Reflection is good. It’s nice to look back on was has been and, remember the great achievements of times gone past. I’d like to think that’s why Game of the Year awards are so popular, not just so we can screech at each other about supposedly wrong opinions – something that’s sadly all to common in the world of video games. We’ve admittedly left our Top Ten Games of 2013 list a little later than most but, we did so that we might better experience all of last years big titles, in the hopes we don’t leave any great experiences unrepresented. 2013 was a fantastic year that saw some truly staggering games hit as the last generation systems gave way to the next. Lara Croft sneaks into our sixth place with her return to form in Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider – Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One
Tomb Raider, Lara Croft, they’re iconic names synonymous with gaming thanks to their incredible successes generations ago, way back on the original Playstation. And whilst they never faded completely from the gaming scene, their magic certainly did evaporate leaving Lara to star in spades of disappointing adventures starting with the Playstation 2 title Angel of Darkness – that is until last years Tomb Raider reboot. Under the watchful eye of developer Crystal Dynamics Lara’s origin was completely re-imagined as grisly tale of survival depicting her determination as she grows from a studious architect into the famed arse-kicking heroine that is beloved the world over. It may have abandoned many series conventions in the name of reinvention, but the change is wholly welcome, introducing players to a more likable, and relatable Lara.
Lara starts her latest outing shipwrecked on the seemingly cursed isle of Yamatai, a locale inhabited by deadly denizens including wildlife, shipwrecked humans, natural disaster and, a spooky supernatural presence. Separated from the rest of her crewmates Lara is forced in confrontation with a nightmarish cocktail of disaster, terror and trial. Starting the journey with no weapons whatsoever the early hours of the game are intensely focused on showing Lara’s truly dire situation as she escapes terrifying cave-ins, hunts animals for the first time, and endures a creepy confrontation with some of the islands cult-like inhabitants. In these early stages Tomb Raider is more like a survival horror than an action-adventure. Considering the situation it’s hardly surprising the poor lass breaks down into tears before the first hour is up.
These opening hours are a slow paced, and suspenseful ride that really got me rooting for Lara. Soon, after one fateful encounter Lara is forced to kill her first human, an event that appears to scar the girl as she wretches over the fresh corpse of her would be killer. Then, not two seconds later, Lara, using the downed mans pistol, guns down a whole units worth of his pals – in what is an admittedly beautiful sequence in a burning mountainside village. The jarring transformation from frightened to survivor to killer is Tomb Raiders largest point of contention, but the rest of the adventure is so top notch it’s hard to hold it against the experience as a whole. Once the village is aflame Tomb Raider drops the survival horror, and the action kicks off.
Using a host of upgrades for both weapons, and Lara Tomb Raider creates a sense of growth. Lara is always becoming more apt; more dangerous the longer she spends on the island. At the start she can nary fire a bow, by the end she’s a master gunslinger, the upgrade system makes this change feel natural – Lara is always growing, learning new important skills. Using a metroidvania lite approach to exploration Lara is able to enter new areas in old locations as she uncovers new pieces of equipment which makes backtracking feel rewarding – even if it’s not as deep as other genre examples. The host of weaponry on offer may not be extensive, but the four up for grabs are incredibly diverse, each radically different to the others – I was always excited to see what was next. The slow addition of new items generates a fantastic curve of action, the more the game progresses the more explosive it becomes. The steady shift stops any element from becoming stale, I found it hard to believe at the end there was a time I didn’t have a firearm.
Crystal Dynamics has breathed brand new life into the long stale Tomb Raider franchise with their reboot. The grim story of survival is truly engaging, even if I had to forgive a few mis-steps like a forgettable supporting cast, and strangely rapid turning point for Lara’s transformation into capable killer. Lara’s Yamatai adventure is explosive, scary, and incredibly beautiful mustering up some of last gens best visuals – which are even more polished in the recently released Definitive Edition. Every gameplay mechanic is perfect, shooting is responsive, traversal is slick, and the upgrade system matches the tone fantastically. Lara’s latest adventure might not be a conventional Tomb Raider romp, but it’s certainly one of 2013’s best games.