I know, I know, Tomb Raider is a half a year old now. So why write a review at this late date? Because I was very slow to get on the bandwagon, and there may be more of you out there in the same boat, or maybe even slower than I am. And because Steam has a ridiculous sale on Tomb Raider right now; from September 13-16th, the entire franchise is $17.49. That’s all of the “name” Tomb Raider games, meaning all of them in the franchise except for Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. (That one is actually on sale too, it’s just not part of the bundle.) If you just want Tomb Raider 2013 but not the whole franchise bundle, the regular edition is $12.49 and the Survival Edition is $14.49.
Anyway, on to the review. I’ll start with an admission; I haven’t finished the game yet. I saw that Steam had the ridiculous price cut thing going again, and wanted to let you all know about it in time to take advantage. I got the game myself during the last Summer Sale, the last time it was down to this price, and the game is a steal. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun, with great game mechanics and a lot of really fluid moving around the maps. The maps themselves are huge and beautiful, with a ton of vertical exploration.
Minor Spoiler Alert
The story goes that Lara is a young, unseasoned, somewhat naive woman taking part in a larger archaeological expedition. She’s convinced she knows how to find Yamatai, an island shrouded in mystery in the Dragon Triangle near Japan. She fights hard to get the crew to go there, but when they’re shipwrecked by a sudden massive storm and the crew are kidnapped by other stranded hostiles. She feels immense guilt over this that propels her on her first epic hero’s journey to rescue them and get everyone safely off the island, while learning its many and varied secrets along the way.
End Spoiler Alert
The graphics are gorgeous. But come on, this is a 2013 game. Do we really even have to talk about graphics? Of course they’re great, and of course in 5 years people will complain about how dated it looks. One thing that is worth commenting on is the TressFX hair system, which is a physics simulation of Lara’s hair down to the strand level, which looks fantastic. My computer can barely handle it, but it does succeed in really raising the realism bar. Unfortunately it is only applied to Lara herself, so the illusion breaks down somewhat when other characters appear.
There are some weaknesses in the game. Peppered throughout the story are points where you’ll find yourself ripped out of the standard mechanics of play and find yourself in interactive cutscenes. These have very arbitrary, non-standard controls where you have to mash buttons to progress and time your button presses to avoid a gristly fate. These sequences can sometimes be incredibly difficult, and several times I’ve found myself really frustrated for hours trying to get past one. It’s a shame, because aside from these, the game is close to perfect. Even with them, I’d still say it’s well worth the frustration; most of them are easy enough to pass, and all of them are very doable with a bit of practice.
I also have a bit of an issue with the art direction in the game. As I mentioned, the game takes place on what’s supposed to be a remote and lost island. As you explore the island though, you’ll find the bodies and bones of people. A lot of people. So many people that as I explored further and further, I was left with the impression that up until a couple of weeks ago, Yamatai had had a population roughly the size of New York City, and that something arrived out of the mists to rip them limb from limb and scatter the bodies all over the island. It’s not the sort of thing that would typically jar me too badly; I understand that art directors do these things to build atmosphere; but in this case it really felt like they hadn’t paid enough attention to what kind of setting they were working in.
Ultimately both of these complaints are very minor, and neither has seriously harmed my ability to enjoy the game. If you’re as slow as I am and haven’t yet given Tomb Raider 2013 a shot, now is your chance; it’s cheap, and it’s really fun. Unfortunately, Mac fans, it’s PC-only on Steam.