Tomb Raider (2013) GAME REVIEW

Length: 6 minutes.

Contains: Mild spoilers.

Publisher(s): Square Enix

Developer(s): Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal, United Front Games, Feral Interactive

Platform(s): Windows, OS X, Linux, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS3, PS4, PS5

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All images courtesy of Square Enix.

As someone who’s never played a Tomb Raider game until 2021, I can safely say that I’m now a fan. Seriously, this game was a blast!

Tomb Raider is the story of Lara Croft, an adventurer on the crew of the Endurance seeking out the lost island of Yamatai. She manages to find it when a storm shipwrecks them on its shores, although things take a turn for the worse when they run into unscrupulous characters and realize that something is keeping them from leaving. I won’t say much more in case you haven’t played it. I will say, however, that I was surprised at how dark and gritty the game was in terms of tone. I always thought the Tomb Raider franchise had some kind of PG-13, Indiana Jones-ish feel similar to the Uncharted games (of which I’ve only played a little of), but this game definitely earns its Mature rating; it’s surprisingly brutal and grotesque at times, with Lara having the absolute crap kicked out of her by the hostile environment and other characters.

Graphics

Regarding the graphics, I’d say they’ve aged quite well; eight years after release, Tomb Raider is still a beautiful game. On my mid-range PC, I got an average of 90fps on ultra settings with FXAA. The animations are as smooth as butter (Lara’s ponytail has hair physics!) and there’s an incredible amount of detail, from the environment to the characters. Yamatai feels like a living, breathing island; there’s ancient history on display in the form of temples, tombs, and relics, along with wildlife, hostile humans, and more. One awesome detail is that you can see Lara’s outfit get progressively more damaged throughout the story, similar to Batman’s costume in Batman: Arkham Asylum.

In-game screenshot from the Benchmark feature.

Gameplay

Throughout the game, there’s a good mix of combat, platforming, and puzzle-solving. True to its name, there’s a decent number of tombs to raid. There’s also a good sense of progression: you earn XP to purchase character upgrades and use “salvage” as currency to upgrade your weapons. Similar to “Detective Mode” from Arkham Asylum, Lara has an ability called “Survival Instincts” that lights up interactive objects in the environment, helping you find collectibles and reach quest objectives. It’s different from “Detective Mode” in that it can only be active when standing still, and isn’t all that necessary to progress through the game.

On the topic of difficulty, Tomb Raider is actually pretty easy. The puzzles were reasonably challenging as someone who hates puzzle games; I managed to find and raid every tomb. As for combat, I started on Normal difficulty, but turned it up to Hard when I realized the game was throwing so much ammo at me. Even on the hardest difficulty you’ll never run out of ammo for more than two weapons at a time. As long as you take cover and avoid getting hit, you’ll do fine.

Length

As far as the amount of content goes, I completed the game in about 18 hours, although you could probably finish it sooner if you don’t look for the collectibles. I got both this game and Rise of the Tomb Raider from a Steam sale for 10 bucks, so I’d say I definitely got my money’s worth. And as someone who doesn’t have a lot of free time and doesn’t like being an errand boy for 60+ hours (see: most modern RPGs), this game was the perfect length.

I had no interest in the multiplayer component, which I don’t think I’ll be able to test anyway; whatever player base there might have been is gone.

Issues

You know how in some modern games, you transition from cutscenes to gameplay smoothly? This is more of a nitpick than an actual issue, but the seamless flow between gameplay and cutscenes is actually kind of jarring, especially when your character is still moving. In the middle of a chase or escape, I often found myself thinking, “Am I supposed to control her now? Do I have to hold down any buttons to move forward?” It’s a little gimmicky, to be honest. If I recall correctly, in GTA V, your character would at least stop moving when the cutscene ended, letting you know you were back in control.

Another nitpick I have is the oddly tacky main menu. The main menu options are “3D” and oscillate very strangely, making it so that you’ll sometimes click something you didn’t mean to. It’s a design choice that makes you scratch your head.

One of the more annoying (but still minor) issues is that some collectibles appear to be locked after completing story events. When I reached a point where the game told me I could no longer backtrack, I went back and tried to find as many collectibles as I could. There were some in areas I could no longer climb for whatever reason. I ended up finishing the game with a 93% completion rate. If you’re a completionist, this might annoy you, so just make sure you check your map every now and then and use “Survival Instincts” to scan for collectibles. Also, when Lara levels up, don’t worry about picking perks that give more XP or salvage; I fully upgraded my character before the point of no return and had an excess of salvage by the end.

Anyway, let’s talk about some of the more bothersome issues. Some of the side characters, mainly the crew of the Endurance, are underdeveloped. It’s hard to care about them when you don’t get to interact with them all that much. My understanding is that Tomb Raider is a reboot and that this was supposed to be Lara Croft’s origin story, but it sometimes felt like I was supposed to know these characters already. You spend a lot of the game separated from the crew, with only a few journal entries here and there that tell you what kind of people they are. It’s all very bare-bones, and with some of the characters, it’s very predictable what their arc or fate will be.

As for the villain, he’s a good antagonist, although he doesn’t get a proper boss fight, unfortunately. Considering that his character wields a uniquely designed spear combined with a sawmill blade, it’s disappointing that we never see it in action. Our final showdown with him is reduced to a half-decent quick time event, so don’t get your hopes up for that.

Speaking of quick time events (QTEs), I’m not a huge fan of how prominently featured they are in this game. I’m not a fan of QTEs in general. Things like mashing a key to open a type of container just feel unnecessary. I’m no video game historian or journalist, but I feel like QTEs were one of the worse gaming trends of of the 2010s.

There are a little too many QTEs in this game for my taste.

My last issue is something that seemed to disappear towards the end of the game. Somewhere in the midgame, I got nausea from what I think were the camera movements. I had never felt motion sickness playing video games, but for a solid chunk of Tomb Raider, I couldn’t play for more than thirty minutes at a time. After some light research, I found that there was a mod called the “YAMATAI Patch” that fixed this issue, although it seems to have been taken down. Shame.

Conclusion

Even with all of its issues, I still had a great time playing Tomb Raider. I’m excited to play the other two modern iterations in the franchise, Rise and Shadow, and see where they take Lara next. The verdict on Tomb Raider? It’s pretty damn good.

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