Tomb Raider (PC)
This is a new thing to happen: a PC game review on The Pop Culture Historian. Basically with the advent of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, I decided I was sick of the shenanigans going on with consoles and decided to get a new computer instead of a new console. As the PC I got came packaged with a rather unimpressive graphics card, I decided to upgrade that. My graphics card came with a voucher that let me download three games for free. One of the games I decided to get was last year’s Tomb Raider.
This was not my first experience having played as Lara Croft. Prior to this game, I played Tomb Raider Anniversary on the PlayStation 2. Anniversary was a re-release of the original 1996 Tomb Raider in a flavor similar to Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes being a Nintendo GameCube re-release of the original Metal Gear Solid. I do recall enjoying that game a lot. Crawling through the various levels was a lot of fun (if at times frustrating) where much of the game revolved around platforming and puzzles. The game also tested what the PlayStation 2, by then already an aging system, was capable of in terms of graphical capability.
Despite that and the successful Tomb Raider: Legend, the franchise as a whole found itself losing relevance. This new Tomb Raider is a reboot of the series in a way that reminds me of how 2006’s Casino Royale rebooted the James Bond franchise. It follows a new Lara Croft, fresh out of university, as she joins her mentor and her best friend Samantha in finding the ancient civilization Yamatai off the coast of Japan. As their ship gets close, a violent storm leaves Lara shipwrecked. It’s up to Lara to survive and get her friends off the island all while dealing with a madman, his religious cult, and the island’s own supernatural powers.
The system I played this game on includes an Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB DDR3 RAM, and a 2 GB AMD Radeon R9 270 graphics card. As this game is more than a year old, my system had no trouble handling Tomb Raider on the highest graphics settings. There was exactly one instance where I had Lara look at a mirror where the framerate dipped slightly.
And it was glorious. The thing I noticed was how realistically Lara’s hair was modeled. On the PC version, you can turn on TressFX, and that causes Lara’s hair to move realistically. I’ve seen a video comparing the graphics of the various versions of the game. While the PS4 and Xbox One versions do look better (they were released later), there is no comparison between the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360; the PC version on its highest settings looks far better than the last-gen console versions.
In general, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with as much exquisite detail as I’ve seen in Tomb Raider. The level’s textures all look gorgeous, with believable wood, rock, and other kinds of surfaces. Lara herself is beautifully animated, and characters ragdoll in believable ways.
I did see a major shift in the gameplay from prior Tomb Raiders. Tomb Raider Anniversary kind of reminded me of a Legend of Zelda game if each dungeon was a separate level. This new Tomb Raider, on the other hand, feels much more scripted in nature. The levels, such as the remains of a research facility or an ancient monastery, that Lara has to traverse feel like more a consequence of the story than being some artificial puzzle an ancient king put in his tomb, almost as if he was expecting a British explorer in the twentieth century to come digging.
Despite that, the game heavily encourages exploring. Every level is populated with hidden items such as relics and documents written by the game’s characters. Finding them not only nets you experience points you can use to learning new skills, but you also learn more about Lara’s world when you do.
While the game still heavily features platforming, Tomb Raider is a lot more forgiving than Tomb Raider: Anniversary was. In general, if you’re aiming in generally the right direction, Lara will land on the platform you want to jump to. Sometimes, it almost looks like a mysterious force guides Lara to a platform that would otherwise have not been dictated by the laws of physics.
Despite that, if you’re like me, you will probably die many times before you’re done with the game. I’ll admit I died a few times from poorly-aimed jumps, even with the game’s wide margin of error; however, most of my deaths were from quick-time-events that happened in cutscenes and in combat. Unfortunately, Tomb Raider’s main weakness is its combat. The only challenge enemies pose is when they swarm you in large numbers, often with guys with riot shields flanking you as guys with ranged weapons pin you down while they are safe behind cover. The game doesn’t do too much to reward finesse in combat until you actually unlock an ability to gain extra experience points when performing some finishing moves. I often found it was easiest just to stay behind cover, pop up to shoot someone, then duck back down. Thankfully, there isn’t very much of it until.
Aside from the combat, I think Tomb Raider did everything right. Lara Croft got some very welcome rewrites. As a new adventurer, Lara started off very unsure of herself, gaining confidence as the game progressed (albeit as the only character with any semblance of an arc) and in general being more human. Even though I’m a guy, I did appreciate Lara being less sexualized than she was before, and instead relied on her other merits as a character.
I can’t recommend this game enough. The graphics are gorgeous. The gameplay is fast and fluid. And if you’re a completionist, you will spend a solid 20 hours trying to find everything Tomb Raider has to offer. I urge you to eschew walkthroughs; the puzzles aren’t too difficult and solving them by yourself will prove more rewarding.