Tomb Raider 2013 Review: From Girl to Survivor

“There are no heroes here, only survivors” – Matthias, Tomb Raider

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When the first trailer was shown for the new Tomb Raider, I was among the skeptics. It looked like another game with an over-sexualized heroine, and there was even a potential rape scene! However, as I mentioned in a previous article, after watching all of the trailers, I came to a different conclusion: Tomb Raider was probably going to be awesome. Other journalists told me not to get my hopes up.

It feels good to be the one smirking now.

I was right! They did it! They told a woman’s story, the story of her growth into a survivor, in a completely compassionate way. Yes, her body is still a little on the fantastical side (also, why didn’t she ever steal someone’s parka so she could stop shivering?) and yes, she often makes dumb mistakes and gets herself into all sorts of ruckus, but those are minor details and really such an improvement over the norm. One step at a time! And this was a pretty big step.

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The game also includes a few homages to past games and movies, which I loved. This new Tomb Raider is completely modern, and yet retains the feel of the classic Tomb Raiders. I felt it the first time I wandered into a water-filled cave. As I moved slowly through the water, a wave of nostalgia hit me. Luckily, no bats or batshitcrazy T-Rexes made an appearance!

So, without further ado, let’s zipline-and-crazy-pickax-jump into this review! This covers the PS3 version of Tomb Raider, which does not include her fancy “every strand of hair moves” technology that the PC version came with.

Package

Check out my unboxing video here. The game came with a code for a scavenger hunt (that I was apparently supposed to do before the game came out) a mini art book, and Tomb Raider: Final Hours, which works through the Amazon Appstore.

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Plot

“Armed with only her instincts and her innate ability to push beyond the limits of human endurance, Lara must fight, explore, and use her intelligence to unravel the dark history of a forgotten island and escape its relentless hold.”

In this reboot of the series, a young, 21-year-old Lara is on her first archaeological adventure, looking for the kingdom of Yamatai. Following a hunch, she convinces the crew to head into the Dragon’s Triangle and its deadly storms.

From there, everything hits the fan in a rolling avalanche of crazy.

Characters

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  • Alex – Know-it-all nerd boy who just wants to impress Lara.
  • Jonah – The spiritual brown man, he’s nice, patient, never loses his temper, and gives me presents. He also has a dark past.
  • Sam – The director of the expedition’s film. I loved seeing a woman in this role, as it’s very rare to see female directors represented in any medium. She also cares deeply about her roots, as well as Lara. She miiight be sweethearts with Lara.
  • Reyes – The tough girl with a heart. She is tough on Lara and has little patience for her. She’s also a mechanic and single mother.
  • Roth – Is the fatherly figure who taught Lara everything she knows.
  • Grim – The badass old man. You get the idea that he, Roth, and Lara’s dad had some crazy adventures of their own.
  • Whitman – The prima donna douchebag and head archaeologist of this expedition.
  • Lara Croft – The young and passionate Lara lives on instinct, much as she is told to. Unfortunately, her instincts tend to lead her and others right into danger. Also, she comes off as a little booksmart but street dumb, constantly tripping on vines, loudly calling out for people instead of hiding, and never picking up a parka from one of the many dead, fully-clothed people around her. As for her new look, her arms should be way more muscly, but in general, her body is proportional and more realistic than past representations (though I still think her lower back is probably aching and hey, she keeps using a bow but doesn’t bind her breasts, but whatever, survivor, wooo!).

I love this multicultural cast of characters and I enjoyed learning more about each of them. You find out most of the info through reading documents or, rather, having documents read to you by their voice actors. It often lends a haunting and melancholy air to the adventure.

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As great as it is to have a diverse cast, I do have to point out that they each turn into tropes by the end of the game. The exciting news is that those tropes aren’t based on their race or gender, but more on roles of other characters in action movies. Yes, Reyes is a single mother and has a bad temper, but she is also a mechanic, a strong leader, and has a sweet side that is shown only when talking about her daughter or around her secret beau. Jonah is the mystical brown man, but he also has a troubled past, and his mysticism has more to do with his personality than his race.

All in all, I was very pleased to see this group, and I hope other games take note!

Graphics and Sound

This game is lovely. Environments often equate to eye-porn, with the complementary music adding a sense of loneliness to Lara’s journey. The atmosphere in this game was just spot on. I was creeped out, excited, sad, whatever they wanted me to feel.

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The characters look stunningly realistic, and on the PC version Lara has TRESSFX, lending super realism to her…hair.

I played on the PlayStation 3 and saw only one glitch, where a gun was floating in the air, lonely and aloof.

Gameplay

The gameplay of this game is really and truly a blend. It’s not exactly a survival game, because you don’t need to eat to live, and ammo is plentiful. It is an action game with strong puzzle and shooter elements.

In general, the gameplay made me think of Far Cry 3 (PS: holy fast-travel batman!) and Uncharted. Oddly enough, a lot of the controls reminded me of DMC: Devil May Cry, but that’s probably just my brain being strange. Either way, I felt that this was the kind of game that would have been more difficult to play if it had come out a few years prior, but instead feels like a natural evolution of game mechanics.

Quicktime

Quicktime events were used heavily throughout the game. You all know how much I hate quicktime events, but at least these generally did not take away from my ability to see what was happening on the screen.

Tools and Skills

There were a few interesting mechanics, such as lighting things on fire, environment interactions, and scaling walls with your pickax. Using fire continuously to help you in various puzzles and in traversing the environment was very interesting to me, as fire is usually a damaging feature in games, as opposed to a helping one. The game uses a system of base camps to allow you to upgrade skills and weapons based on experience points and loot (called salvage in game). Lara can also change outfits and collect relics and journal entries, adding clues to the island’s mysteries.

The UI of the skills and gear was very awkward and non-intuitive to me. It took me forever to figure out where everything was, and I found it difficult to compare weapons in any way.

I also had to figure out that when I dug in a box and didn’t find something, it actually either just made an automatic change in my gear or added to my salvage, without me appearing to have grabbed anything.

Environment

Lara’s interaction with the environment is also a solid gameplay experience. She automatically takes cover when enemies are near, she reaches out to touch walls when she gets close to them, she lights a torch in dark tombs and looks around in interest at scenic areas. I loved the automatic cover, and would enjoy seeing it as an alternative to sticky cover in other games.

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As I mentioned before, the game is vaguely reminiscent of the old Tomb Raiders, especially in the optional tomb maps. Each area is its own puzzle/platformer, and there are enough varied moments that no section ever becomes dull. You could be doing anything from steering a fall to jumping around sunken ships to scaling an ice cliff to running from flames. This was truly a game that kept me on my toes, and even the most ADD player would have trouble being bored.

However, one issue I had is that sometimes areas are so clearly traps that it feels ridiculous that you have to actually go to them. This is a combination of narrative and level design that leads to this issue though. It just made Lara seem dumb for going into those areas.

Although the level design is usually very fun, sometimes it was a “learn by dying” experience, as you slowly pieced together how best to proceed in the level. Some levels needed to be stealth, which wasn’t always apparent since most areas allowed you to choose your own approach. These areas were particularly punishing and frustrating.

Stealth

When it worked, stealth was mildly addictive. When it didn’t work, it was horrendously annoying. As most of you know, I don’t generally enjoy stealth games. I am very impatient, which resulted in my death numerous times because I didn’t wait for an enemy to move, or pay attention to where they were facing. Eventually, I learned to treat the game as if every mission required stealth until the mission proved otherwise.

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Combat

You will probably die in at least one fire-fight, as waves of enemies relentlessly pursue you, shooting up the frail boundaries you hide behind.

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In general, combat is very well-paced with the story. Modding weapons leads to very satisfactory shooting experiences. One issue I had though is that Lara is so weak compared to the enemies. I can shoot some of them in the head twice and they don’t die… but if one of them has a rifle, I’m dead in seconds.

Enemies honestly cause more harm to themselves sometimes, setting things on fire, dropping napalm, cramming a choke point…lol, blowing up entire levels…lots of ways.

In general, combat became a more enjoyable experience the more I played and became used to the aiming mechanics, which felt slightly shaky in the beginning.

Multiplayer

Tomb Raider has four multiplayer modes:

  • Team Deathmatch – Team vs. team and highest score wins
  • Cry for help – Round based mode where survivors must activate radio transmitters while preventing batteries from falling into enemy hands
  • Survival of the Fittest – Kill other players without dying to become the executioner before time runs out
  • Rescue – Attempt to recover medical supplies while the Solarii must finish you with a melee execution

I played Team Deathmatch to get a feel for the muliplayer. It has a fairy simple set up: gain XP to get new weapons, mods, skills and characters. You get to choose which team you will play on, Survivors or Sollari. I liked that the system rewarded me not just for epic wins but also for epic fails, with a Feats and Setbacks feature.

The multiplayer is not bad, I just really wish they’d made it relate more to the main game. For example, all of the times the crew was separated from Lara could have been the setup for each of the multiplayer maps, with Lara calling in on walkie-talkie at the end of them.

Final Thoughts and Score

This game took me on a journey. I went from scared and naïve Lara to a badass warrior woman. There was a moment at the very end, where Lara does something iconic to the Tomb Raider franchise, and I actually cheered. This is the Tomb Raider we’ve been waiting for.

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You know what else is amazing about this game? Women stood behind it. Girl gamers asked for it, bought it, played it, and mostly loved it. This is the proof the industry needs that “if you build it, they will come” should be their mantra! Gamers are hungry for more strong female leads in games.

Another favorite aspect of the game for me was something that even my male friends noticed: no one called me rude names! I was never “bitch” or anything like that. They called me the “Outsider.” Heck, some of the bad guys even talked about what an amazing shot I was! I love that positivity in things I kill.

Score: A-

Despite the sometimes punishing combat and Lara’s almost unbelievable naïvety in the beginning, this game proved to be a fun, fast ride worthy of any action flick, but with the solid gameplay of a classic.

26 thoughts on “Tomb Raider 2013 Review: From Girl to Survivor

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  4. I finally defeated the oni stalker – on easy! My 12 year old was able to easily do it, and every time I replayed I asked her to handle it. Yesterday she was busy doing homework (really? Come on. Enough of that and help mom slay the oni!), so I remembered what she told me and I managed it in reasonable time.

    I love tomb raider. I really do.

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  8. Great article. I’m a 45 year old female who used to game a lot in the 80s (yes… I know… very old school) and while I never ceased to find the genre interesting, it’s really this latest truly immersive stuff that’s pulled me away from my other existence as full time engineer, mother, fitness seeker.

    I am therefore fairly new to the game controls as presented by this game and I found it challenging. I got fed up trying to kill the oni stalker. I know what to do, but my aging inexperienced hands will not do the right thing quick enough to get me close enough to the oni to get him to swing and also jump far enough away to turn around quickly to aim and shoot at his back.

    My one kid asked ‘is it worth all that effort?” and the truth is – it wasn’t. the risk/reward of getting this QTE to work out at the tail end of the game wasn’t worth sacrificing time i should spend on my family , fitness goals, my work, and the eruption of spring where I live.

    So I’ve gone back to replay in a different save slot, this time taking time to savor the experience. It’s easier the second time, I suppose I’ve learned to not panic, to think about what to do, to be patient, and how to really shoot most effectively.

    I LOVE this game. Wish I could get past the oni, wish he could be destroyed by grenades, but in the end, I’m calling it a great game.

    • The Oni was really hard for my play style! I think it was a strange choice to make a game that let you develop your own style of play and then FORCED you to play a certain way on what is essentially the final boss. I fought him like 20 times… don’t tell anybody though 😉

    • Looks like the cat is out of the bag anyway, Sarah, lol

      But yes, I can understand that. Sometimes you just have to pick what is fun to you and worth the time, and if something is so difficult for you that it takes away all the fun, and stops being a mere challenge, then it might be worth not worrying about it. However, I am rather OCD about things, and would not be able to let it go. I might walk away for a little while to cool down, but would come back and try again until I finally won 😉

    • Love your review of Tomb Raider Ellkay and it mirrors my own – we are of a similar age, I’ve a family and FT job and one yr on I’ve played the game twice thru falling at Oni Boss each time, my frustrations taken out on on 2 Keyboards and one PS3 controller. 98% complete. I swear first time thru my heart rate was thru the roof and I lost a stone because of the stress!! lol – Maybe I’ll keep trying maybe I’ll just sack it – but it grates that its the only one I haven’t completed. Regards

      • So… the first and third stages of defeating the stalker are for me, the easiest. The firs,t there are no guys with arrows. My daughter taught me that he roars just before he swings, so you just figurer out the counting pattern in your head – one two three, roll – and she was right. Doing it calmly and her way I was able to do it. Not easily, on easy, but sitilll… managed it. Stage 2 is hardest because he’s both faster, and he’s got the stupid archers. The archers do stop – I think two waves? And then no archers unless you talk long, and then they pop up again. Then the final one his helmet is gone, so you just attack him front on and you can hit him in the head. It is VERY irritating to time the QTE for sure, but… my 12 year old’s advice to not panic and to just wait for the roaring really helped! GOOD LUCK, but it’s definitely something that could wait!! LOL – especially with the kids who actually want to interact with mom, right?

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  11. I think it’s very amusing that the most talked about part of Lara Croft body is…her hair. It really does look amazing on the PC version. I hope every single game from now on uses TressFX. Well, okay, in the games that aren’t populated entirely by bald, angry guys/monsters. So like, 15% of games.

  12. I pretty much agree with this review wholeheartedly. And I agree with Allahweh, I cannot stand quicktime events and they broke up the flow a little. Also, I wish they had more tombs…I found them all this past Saturday and I mostly played the game from Thursday to Sunday. And I already told you, I was more than annoyed about how many times she got captured throughout the story. But I was kinda happy to see Lara much less sexualized and much more realistic. Also, and this is probably just me being sadistic, but her death scenes are brutally awesome haha. Hopefully the series continues down this path of not suck.

  13. The only real negative I had with the game is the fact that there were quite a few Quick Time Events (cutscenes, etc) that broke it up some, and sometimes this felt a bit unnecessary, but otherwise I think the game is a good successor to the original series. I had hoped that this would be more of a prequel that did tie in with the other games, but it looks like they are just rebooting the franchise. Maybe this is a good thing, though, as it could breathe fresh life into a series that was floundering a bit.

  14. I give this article a HUUUUUGE standing ovation. I was really on the fence about whether or not to give this game a try, especially when I heard there was a mission, or something like that, where Lara was about to be possibly raped, and I was like, “NOPE. Fuck that.” But see, this really makes me wanna play it now. (PS: That part about her boobs not being bound, and using a bow and arrow….LMAO). Awesome read!

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