Tomb Raider [2013] Review (Single Player)

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This article was originally published on my personal website,

Uncharted: Multiplatform Gore with Bad Acting

I’m not the biggest Tomb Raider fan, but when I saw this when it was first shown at last year’s E3, I was immediately sold and ready for pre-order. I wasn’t sure what to expect aside from the Uncharted-inspired game design, but that was ok. That in itself is a perfect fit for a Tomb Raider reboot, and something the series could really appreciate. I was pretty hopeful, but tried not to be too optimistic. I walk away from it with mixed feelings.

Tomb Raider borrows heavily from Uncharted’s design in just about every way, from the graphics shading to the fact that climbable ledges are always white, yellow, or red. And there is a LOT of climbing. The gameplay is nearly identical in every way. Tomb Raider has a far heavier emphasis on puzzle solving (though there’s not a *lot*), but at its core, it’s a third-person cover shooter. There are a few comparably large environments to run around in, which is nice for this sort of linear story. This review won’t be formatted in any ‘formal’ sort of way, so I’ll just get to the points I want to talk about.

The Plot:

This is a very linear story-driven experience. Like watching a movie. While it’s nothing amazing, I still would rather not spoil it. I don’t want to give away the entire plot of the movie, that’s why you watch it for yourself. The premise, however, I will explain: Lara Croft, the plucky 21 year old fresh-from-Uni English girl is on a trip to find the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai, somewhere in these islands down south of the mainland. The weather goes nutty and they’re shipwrecked. Lara’s gotta fend for herself while finding her friends and crew and find a way off the island. The problem, however, is that there’s a bunch of nutters on the island who are trying to kill you and sacrifice your good bestest buddy Sam to some old goddess who controls the weather, because nobody can get off the island because the weather will do everything it can to kill all who attempt to leave. So basically, it’s rescue Sam and stop the nutters and get the hell out of here.

The Shooting:

The shooting mechanic is just like other games of this sort. Aim with L1, fire with R1, click the stick to swap shoulders, Square to reload, yadda yadda etc. The enemies aren’t really varied but they can still provide the occasional challenge. The game has a heavy emphasis on stealth kills, with higher rewards for doing so and certain sections feel more rewarding to complete stealthily. This is pulled off very well with the bow. However, sometimes the enemies don’t register headshots if they’re behind cover, and they can take wayyyy too many hits to take down, regardless of your weapon. If you don’t get a headshot on your first hit, expect a lengthy and annoying firefight. Some enemies throw dynamite and it will almost always land right where you are hiding/standing, but Lara doesn’t move fast enough, so it can be very hard to get away from the flame spread.

One advantage Tomb Raider has over its competition in this genre is its weapon and skill trees. Each of the four main weapon types is customizable with ‘salvage’- bits of junk you collect throughout the game. You can also find upgrade parts to make the weapons better and weapons will also upgrade with story progression without losing what you’ve worked hard to do so far. Each tweak is your average fair: bigger magazines, gives more damage, etc. It’s always worth upgrading as it not only makes the game easier, but makes things a bit more satisfying. I’m really partial to the bow. It always feels really satisfying to get a solid arrow through an enemy’s skull. Flaming arrows eventually come into play, and while they don’t have a lot of uses outside of collecting salvage, it can be great in a tough firefight when this guy just won’t go down, so you pop a fire arrow in his ass and watch him burn to death. Take that, random dynamite throwing guy that pissed me off over and over.

Personal skills are also unlockable once you’ve obtained enough experience points, and they can greatly help change the gameplay for the better. For example, you can only learn close-combat melee defense through skill upgrades. Before you unlock that, you have to use a gun or the bow on every enemy, even when he rushes you and you’re struggling to avoid his attacks. Some enemies avoid close combat altogether, and run away from you when you get close. The skills are further upgradable, to the point where you’ll even be able to kill an enemy sometimes when you dodge an attack with the right timing. Some portions of the later game are probably impossible without this skill. There aren’t a lot of skills or weapons/items to upgrade, and you’ll likely get most in your first playthrough, but there are optional bits and pieces to collect so there’s plenty of replay incentive for your perfectionists out there.

Environments! Some are big and detailed and even maze-like, and they’re chock full of hidden goodies. Others are really small and extremely linear. It’s expected with this sort of game, but still a bit sad. Some of the best areas in the game have no exploration at all, whereas other areas can be boring and annoying (I’m looking at you, Shanty Town). Each big area before the end section has challenges you unlock by surprise when you do a simple task without prompt. You may see a fire nearby and notice that a flag is flammable so you get a torch and torch it just to see what happens, and suddenly: challenge unlocked! Burn five more flags in this area for extra exp or salvage! There are a fair amount of these little challenges dotted throughout the island, so it adds more replay value and some time-wasting. It reminds me a lot of Banjo-Kazooie or some other collection platformer, as all of the challenges are about running around and collecting a certain amount of things or lighting them on fire. It’s completely unnecessary, but a nice addition for content I suppose. The last major thing about the environments I want to touch on is secret tombs. Each area or so also has a secret tomb with a simple puzzle in it. Lara will say something about the lore of the island or whatever and you usually get a weapon upgrade piece when it’s done. Again, just time-wasting filler, but it’s cool when you happen upon them on accident and you get to do something different for a minute. They do, however, really draw you out of the plot. Just like the acting.

The Acting:

Everyone’s pretty aight but Lara. The main character. The one who talks the most. Her accent sounds very forced, she pronounces things wrong, and it’s just not very good delivery at all. It always suits the emotion of the scene, but the stiff delivery and forced accent really make you remember you’re playing (read: watching) a video game and not really running for your life on the island of Yamatai. If the actress IS English, I apologize, but that just means her acting is worse than I thought. It really sounds like an American doing a horrible English accent. The other characters are a major step up, but still not top-tier acting.

The Characters:

They’re all one-dimensional and transparent as hell. Sam and Lara are the only memorable ones, but that’s because you get to know them the best. They all have their backstories and such, but it’s all cut and dry right out of a factory of typical archetypes. Jonah’s a bit more deep than the others, but his personality outside of journal entries doesn’t reflect that.

The Writing:

“I hate tombs!” – Lara Croft, walking into her dozenth tomb. One of the least gory in the game. The journal entires you find throughout give a bit more insight into the backstory of the island and how it got the way it is, but anything involving the acted scenes is generic to the character archetype (aside from Lara). The shady guy that you just know is going to betray you for his own personal gain talks like a shady guy who is going to betray you for his own personal gain and makes no effort to hide it. Oh, and there is a lot of language in this game. A LOT. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when it’s so often and it feels unnecessary, it just feels like it was written in for the sake of being gritty and ‘mature’. Here’s a good writing tip for all you up and comers out there: don’t drop f-bombs every other line unless it really suits a situation. Otherwise, it’s just strange overkill. I’m sure the 14 year olds who got their parents to buy them this game despite the rating really love it, though.

The Story:

There’s some mystery to it all, but about an hour in, you can predict everything. It’s not a very complex plot, the ‘twist’ is seen in from the opening moments of the game, characters have no real personality besides Grim and maybe Roth (though Grim is also just an archetypal Scotsman– he even does a Glasgow Kiss), and it’s extremely straight forward. One thing that kind of ticked me off was that in the opening moments of the game, Lara’s completely skewed by a piece of rebar and she just yanks it out and walks it off after the scripted sequence. The stain of blood remains with her throughout the game and there’s the occasional pain that I can only assume is associated with it, but it went completely through her torso and she did little to take care of it. The story takes place over a few days. She should have bled out or had internal bleeding or SOMETHING. I just…. yeah. Story. Lara doesn’t figure out what’s going on until the end of the game, though you do through reading journals left behind and through your interactions with the bad guys, so it comes off as kind of dumb. It’s obvious from the start what the islanders intend to do with the kidnapped Sam. Aside from noting that this is how Lara becomes the great hardened adventurer she is later on, there’s nothing memorable here. The island’s mysteries aren’t mysterious for very long and once you figure it out, you just kind of go “well, ok then.” The game survives on its gameplay and that bit about Lara ‘coming of age’, and that’s all. However…

The Presentation:

The presentation makes this game exciting to play throughout. The story is really lackluster, but the production value makes up for it in spaces. It takes a lot from Uncharted in that it uses many interactive scripted sequences for intense action and such, and it pulls it off pretty good. Sometimes animations can be… odd, and Lara’s bow will simply disappear from her back and magically appear when you draw it. I’ve also seen a few enemies go invisible, but still fully shootable. There are a lot of details in this game and it really helps draw in the disbelief. The island looks believably inhabited and the tombs make sense to it all. There’s also some great foliage and visual effects with water running down cliffs, or Lara being completely soaked in blood from going on a swim through a river of it, and it looks like she’s actually covered in blood. Her model and the textures used for her dirt and wound effects are really top notch. As an added sense of realism, items she acquires are on her person all the time. That kickass compound bow you get? Right there unless it glitches away for a few minutes. Upgraded your gun? So did the gun’s model on Lara’s belt. Get to carry more ammo? Lara’s got more pouches on her belt. A+ for that stuff.

The Gore:

There is a lot of gore in this game. A river of blood, entire hallways and pits of human remains all squishy and red, with body parts you kick around while walking past, and more. It feels forced for the sake of grittiness, just like the constant f-bombs. It really de-sensitizes you very quickly, and that’s exactly what happens to Lara’s character, but it feels like overkill. It really does. Another rather gruesome aspect is the way Lara dies. It’s a reference back to the old games, having her die in gross realistic ways, but some are really unnerving and seem to go over the line. Once again, it feels like it’s reaching for the gore and grittiness just for the sake of it. The worst, by far, is when she gets impaled on a spike in a river sequence (that I’m sure everyone’s seen a gif of by now). She gets impaled through the neck and back of her skull, and claws away at the spike for a little bit before she dies. Her other death animations aren’t so bad, but this game’s fairly easy so you’ll rarely see any that aren’t caused by a ledge grab not registering or not being able to see the obstacles in the river.

The Music:

While composed well, it’s nothing memorable. There’s no iconic melody that will stick with you after it’s done or anything. Sounds great, just, not memorable is all.


Tomb Raider games are known for Lara being the busty buxom vidya babe, right? Well, she still kinda is, but not as much as people were letting on. Yeah, she’s still stacked, but not unrealistically. She’s very pretty, but not a whore about it. She looks like a normal girl. She dresses totally normal too. Her butt doesn’t wiggle unnaturally or anything, and there’s only one cleavage shot in the opening cinematic of the game, but any sense of sexualization is killed almost immediately by her struggle. I really don’t see what the fuss was all about. She looks like any normal girl. The big ‘rape’ thing that was grabbing media attention a while back also turned out to be nothing. It’s only one moment early in the game. She’s captured by the island crazies and one of them grabs her (not in a naughty place) while her hands are tied behind her back and he makes an implied gesture that sends shivers down Lara’s spine (and mine). Next second, she headbutts him, jumps over her arms to get them in front, beats the living shit out of the guy and shoots him until his head is a mess of bloody mush. That’s the only moment in the game, and it’s only slightly hinted that he wanted to have his way with her. He never actually made an advance like the media claimed the bad guys would. She deals with the threat quite well though, wouldn’t you say? He would, but his mouth is in 4 places and half his head is gone. Shouldn’t have given her that look, yo.

Final Thoughts:

For fans of Uncharted, this is a bit disappointing because the story is sub-par and the characters are very bland and one-dimensional. However, for those who have never played them or don’t have a Playstation, this is a great taste of what the rest of us are talking about, because the presentation and gameplay are very similar, and that’s not a bad thing. I give this game props for the weapon/skill development and the fact that there’s a bit of exploration to do, but the biggest gripes are Lara’s acting skills and the story. It’s an action movie with no heart. It’s an action movie for the sake of being an action movie, whereas a good action movie is where the action is driven by circumstance, not just there for eye candy. It’s not a bad game at all, but with that lackluster story, it won’t be one I play over and over for years to come. Maybe a few more times to go item and secret hunting, and to check out the online multiplayer. It was worth seeing in theaters, but not enough to really want to buy the special edition deluxe 3D bluray collector’s set. Totally worth $20 or $30 when it’s cheap in a year, though. I’ll call it Uncharted Junior starring Lara Croft.

tl;dr: Fun, entertaining, lame predictable story with sexist tropes and daddy issue throughout. Worth playing, though.

P.S. I am looking forward to the sequel, to see how well they can improve upon this first foray. Hopefully it’ll have a better story.

Oh, and check out what I found! A blatant penis painted on a tree in a sequence where you HAVE to see it!

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