croft herself. What a truly inspiring character. It's not often that I enjoy playing a premade character and not one of my own creation, but while I took the reigns of one of the most iconic females in gaming history, I truly felt awed by her superior identity. To experience the beginning of her famous story, one of emotion and suspense, was breathtaking.

Crystal Dynamics, the developers of the reboot, could not have told this story any better. It never reached a stale or boring point, with perfect pacing throughout, right until the end. The most tense moments were flawlessly captured by amazing voice acting and the games ability to transition from player control gameplay, to action cut scenes without any notice. The amount of times I kept holding the thumb stick to keep moving when I was actually no longer in control was hilarious. But this is how amazing the graphics were. It's as if you were playing inside the cut scenes themselves! The two are completely incomparable.

Linear, but free

Tomb Raider's environments were of the most exceptional I have seen in a game. Although not as diverse as I am told the latest Rise of the Tomb Raider game is, the use of the elements were what was so great: from rain specs left on the screen, to powerful wind that made you move much slower while Lara hunched over trying to keep her feet. I could almost feel the chill while climbing ice walls, and to hear the clink when the climbing tool dug in gave me the sensation of biting steel or hearing nails on a chalk board.

Tomb Raider takes more of a linear progression rather than having an open world like The Witcher 3 or Fallout 4. However I still felt just as free as I would in those games. There were some obvious and not so obvious barriers, but with the amount of hidden cracks in walls, dark caves that lead to giant open tombs, and views of previous locations from on top of massive cliffs, I almost forgot that it wasn't open world. Crystal Dynamics added in the ability to fast travel to and from a number of base camps (checkpoints). Some camps found throughout (mostly ones that are during a heavy story act) do not host this mechanic, but there are more than enough to be able to re-explore almost every inch of the island Lara has been to. Which is very important, because of course you can't forget that missing relic back there.

Shipwreck view. The island is practically a junk yard with the amount of boats and planes that crash here. But a beautiful one.

Collect, and collect some more

I am a huge collector nut in video games. I've even ruined experiences for myself by getting sucked into tedious collecting and getting bored. Tomb Raider has it's fair share of collecting but presented them in such a unique way that it was far from tedious. Every relic found opens the information interface and immediately triggers a Lara voice over of the item's description, while being able to rotate that said item. Every document (journal entries) found are voiced by the relative character, and incredibly well too, but not to mention each group of documents brings huge insight into the lore of the island and its past and present inhabitants. Through the menu system you are able to go back and read each document or relic in turn, along with an option to play the audio again.

There were many other types of collections to keep you busy outside the story, but one that was unfortunately lacking a bit were the optional tombs. The puzzles inside the tombs were fun to figure out but were never really challenging. Often I just found myself overlooking a simple fact of an extra platform over on the far side, or hey, you can pick this item up and throw it somewhere. Not only were there very little tombs to visit, but they were also much smaller than I anticipated. To be honest though, I was completely fine with this, as it was obvious the main focus of this game was Lara's origin story.

Smooth controls and plentiful choice

I've discussed a lot about the look and story, but of course a game is not perfect without intuitive gameplay, which is definitely what Tomb Raider has. Smooth motion makes charging in for a slow-mo instant kill oh so satisfying. Combat was made simple by being able to change weapons on the fly, and instantly aiming down your enemies flowed so well I had moments of triumph after taking five enemies down within 10 seconds with my nifty bow.

New equipment and upgrades were carefully opened up to you throughout the progression of the game making it so I never got bored of using the same items or skills, but I was also never overwhelmed by choice, as so many games make me feel these days. Instead of handing you tones of different weapons, you only had a total of four, but each with their own upgrades and modifications, which put them to good use in lots of different circumstances. The skill trees were minimal and simple, and only some I found pointless to spend points on. By the end of my play through I only left two singular skills unlocked.

"I'm not going home"

This is a game that I'm sure to play again. Like The Last of Us and Bloodborne, Tomb Raider is a 10/10 masterpiece in my eyes. Soon I will continue Lara's story with Rise of the Tomb Raider on her first raiding expedition, set to include much more suspenseful action and a much bigger world to play in. I can't wait.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition played on Xbox One

Image credit: tombraider.com

5 Feb 2016 7:32 PMBrittany Mitchell