TR9 - A Masterpiece Reboot

Posted: Apr. 12, 2013
Article by: Brandon Klassen

If there was such a thing as a perfect video game, Tomb Raider would be it. Every game has its pros and cons, and while the worst or best of these are generally agreed on, many are subject to the personal taste of each gamer. But with Tomb Raider, the overall experience is so overwhelmingly fun and memorable that its occasional missteps are quickly forgiven and forgotten.

Tomb Raider is a reboot of the long-running franchise, developed by Crystal Dynamics (who have been with the series since 2006) and originally created by Core Design in 1996. It's an origin story to refresh the franchise with a new Lara in a new continuity. Like other recent reboots such as Star Trek, it's fitting that there's no number or subtitle here, as was previously the convention with every game in the series since the original. This new Tomb Raider has been referred to as Tomb Raider 2013 or, more commonly, Tomb Raider 9. Counting this game as the ninth Tomb Raider excludes Tomb Raider: Anniversary (a remake), Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (a co-op game entirely different from all preceding games), and Lara's various handheld adventures.

It's hard to know where to start in reviewing this game, because you can't evaluate a game like this one by just stacking up all its separate pieces - it's the combined effect of every element experienced together that makes this game the masterpiece that it is. That said, I'll discuss each aspect of the game one by one, but I'm not going to haggle over rating the individual aspects such as scoring 9.5 for graphics, 9 for story, etc. I'm just going to give it to you straight right now: Tomb Raider is an A+, 5 star, 10 out of 10, 100% not to be missed gaming experience. It's not just Game of the Year material, it's Game of this Generation material, a pinnacle achievement with mainstream appeal in the final days of the current hardware cycle. That's my verdict - now let me tell you why.

I played the PC version of Tomb Raider on a Windows XP machine with a Geforce 8800 GT graphics card. The PC version was developed by Nixxes, and the work they've done (as with their work on Deus Ex: Human Revolution) is so superb that I wouldn't even think of it as a port. While I enjoyed some of the benefits of the PC version, such as higher resolution textures, I didn't have the full DX11, TressFX experience. On the PC, Tomb Raider has a wealth of graphics options, more than any other game I can think of, that are all easily adjustable from within the game, without having to go poking around in .ini files. Some sections of the game I was able to play with Ultra textures and High detail, although in other places I had to reduce the settings to Normal due to framerates. Tomb Raider's autosave system isn't as nice as having unlimited manual saves with separate, dedicated autosave slots, and the game doesn't display playtime or remember your difficulty setting in the saves, but at least the default 3 slots were expanded to 99 slots in a recent PC patch.

As a bit of a sidenote, I love Tomb Raider's graphic design. Very few games, Skyrim being another example, have a graphic design that is so integral to defining the game. Starting with the logo and the game's signature iconography, Tomb Raider's graphic design is bold and memorable. The in-game menus are beautiful, intuitive to use, and are slickly animated. From the UI and HUD elements to every aspect of the game's promotions, Tomb Raider's exceptional graphic design stands out, is simple yet striking, and is always consistent and polished. As a designer, I felt like a kid in a candy store everytime I saw a new icon or opened a menu.

My first playthrough of the game, with 100% in-game completion, took approximately 36 hours. I explored every nook and cranny, I found every collectible, I made a comprehensive set of saved games, and I generally found myself fully immersed in the game, sometimes just standing around for the fun of it, to enjoy the rich atmosphere of the gameworld. Even on Normal difficulty (I wanted to have fun, and not run into too much frustration with the combat), I still found a few sections challenging, such as the first couple fights in Shantytown. This could have been partly due to the fact that I didn't upgrade any of my weapons. I played keeping in mind a number of the game's achievements on Steam, although I missed the Chatterbox achievement. For my second playthrough, not a speedrun but a straight playthrough on Easy difficulty, I watched all the cutscenes and tried to collect most of the XP and salvage but didn't pick up any of the collectibles or complete any of the game's side tombs, which resulted in a playtime just short of 10 hours. This story-only playthrough netted an in-game completion score of 56%. The "short game" complaints have been made, as they always are, and as usual I don't agree with them. Not only did I feel that Tomb Raider was a reasonable length, but there's a ton of stuff packed into it, more than other games. People who rush through games to finish them or who play games just to add to their gamerscore, achievements and trophies are missing out on enjoying the game.

Tomb Raider's story isn't complicated. Its premise, that an expedition to find the lost island of Yamatai heads into the Dragon's Triangle and is shipwrecked in a storm, is simple, and doesn't lead to any major plot twists. I love plot twists, but it's not necessarily a bad thing for a game to have a simple story. I remember Lara commenting, at a couple points in the narrative, something to the effect that she didn't really have a notion as to the endgame, which was a bit surprising, considering that the narrative is entirely from Lara's perspective - we're never privy to things that Lara isn't - and I had at least a few inklings about what might happen next. But while the story itself is a simple one, the basis of the story is extremely compelling, and the plot of this game - the series of events through which the story unfolds - is anything but simple, with an unrelenting pace and such a large number of diverse occurrences that you'd be hard pressed to correctly recount the sequence of events after your first playthrough.

The game builds its pace expertly, both familiarizing the player with the game and setting the stage for each act of the story. Harrowing, non-stop scripted action pieces, each time more incredible than the last, are interspersed with large exploration segments and smaller missions. While the momentum of the story will always be driving you forward, it's really up to you how long you want to spend exploring the game's large hub areas, with plenty of collectibles and salvage to find and animals to hunt in each area.

I know that others have found the buildup of the game's pace unrealistic in terms of Lara acclimating to the situation she's in, but I found the progression of Lara's character, from inexperienced explorer to desperate fighter to skilled survivor, to be appropriately developed. In my opinion, she never becomes a hardened killer, even though her kill count is quite substantial by the end of the game. Through her dialogue and her actions, you can see that she's an unwilling participant in the situation she's in, forced to find courage to survive. She does become more proactive rather than reactive as the game progresses, a fact that doesn't go unnoticed by the game's villain, who comments that Lara will go to any length to survive, which in turn echoes a comment that Roth makes to Lara early in the game. Standing in Lara's shoes, these comments ring true, but not because she's become cold and ruthless. This a situation that Lara has been forced into, and although we see how the experience is affecting Lara throughout the game, I do think that we won't fully see how this experience has shaped her until the next Tomb Raider game.

The new Lara is the most believable video game character I've ever played. Much of this can be attributed to the excellent voice acting and performance capture of Camilla Luddington, the actress who brought her to life. I don't have any expertise on accents, so for any critiques on that aspect, you'll have to look to other reviews. Between Camilla's performance, Lara's detailed character model, and the talent of the artists, programmers and animators who brought her to life, Lara is a constantly engaging character that you'll find yourself liking, relating to and empathizing with.

Lara is the most fully developed character of the game's cast, and rightly so, although some of the secondary characters could have been developed more to increase the player's feeling of connection to them, especially Roth and Sam, who are the main secondary characters. Both of their characters have a lot of backstory with Lara, and because I like both of them a lot, I wanted to see even more of their story. Flashback sequences, in which we see the game's cast prior to the shipwreck, are nicely done as camcorder footage, and although I wish there had been one or two more of these, I can see the role they play in the beginning of the game, and that having more of them later on would be distracting to the forward momentum that drives Lara. It's really how I feel about everything in the game - I want more of everything. It's not because the game is lacking - there is a lot of stuff packed into this game and it's all well-balanced - I just want more of everything because everything is so good.

The other secondary characters suffered perhaps from the fact that Lara's feelings about each of them just weren't supported by enough interaction or backstory. Grim I liked, Jonah's "little bird" comments were half endearing, half weird, Alex I felt ambivalent about, Reyes I found kind of annoying and I hated Whitman, but it was probably mostly because his characterization was so blatant that it was not quite believable. This is a criticism that fans have aimed at most of the supporting cast - that they're somewhat two dimensional stereotypes without much more to their personalities. Unfortunately I do agree with this, though I do see the difficulty of making such a large cast of characters believable when they have so little screen time. Originally there was even another character from the Endurance, Steph, who was to be the sacrificed corpse that Lara encounters in the Scavenger's Den at the very beginning of the game. Changing this was a good decision, both for the size of the supporting cast as well as the emotional impact it would have had on Lara at that point in the story, asking the player to feel something so painful from Lara's perspective for a secondary character the player doesn't even know.

The character models and animations of the secondary characters are not as detailed or refined as they might be, certainly in comparison to other games as well as compared to Lara. That's not to say they were bad, although I was distracted by them a few times during cutscenes. While the secondary characters appear from time to time throughout the story - there's even a few parts of the game where the secondary characters play a small role in the gameplay - they don't steal too much screen time from Lara, who is definitely the star of the show. Thankfully, there are no annoying "follower" missions, where a secondary character inevitably hampers your own playstyle.

The new Lara is the best character I've ever controlled in a third person game. I've often shied away from modern third person games, having tried a number of them that I wanted to play but finding the controls and the camera unwieldly. I had absolutely no problems here. On the PC version, Nixxes has allowed you to map almost any key to every action in the game, and whenever multiple actions are controlled by the same keybind button, they make perfect sense. Invert axis options are also fully implemented.

Lara runs, jumps and explores the game environments with ease. Her animations are fluid and realistic, stringing together smoothly. I was impressed with the variety of the animations. When you land from a jump or a fall, Lara will land differently depending on the height of the movement. Lara exists in the context of her environment, running her hand along walls as she walks by them, swinging her legs sideways to vault barriers instead of just forward jumping over them. As another review I read commented, Lara feels like she has weight in the gameworld. Lara has a small handful of idle animations, which the game rotates between when you're just standing around. There are also a few animations that you'll see throughout the game in special situations, such as climbing over a ledge into a new area or moving through a narrow passage. Lara can hang on ledges, jump and scramble up to a ledge over short vertical distances on select surfaces, jump sideways from one platforming element to another, and roll. Lara's jump distance can be a bit far, but for me it's an accepted suspension of disbelief for the new realism of her character, in favor of fun gameplay. I was glad that the less realistic, more acrobatic moves weren't included this time around, as they would have felt out of place in this more grounded imagining of the Tomb Raider universe.

Lara can navigate most terrain in the game, and there's a realistic and interesting variety of things for her to interact with, from open stairways to rooftops to airplane debris and more. I never felt that her movement was restricted in any way. I saw one unverified complaint about invisible walls, but I found that I could throw myself over the edge of a cliff anytime I wanted to. The game's infamous white ledges are not as bad as I feared they would be. In some cases it would be nice if they were subtler, but most of the time they were less distracting than I thought they would be, and were actually helpful. While the white surfaces generally highlighted critical paths, there are also plenty of non-white surfaces that are navigatable. The platforming aspect of the game is very enjoyable and, for the most part, doesn't feel contrived, although longer and more complex platforming sequences would be welcome, and adding an option to disable the white surfaces with texture replacements would be fantastic for future games to make the platforming a bit more challenging.

Tomb Raider's camera is a thing of beauty, a truly perfect third person camera system. The standard camera distance is perfect, and rotates fully around Lara with the mouse. Medium, close and far camera distances occur in many special moments of gameplay. When these occur, they're always perfectly placed for the gameplay situation. In some cases they restrict rotation, but controlling Lara remains natural. Most importantly, the non-standard camera angles are beautifully composed, cinematic shots that create a sense of awe, a feeling of exhilaration, or even moments of anxiety. Part of the importance of bringing the camera close to Lara during gameplay is that it really strengthens your connection to (and thus your investment in) her as a character. In select areas for short periods, Lara's movement will also be slowed, as she explores an area with caution. This, along with the camera angles, really heightens the mood of the gameplay. The camera is also used to transition smoothly between many of the game's cutscenes and gameplay, which is another plus for immersion.

You can hear Lara breathing throughout the game. Her footsteps and movement are heard with sounds unique to each environment she's in. These sounds aren't as distracting as they might have been - they remind us that the new Lara Croft is a very real, grounded individual, not a superwoman. The sound effects in this game are superb, almost always perfectly balanced and realistic. I personally recommend visiting the Coastal Forest after the area is hunted out and while it's raining - the sound is better than any relaxation CD or relaxation app that I've listened to! Besides the main sound effects in an area, such as wind, rain, and more, there are tons of secondary sound effects constantly going on that really immerse you in the environments. Sound effects in games can be annoying or they can make a significant contribution to the game's mood and atmosphere, which is the case with Tomb Raider. Half of the time I didn't actively notice the sound effects, because they blended so well into the overall experience and I just felt like I was there, on the island. And when I deliberately stopped to listen to the sound, as you should, I was impressed, and really appreciated the hard work put into this important but often undervalued aspect of games. My only minor complaint is that the sound effects sometimes made it hard to hear semi-near enemy conversations prior to engaging in combat, which were always well done and interesting to listen to. I'm hopeful that a future patch may separate SFX and Voice volume sliders.

Tomb Raider's musical score, composed by Jason Graves, is one of my favorite parts of this game. As someone who enjoys listening to a lot of film and game scores, the music in this game really stood out to me. Tomb Raider's score is comprised of timed cues, atmospheric tracks, action music and melodic sound effects. The timed cues, often wonderful variations of the game's main theme, create some of the most awe-inspiring and emotional moments I've experienced in a game. I always wished that these cues were at least three times longer, because they were the highlight of the score for me, and I always wanted to stay in those moments. The atmospheric tracks infused my exploration of the game's environments with feelings of pending danger and anxiety, and the action tracks made the pulse-pounding, harrowing, death-defying action sequences even more exhilarating. Lastly, melodic bell sounds are used as audio indicators of acquiring salvage and other player actions. This is one of the best uses of one of the oldest conventions in video games, because the sounds fit right in with the atmosphere of the gameworld, instead of being something that might break your immersion.

Tomb Raider's environments are simply gorgeous. Combined with the game's music and sound effects, they feel alive. Rich with color, atmospheric effects and detail, they're very well designed, not only to be visually stunning but also to be great playground areas for combat and traversal. There's a fantastic range of environment types across the island, from wet, rainy night areas to bright daylit areas as well as cold, snowy areas, plenty of caves and other interiors and several locations that just blew me away. Plus, some areas reflect multiple times of day and weather conditions, depending on when you visit them during the game. Areas range from small to medium-large in size, with the largest areas being exploratory hubs that lead to small missions and other areas. They're never large enough to get lost in, but not too small that you'd feel they were insubstantial. I'm really glad that Tomb Raider went this way structurally with designing the gameworld. A hub-based gameworld (particularly the way that Tomb Raider does it) provides a more organic and continuous experience with great exploration and openness that can be lacking in mission or level-based games, while avoiding the less detailed, less unique or more repetitive design often necessitated by open world games. Travel in the game occurs on foot from one area to the next, although in some cases a special event will take you to the next area, and in some cases the direct route between areas is cut off. However, as you explore each area, you'll find Base Camps that allow you to fast travel back to every major area you've previously discovered, allowing backtracking for collectibles. Gamers have complained that Tomb Raider's hubs don't create any non-linearity, but for me this is a pro, not a con. As a story-driven game, there is an importance to the linearity of the story. The one thing missing in the game's environments, which fans were quick to note, is underwater exploration. I'm actually glad that this game didn't have underwater exploration, since I usually find swimming mechanics fairly awkward, and there's plenty of water in the game that Lara does interact with. More importantly, however, I don't think this game needed it. I know it's an adored aspect of the franchise's legacy, like the acrobatic moves mentioned previously, but the freedom of a reboot is not being chained to expectations about what a Tomb Raider game must include.

Tomb Raider has a number of different types of collectibles to find throughout the game. Documents are my favorite, as they offer additional backstory from members of the Endurance crew, current inhabitants of the island, as well as inhabitants from the island's history. Relics are also pretty cool, as they're realistic items, fit right in with the historical context of the game, and can be examined in a 3D view that sometimes lets you discover additional details about them. Lara's appraisal of each one is like a mini history lesson - in fact, Lara could have gone into much more detail about each one, which I would have enjoyed and found fascinating. GPS Caches are small devices that emit a glowing pulse to help you spot them. There are a lot of these in each level but, unfortunately, finding them all only results in a very small reward close to the end of the game that doesn't match the time and effort it takes to find them.

Each area also has challenges to complete, which are all variations on finding and either collecting or destroying a certain number of specific objects. These challenges, besides adding a little bit more gameplay that offers a nice diversion to your primary objectives and combat, make you pay much more attention to the environment than you otherwise might have, since some of them are a bit tricky to find.

Combat, which plays a major role in this Tomb Raider, is unlike any of the previous games before it. Gone is auto-aiming, and the developers have introduced an auto-cover system that is quite effective. Lara will go into a slight crouch when enemies are near, and a full crouch whenever she's close to something that will provide cover while in combat. In theory, many were skeptical about this system. In practice, it's excellent and makes for a very fun, very engaging and dynamic combat system. Without having to manually toggle a crouch, you can keep your focus on the combat itself, which is key - Tomb Raider's enemies are not complacent. If you sit behind cover and try to pick them off, they'll leave their own cover to engage you, or try to flush you out with molotovs and dynamite. This makes for some intense combat, always keeping you on the move. Although cover systems in other games may have more options, such as blind fire or a larger variety of cover objects, I found Tomb Raider's auto-cover system to be more fun, especially because it makes combat so fast-paced, and it feels a lot more natural and less contrived than some games do. Some criticisms have been aimed at the game's AI, although I didn't experience any of the issues I've seen mentioned myself. One thing about the AI that was quite well done was that enemies will comment on your actions as you fight, move and even reload, to coordinate their attack. Since there's a whole ton of them and only one of you, they don't seem concerned about revealing their positions. AI encounters are always unique, with pre-combat chatter providing some great story information if you don't run and gun your way through.

In addition to regular combat, Tomb Raider includes Quick Time Events, a game mechanic meant to turn certain gameplay sequences and boss fights into interactive cinematics. QTEs are somehow becoming increasingly popular with developers despite being increasingly despised by gamers. Tomb Raider's QTEs have proved extremely frustrating for many gamers as they require precise timing, although I found them quite easy once I figured out how they worked, having not played a game that used them before. I hope that Crystal will not use QTEs in future Tomb Raider games. I feel that QTEs cheapen action/arcade and combat sequences by taking gameplay skill out of the equation, and as something that's supposed to feel cinematic, they only partly succeed, due to the obtrusive QTE prompts that break immersion.

While we're on the subject of what many consider to be the dumbing down of games, we might as well talk about my only other major complaint with this game - things that the game does to try and help players, but are widely regarded as unwanted, excessive hand holding. Crystal may be trying to reach a wider audience with this game, but that's no excuse to give long-time fans, who are used to having games provide a bit of a challenge, a watered down experience. The game favors in-game tutorials over a manual, which I think many gamers are accepting of these days, even though such tutorials are immersion breaking, and some gamers still want a manual that actually explains all the game mechanics. Where Tomb Raider's helping hand becomes a bit of a joke is in the post-tutorial gameplay. The following pop-ups, which occur continuously throughout the game, all become quickly annoying: helper icons that appear on interactive objects, helper icons that appear on enemies during combat, text that reminds you of your current objective when you're trying to explore at your own pace and enjoy the scenery, and lastly, constant reminders to use "Survival Instinct", a seemingly magical ability that makes the world glow to show you your objective and objects of interest. Thankfully, using "Survival Instinct" is completely optional - I don't think the game needs it at all, and in fact it probably should have been optional to gain the skill in the first place, but if it helps less experienced gamers, I'm cool with that. But for goodness' sake stop telling me to use it! Oh, and I almost forgot - telling me that I'm near a "secret tomb" by having not only pop-up text and those beautiful bell sounds when you get close but white arrows painted on the landscape to make sure that tombs stick out like a sore thumb - that's just overkill, and to be honest it's more than a little insulting. Why even call them "secret" tombs? I feel like a tourist, not a gamer. Having signs, sounds and pop-up tour guide text removes any fun that was to be had in exploration and discovery. That said, let's move on!

Tomb Raider's XP, skill and upgrade systems are a little confusing at first, but they're easy to use once you've got it all figured out. XP is acquired by eating orange fruit, opening small orange metal crates, killing enemies, looting animals and progressing through the game's story. Salvage is obtained by looting enemies, yellow wood crates, large metal crates, lockers and treasure chests in tombs, and is spent on upgrading your weapons in the Gear menu at Base Camps and Day Camps. XP, unlike salvage, is not counted or spent directly. Instead, you will see a shield icon on the left of your screen that "fills up" every time you gain XP, and each time the shield fills completely, you gain 1 skill point. Skill points can then be spent in the Skills menu at Base Camps and Day Camps on special abilities from one of three skill sets: Survivor, Hunter and Brawler. The setup of these skill sets is fairly basic - items within each skill set are classed into 3 levels (Rookie, Hardened and Specialist), and to unlock the higher levels, you have to purchase most of the previous skills. In this way, your choice of skills doesn't play a critical role in developing Lara as a character, since by the end of the game you'll have purchased all (or almost all) of them. This is a nice way to ease a more casual player into this type of game mechanic, although it won't be as satisfying for those who are used to games with greater complexity. And it sure would have been nice to know just how much XP constitutes a full XP shield for 1 skill point.

Tomb Raider offers a range of weapons to use and multiple variations of those weapons. As you progress through the game, you can discover weapon parts in salvage crates and on enemy bodies, and once you find enough specific parts, you'll automatically improve the weapon at the next camp you use. This occurs completely separately from adding upgrades to your weapons by spending salvage, and you don't lose any upgrades when improving a weapon's base model. This, along with using salvage to upgrade weapons, isn't especially realistic, but I don't know a lot about different types of guns or other weapons, so it didn't bother me too much. The game's four basic weapon types - the bow, the pistol, the rifle and the shotgun - each have several improved versions, and at some points in the game you'll also be given an improved version instead of having to find the parts for it. Lara also acquires a pry axe early in the game, which she trades in for a climbing axe before too long. The axe serves as a melee weapon, and several of the upgrade skills involve putting some pretty serious power and brutality into it.

My favorite of the game's weapons is easily the bow. I switched to using other weapons as my primary weapon throughout the game only because I knew that there were achievements for using them. The bow is perfectly suited to stealth and strategic playstyles, which I prefer over run and gun playstyles. It's especially useful for putting out light sources and hitting explodable objects, although of course the other weapons are capable of this too. Not to mention that headshots with the bow are a lot of fun.

One small issue I had with weapons in this game is that there's way too much available ammo. The fact that there's ammo just lying around everywhere is an accepted concession to realism in most games (although a bit more realism in placement would be appreciated), but the sheer abundance of it is what I take exception to here. You'll never want for ammo - if you run out, you can just go to the last place you picked some up, which usually won't be far, and the ammo will have respawned.

What I felt was most well done with the gear in this game was making use of the weapons as puzzle solving tools. The shotgun is used to clear barriers, the bow is used for traversal and object manipulation, and the climbing axe is used as a tool and has a traversal function as well, as its name implies. Lara also makes frequent use of a torch. Crystal set out to make the bow and the climbing axe Lara's new signature tools, and they've succeeded. Part of the reason these tools are so great is that they do have significant gameplay functionality - especially the bow - instead of being just weapons. These tools go a long way in establishing the new Lara as an explorer and a puzzle solver, which is ironically something that fans have felt is lacking in this game.

And so, I would argue that this game does in fact live up to the legacy of its namesake, Tomb Raider. There are more than a few people scratching their heads and pointing out the fact that, as a Tomb Raider, Lara should probably raid a few more tombs in this game. You may have also heard some disappointment expressed about the tombs that are in the game. There are a good handful of tombs available to be found and raided, but they are all small, one "room" areas with a single puzzle to solve to reach a large chest of salvage. The puzzles are all fairly simple, although a couple of them did make me stop and think for a few minutes. Finally, the salvage rewards aren't very interesting - unique relics would have been more favorably received in an overall consideration of the game's economy. What the tombs lack in size, complexity and reward, however, they make up for in unique design. With each subsequent tomb I encountered, even though they were small and short, I kept thinking, "that was pretty cool, how will they top that?" Here's my perspective - previous Tomb Raider games were all about large, complex tombs because those levels were the thrust of the story. With this game, the theme of the story and thus the majority of the gameplay is all about survival, and discovering Lara's character as a survivor and an explorer. In the context of the reboot, it just doesn't make sense to throw a fresh-faced character into the same situations she encountered in her previous incarnation as a seasoned adventurer.

To further explain how I view this, let me back up a bit. Early in the year, Tomb Raider unexpectedly became my most anticipated game of the year. As the release approached, my expectations began to build. Tomb Raider had incredible potential to deliver an exceptional gaming experience in practically every way. I had a strong feeling that the game would live up to and deliver on what it promised, but I wasn't prepared for Tomb Raider to blow my expectations out of the water as it did. Crystal had a story to tell with this game, and they did so in an accomplished manner. Along the way, they gave us a diverse range of experiences in the new world of this franchise reboot, from combat to exploration to character skills to collectibles to puzzle solving and more than anyone's fair share of explosive action sequences. I feel that they more than proved themselves in the way they handled each of these areas, and I feel confident with the franchise in their hands that they'll continue to do right by the franchise's legacy. I trust them to take the critical acclaim and the fan feedback for improvements in equal measure, and deliver a worthy, and even greater sequel. A survivor has been born - and now it's time for her to go raid some tombs.

Tomb Raider, much to the surprise of fans, was announced to have a multiplayer mode in January, just two months before the game's release. Developed by Eidos Montreal, the multiplayer component was a first for the series, and was inspired by the success of the co-op adventure Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Having a separate studio develop the multiplayer meant that the Crystal team didn't have to divert resources from their work on the single player game. The multiplayer has been embraced by some, while frustrating others. One of the initial concerns from fans is that they were expecting a single player game with single player achievements. Tomb Raider's multiplayer accounts for 15 of the game's 50 achievements, so for those who don't enjoy multiplayer or aren't as skilled at multiplayer gaming, some of the achievements to net the game's complete gamerscore or get the Platinum trophy on the PS3 are more challenging (or involve more grinding) than fans think is reasonable. With 5 maps (and one pre-order map) and four game modes (including standard Deathmatch and Free For All modes) at launch, the multiplayer feels a bit light, especially since new map packs have already been released for all platforms, with more to come. I haven't played a lot of modern multiplayer games myself, so I found the multiplayer fun enough, but not something I'm planning to play longterm. The maps are pretty and are all mostly unique takes on areas from the single player game, but they all feel small to me. Each map is comprised of a medium-large open area with only marginally protected paths around it, which doesn't leave a lot of room for strategy when you have a full compliment of 4 versus 4 players. As for character progression, by levelling up, you unlock characters, weapons and skills, which you then have to purchase with salvage collected during the matches.

My primary modern multiplayer experience prior to Tomb Raider was BioShock 2. I don't think it was a huge success or anything, but I had a blast playing it, and it was well received by many fans, some who are still playing it regularly today. It had large maps filled with many areas, and the maps were a lot of fun to play in because of the unique setting, unique game modes but most of all because they were well designed. Levelling up unlocked BioShock's unique plasmid abilities (among other things), so it was a lot of fun to progress through the ranks, giving real incentive to the levelling. With Tomb Raider, I don't feel that there's any incentive to levelling up. Unlocking more characters to play with is cool, but doesn't add anything to the core gameplay experience. The weapons and skills you unlock also aren't really unique, and I feel like I'll have the same experience whether I'm at level 1 or level 60. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in that case the gameplay experience has to be really good to support it. With Tomb Raider, I haven't found this to be the case, especially when I'm a low level player and the matchmaking doesn't create matches based around player level, so I'm always outmatched by high level players with superior weapons. This was another thing that BioShock 2 did well, creating a level playing field so that player skill dictated match outcomes, when the player base was large enough.

Major gaming publications have been quick to slam Tomb Raider's multiplayer, calling it "lackluster" (Game Informer), "forgettable" (GameSpot), "the extraneous offering to end all extraneous offerings" (Eurogamer), "truly disappointing ... best forgotten about" (IGN) and "paper-thin ... [it] does nothing to expand on the ideals of Tomb Raider" (Joystiq). Fans have been more specific about the gameplay issues. One of the fundamental concerns that fans have is that when the multiplayer was being promoted, it was always said how much fun people had playing Guardian of Light together, and that Tomb Raider's multiplayer would give fans an experience of gaming together with their friends - except it hasn't. The game lacks a party feature, but more to the point, fans feel that traditional player versus player multiplayer is simply not meant for Tomb Raider, and would rather see co-op modes instead. Criticisms with the gameplay itself range from level and mode design with static spawn points that favor the worst kind of camping to the usual critiques about weapon balancing that most multiplayer games face. That's not to mention the things that don't work, such as the game's auto-balance feature, which creates unbalanced teams both in number of players and skill level more often than not. Peer hosted matches and the barebones matchmaking are another concern.

Rebooting a franchise is no small task, especially a long-running franchise like Tomb Raider with an established fanbase that has followed Lara through over a dozen video games (counting her handheld adventures), two movies and a comic book series. To breathe new life into something in a way that connects to a new and larger audience without alienating existing fans has to be a nerve-wracking exercise in constantly double guessing yourself. Many franchises and properties have played with remakes and reboots, some successfully ushering in new eras of their fandoms, some dividing fans between the old and the new, some fizzling straight out of the starting gate. And so I have to applaud Crystal Dynamics for what they've done here, for having the courage to decide to go down this path in the first place, realizing the challenges they would face. To start from scratch, in a way, to really clear the slate and say that anything goes. That's not easy to do and that's not easy to sell.

From the beginning of Tomb Raider's publicity campaign, with the game's reveal in December 2010 on the January 2011 cover of Game Informer, Crystal presented a strong vision behind the new brand they were establishing. That cover image of Lara was so striking and carefully designed that it quickly planted the essence of the new Lara in our minds, and once planted, that seed continued to grow throughout the campaign leading to the game's March 5th, 2013 release date. The tagline "A Survivor Is Born" - which was shortened and revised to the hashtag #Reborn later in the campaign - is certainly apt. Crystal has given birth - or rebirth - to a new Lara Croft, and, at least in this fan's mind, she is (and will continue to become) as truly iconic a character as the first Lara Croft.

What's been perhaps even more impressive to me than Tomb Raider's pre-launch campaign has been its launch and post-launch campaign, so much so that I wanted to mention some of the highlights in this review. Much to the chagrin of PC and PS3 gamers, Microsoft has played a huge role in Tomb Raider's launch campaigns. While some no doubt harbor resentment about this, it's Microsoft's initiative and not Crystal's neglect of other platforms that has given the Xbox 360 this prominence in Tomb Raider's launch campaigns, and I've seen this as a good thing. It means that the game has received a lot of extra promotion, and that can only add to the overall success of the game, which makes it possible for Crystal to give us more Tomb Raider. Crystal have made the rebirth of Lara Croft an event and invited everyone to join in the celebration. They've launched a Tomb Raider store at, where a large variety of clothing, accessories and art items are available for purchase, with more being added on a semi-regular basis. Dark Horse Comics will be launching a new Tomb Raider comic book series. A full length, official soundtrack and full size art book were released, which is awesome since many games don't release these items, especially physical CDs, and I'll be reviewing these items in more detail separately. A partnership with AMD debuted an incredible new hair rendering technology, TressFX, for DX11 on PC. Crystal has continued to emphasize the survivor theme that they began with their Demetrious Johnson UFC partnership by launching, collecting stories of courage and working towards a $10,000 donation to And then we have the contests. The Scavenger Hunt promotion had almost 23,000 fans answering trivia questions and submitting photos for a chance to win a trip to Fiji, a Lara Croft statue, a Tomb Raider ATV, three custom Xbox consoles, three custom PS3 consoles and 50 other prizes. An "early game" contest on Tomb Raider's official forums gave three fans the chance to win a copy of the game the weekend before street date. An art contest on deviantART featured large cash prizes, Tomb Raider Xbox consoles and Tomb Raider Xbox controllers, and received almost 5,000 entries, many of which were stunning pieces of art. A Pinterest contest included Xbox copies of the game and Tomb Raider Xbox controllers as prizes. Kick Energy drinks were branded with Lara on the can as part of a sweepstakes. A huge Twitter contest during launch week gave away 216 prizes (36 winners each day for 6 days), including 6 Tomb Raider Xbox consoles. There certainly is a lot of Tomb Raider excitement in the air, making it a great time to be a Tomb Raider fan.

One thing I've really appreciated about Crystal Dynamics is seeing how they treat their fans. Every game company has its ups and downs, but I've found Crystal to be in the up category far more than the down category. Two things especially stand out to me now that the game has been out for a month. One, Crystal has been very quick to release multiple patches and title updates with more to come, not only to fix bugs but to make updates in response to fan feedback. They're definitely more responsive in this regard than many other companies. Another thing they do that no one else really does, as far as I'm aware, is release very high resolution renders and art for their fans to enjoy. I have a long list of games from other companies that I wish would do this, even in retrospect. By releasing these assets to fans, the work of Crystal's artists will be remembered and enjoyed for a long time to come, instead of being forgotten.

Crystal reported that Tomb Raider sold a million copies in the first 48 hours of release, and over 3 million copies in the first month, and those numbers don't count any digital downloads, which is the entire PC market in North America since there was no physical PC release for North American fans. These numbers and the critical acclaim the game has garnered from press and fans alike have made the game a quantitative success by all reasonable expectations. Can we hope that the next game is already in development? Can Crystal create an even better sequel? And just what is Lara Croft: Reflections? Only time will tell. Until then, I'm off to explore Yamatai once again.

As a footnote, I would like to give a personal thanks to two Tomb Raider fansites and friends in the community. The first is Max Murray and his fansite Max is just a huge Tomb Raider fan and a really cool guy who always shows his enthusiasm and loves Tomb Raider with a passion. When I decided to launch a fansite amongst many long-running, well-established sites, Max was super friendly, welcoming, and even gave me a really nice mention on his site, not to mention our mini conversations on Twitter - thanks again, Max! The second person I would like to thank is Stella, who runs the famously comprehensive I was very lucky to win a copy of Tomb Raider on Steam from Stella (before I became an Official Fansite myself), so I wanted to mention a special thanks to her here. Stella, I've enjoyed our conversations about the PC version! Lastly, I would like to give a shout out to the awesome community over at the Official Tomb Raider Forums. To everyone there who has welcomed me into the community, you know who you are, thank you! It's a pretty awesome time to be part of the Tomb Raider fandom, and I look forward to many more years of gaming as the reborn Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider reboot continuity!