As a good British lady, Miss Lara Croft arrives exactly when she intends to. So do not be surprised if, playing the first few hours of the new Crystal Dynamics production, you will have the impression that you are making you wait a little too long. If that helpless, frightened and perpetually bloody girl whose fate you are shaping pad in your hand seems completely alien to you, this is due to the intention of the developers to propose a completely new narrative course for the adventures of the English archaeologist. Although the wealthy origins, the green tank top and a certain propensity to explore ancient dungeons remain, a lot has changed in the gameplay formula, now much more similar to that of a traditional action adventure of this generation. With all due respect for the nostalgic, the new tomb raider it is however a game full of contents and capable of concealing a substantial linearity with a very strong characterization of the setting, obtaining interesting results, as we shall see.
As anticipated during the long promotional campaign, tomb raider focuses on the characterization of the new Lara and on narrating the reasons for her transformation into a survivor, ensuring that the player experiences all the physical and psychological traumas that the budding archaeologist has to endure. The island thus becomes the real enemy to be defeated, dotted with fierce enemies, insidious traps, sacrificial rites and imposing natural barriers. These very dark themes are flanked by a more traditional gameplay that rationalizes the playful offer, regularly rhythm shooting and climbing sequences, surrounding everything with a dominant cinematic look.
If this formula is familiar to you, it is very likely that in your gamer career you have spent time with the Uncharted trilogy, an exclusive Playstation 3 starring a sort of trigger-happy Indiana Jones, Nathan Drake. In fact, a few minutes in the company of the new Lara are enough to realize how Crystal Dynamics has evidently taken inspiration from the work of Naughty Dog to work on the return of the English archaeologist, starting from those solid foundations and trying to adapt them as much as possible to the theme of survival. . In this sense, tomb raider it is configured as an evolution of the gameplay proposed by the last two Uncharted, with the intention of offering more variety both in the combat sequences and in the dynamic climbs. This purpose was achieved by combining the normal flow of levels with a complex system of growth and advancement of Lara's skills and the arsenal at her disposal. By accessing the camps, i.e. campfires positioned regularly in the maps, it will in fact be possible to spend the skill points accumulated in three different skill trees, in a very similar way to what was seen in the recent Far Cry 3. However, it should be noted that, Unlike what happened in the Ubisoft shooter, these skills are generally more oriented to unlocking new combat moves and increasing the amount of resources collected, rather than actually enhancing the character. The most interesting feature of tomb raider it is in fact its ability to propose for almost its entire duration new possibilities in terms of platforming and combat.
It all begins with the collection of the so-called Materials, a shared resource that can be recovered both from the crates scattered everywhere in the levels, and by completing specific puzzles related to physics, or on the corpses of eliminated enemies. Once a campfire is reached, these can be spent on improving a number of characteristics of the weapons available to Lara, namely the bow, a pistol, an assault rifle and a shotgun. This arsenal becomes available progressively, advancing in the levels, and also evolves in appearance, with the entire booklet available after the first third of the game. In addition to increasing its effectiveness and adding secondary fire modes, tool upgrades also open up new possibilities for platforming. The ice ax, for example, can be reinforced to allow the opening of massive trunks and the climbing of previously inaccessible walls of friable rock. The bow can instead be equipped with fire arrows or attached to a string, so as to shoot specific objects or create improvised bridges.
The level design is fully at the service of this mechanic, offering always new platforming solutions as the tools available to the player increase. In this sense, it cannot be said that the climbs offered by tomb raider are complex, but still offer some slight challenges, mostly linked to the timed pressure of the X button (or square, on Playstation 3), useful for hooking to crumbly walls, or saving yourself in the event of an unstable grip following a jump. Compared to the tradition of the series, it is nevertheless a very clear simplification, given that the partially scripted nature of the context makes it almost impossible to "fail" the connections towards the next platform. The taut ropes play a very important role, and can be covered either by sliding them, or backwards, by climbing them (at least until a special tool is unlocked, which will allow you to climb them faster). The legacy in Uncharted can be seen more than anything else in the continuous interspersing of the climbs with short scripted events and sudden changes of shot, so as to give the game a distinct cinematic connotation. As we shall see, the freedom of exploration has naturally been sacrificed for this purpose.
When staying on the tracks drawn by Crystal Dynamics, the action offered by tomb raider it flows fast and intense, where the developers must be credited with having created a flow of events almost devoid of dead moments, and constantly growing, with the last third of the game able to reserve the best surprises in terms of level design. Although the experience is therefore frenetic and overall well packaged, not all aspects that concern it have received the same care.
The shootings, which end up occupying a rather important role in the playful offer, are in fact very simple to manage and a little forced in certain dynamics (see the excessive throwing of Molotov cocktails and grenades), mainly due to an artificial intelligence lacking and a level design not always inspired. The enemies are present in different variants, from grenadiers, to armored ones, to those specialized in melee, and they all reveal themselves to be united by the same lack of inclination to exploit cover. Even if they do, they will often leave the head or other body parts exposed, allowing the player to easily flush them out or get lethal headshots. Therefore, if the comparison with the enemies is not the best, the feedback of the three firearms and the bow is on the other hand well packaged, as well as the cover system, completely automatic and almost always fully efficient. Compared to the "forced" shootings, the phases in which it is possible to eliminate different groups of opponents silently, using the arrows of the bow, or approaching from behind and activating a special instant lethal move are more welcome.
Also in this case the artificial intelligence proves to be lacking, with enemies very little aware of the surrounding environment, but the approach remains in any case more pleasant than the shootings. If the action phases and the climbs are already substantially linear, even more guided are the different cinematic sequences that interrupt the traditional gameplay on several occasions. Connected in an elegant and seamless way, these sequences see Lara sliding down cliffs, or rivers in flood, avoiding lethal obstacles by pressing the buttons shown on the screen, or eliminating barriers with the shotgun. Unfortunately, as well as already seen, most of the time these sequences turn out to be confusing and unbalanced, requiring a bit of trial and error. They therefore lose in showmanship, and sometimes even frustrate the player. As a whole, the campaign of tomb raider he kept us busy for a more than respectable amount of hours, nine abundant at a normal level, collecting only a fraction of the collectibles. We then repeated a difficult one, discovering how the difficulty level affects only and exclusively the damage inflicted by the enemies, thus limiting the push to repeat the campaign, and explaining the absence of a New Game + mode.
Browsing around the island, it is impossible not to notice how in tomb raider there are snippets of gameplay ideas that are not in-depth. This is the case, for example, with the possibility of killing and skinning wild animals, or picking a certain type of berries. These peculiarities would seem to indicate the existence, perhaps in a first version of the game, of a hunting and gathering system, perhaps useful for the survival of the protagonist or to support a more in-depth crafting system, but they have obviously not reached approval. In the final version of the game, they simply return a very small amount of experience points, thus configuring themselves as completely useless actions for gameplay purposes. The same goes for collectibles known as GPS coordinates. Given their name, one might expect that once all those in an area have been collected they will lead to the identification of a new point of interest on the map, but, even in this case, the idea has not seen the light, and everything what you get is simply a bonus in experience. The long years of development make it very unlikely that these ideas have been discarded for reasons of lack of time, making us think that we wanted to keep the experience as accessible and linear as possible, without completely depriving the player of the possibility to explore and carry out research on the territory. Unfortunately, without valid motivations and rewards in terms of gameplay, these details will end up being completely, and rightly, ignored by most of the players.
As is evident by looking at the available game map, the island of tomb raider it has been substantially divided into well-defined levels, connected to each other by connecting "corridors", to be crossed according to a linear advancement, so as to support a gameplay very devoted to scripting, spectacularity and cinematic effect. The level design is almost always large, effectively alternates outdoor and indoor settings and offers some interesting enigma based on the use of fire, but the action always and only flows forward.
The only reason to retrace your steps, perhaps using the rapid travel system that connects some of the camps, are the collectibles. This is an honestly perplexing factor, given that the breadth of some levels is consequently almost wasted, and the need to gather resources would initially seem to suggest an emphasis on the exploratory factor. This is not the case, since the corpses of the defeated enemies and the crates scattered throughout the levels will provide you with more resources and ammunition than necessary, especially if you unlock some specific skills, making backtracking useless. It is probably the result of Crystal Dynamics' desire to make both linearity and a sketch of free exploration coexist in the same experience, without however taking into account that one ends up hopelessly excluding the other. Not wanting to force players to explore the levels to collect resources, the developers have made them immediately available, leaving only the collectibles the role of attraction to invite the exploration of the environments.
Clearly, this is a rather weak lure, and often not thorough. Apart from the many Diaries, some of which are interesting and able to reveal important background on the previous inhabitants of the island and its mysteries, the Relics and GPS Coordinates add nothing to the game even once recovered, configuring themselves more than anything else as mere excuses suitable only for fanatics of 100% completion. Moreover, their search has often been made too simple, given that without difficulty (and sometimes without even wanting to) you will find maps relating to individual areas, able to highlight all the collectibles and their precise positions. If you add to this the fact that retracing your steps will mean facing again a part of the enemies already eliminated on the first pass in some of the levels, it is easy to understand how tomb raider has in fact been specifically thought of as a linear experience, and everything else is at best a contour. Positive note instead for the so-called Tombs, a sort of small underground environments rather easy to find in the maps, where the player will be required to complete physics-based puzzles to obtain large crates of Materials in exchange. Despite their brevity and the lack of usefulness in terms of character progression, they manage to represent an effective variant of the gameplay, require a minimum of exploration to be found and are based on an interesting game of elements (fire, wind and so on) .
Despite the new beginning, tomb raider does not allow much space for pleasantries. Only a short introductory video separates the startup screen from the moment you take control, with the "new" Lara lost on an island in the Dragon Triangle (archipelago off the coast of Japan), following the shipwreck of his ship due to an unexpected storm. From this hasty opening, a rather predictable and at times confused story begins, to the point that it will take some time to understand exactly the roles and motivations of the various supporting actors.
The members of Lara's crew, also shipwrecked on the island, are joined by the mysterious inhabitants of the place, decidedly hostile and organized according to a sort of dark sect. The addition of a pinch of mystery could suggest a plot in line with tradition, but the screenplay work of Crystal Dynamics is unfortunately meager, both in enticing the player to unravel the puzzles that surround the island, as in surrounding him with interesting supporting actors. On the other hand, Miss Croft's new identity is rather apt, and from a frightened girl she will increasingly turn into a tenacious fighter, more like how we remember her. The character's evolution is actually too stylized, but still effective in showing the long-awaited "birth of the survivor". As already mentioned, the game and level design work of Crystal Dynamics largely takes its cue from the Uncharted trilogy, especially from the second and third installments of the saga. In this sense, platforming represents an evolved form of that seen in the adventures of Nathan Drake, where the use of tools such as the bow and the ice ax was not present.
On the other hand, the dynamic climb interspersed with rapid scripted events, the grips marked by a precise color (in this case white), the set of animations and some scenarios clearly refer to the work of Naughty Dog. Even the shootings are destined to unleash strong deja vu in all those familiar with Uncharted, similar in level design and consequent arrangement of the covers, feeling of the weapons and differentiation between the different types of enemies. In other words, Playstation 3 owners who played the Uncharted trilogy at the time will recognize in this tomb raider many of its features, almost all suitably evolved and made slightly richer in details and alternatives. A bizarre circular structure, considering that Uncharted was once inspired by the adventures of Lara Croft, proposing an evolved version with a decidedly cinematic tone. It seems that the "student" has made the "teacher" happy, to the point of convincing the guys of Crystal Dynamics to be inspired by Nathan Drake to shape the new Lara.
The multiplayer compartment of tomb raider it consists of four modes and five maps inspired by campaign settings, immediately configuring itself as an accessory experience compared to the single player. The only noteworthy mode is Rescue, where the two factions find themselves completing opposing objectives. One will have to try to bring medkits to a collection point, the other will have to try in every way to obstruct it. Although there is a system of increasing levels (up to 60) and unlocking weapons and perks, now at the basis of any multiplayer sector, the online experience offered by tomb raider it can be configured as a small addition to the offer, fairly fun in the mode described above, but certainly not destined to occupy many hours of play.
Tomb Raider offers 50 Achievements for a total of 1000 Gamerscore points. The most obvious are those related to the accumulation of increasing percentages of collectibles, the acquisition of skills, the completion of the Tombs and the improvements of weapons and tools. We then move on to the killing of enemies, sometimes to be carried out according to specific methods, and then ending with those related specifically to multiplayer.
Thanks to a varied and effective design, many of the settings proposed by tomb raider they strike the eye, and are imprinted in the memory. The island is configured as a microcosm, between ship cemeteries, suspended cities, forests and abandoned military bases. From a strictly technical point of view, the work done is mostly good, although some poorly cared for details tend to emerge on a closer look. The realization of the water, for example, leaves a lot to be desired, as does the anti-aliasing filter, generally set downwards. The animation sector, very important given the dynamism of the context, does a discreet job, with several missing links between one action and another (and consequent "teleportation" effect, evident above all in the "final moves") and some inaccuracies in the collision system. The platforming sometimes suffers from these inaccuracies, with Lara not always reacting promptly to commands, but fortunately these are not compromising defects for the general enjoyment. The definition of the textures is at more than acceptable levels, also considering the extension of some settings, and the sacrifices are all in favor of fluidity, never compromised. The audio sector uses a good but not memorable original soundtrack, and valid effects, apart from some stretch marks (the sounds produced by the bow, for example, are not very credible). The dubbing in Spanish is decent, but loses points especially when compared to the original English version. The expressiveness is not the same, and the work done on the characterization of some characters is unfortunately lost.
With a firm nod to the work of Naughty Dog, the new tomb raider it is configured as a rather canonical action adventure, characterized in particular by the good level design and the great variety of game situations. Unfortunately, the developers have not always managed to mediate between cinematic ambitions and gameplay, with the result that more than half of the adventure is all too simple and guided, almost on tracks. If you add to this contrast some details not well taken care of, above all the imperfect artificial intelligence and some style drops in game design, the result is a fun and spectacular but undemanding game, which throws a lot of meat on the fire and ends up exploiting it. only a part, wasting several interesting ideas. For all those who are willing to make a clean break with the past, it nevertheless represents a successful "new beginning", capable of entertaining and dragging the player for a more than acceptable amount of hours. As expected, the open ending suggests that this is not an isolated production, but the beginning of a real saga. In this sense, the hope is that the developers know how to learn from the shortcomings of this first release, and work on the next title with the awareness that there is still a lot to do in order to achieve excellence.
- Good characterization of the new Lara
- Constant unlocking of new possibilities and tools
- Inspired and varied design
- Some very spectacular cinematic sequences
- Plot and not very incisive supporting actors
- Lack of artificial intelligence
- Very linear, despite the opening of the levels
- Challenge level tending to low
- Not all gameplay ideas have been developed