Tomb Raider (2013) Review: Should You Play It?

Even today, Tomb Raider (2013) is how reboots should be handled. But with a game nearly a decade old, is it worth checking out today?

Lara Croft was the face of a generation. When the first Tomb Raider launched in 1996, the Indiana Jones-esq fantasy aimed at boys became an icon of a generation. Here was a main character who wasn’t a trophy for plumbers and mutant turtles to battle over. She was a kickass hunter who didn’t need a supporting male character to tell her what to do. She stood on her own two feet and defied the usual tropes that came with being a lead character in an action game. The 90s were an era of ‘Girl Power,’ and Miss Croft was gaming’s answer to the Spice Girls.

But just like the Spice Girls, Croft was destined to fade away into obscurity. Games like Assassin’s Creed redefined what’s possible in the tomb raiding space and applied it to massive, open worlds; leaving Tomb Raider feeling dated and as feeling like a relic Croft herself would be searching for.

Tomb Raider 2013 Review

Crystal Dynamics made the right decision to reboot the series. Instead of churning out more of the same, the studio decided to roll the dice. Lara wasn’t relatable and the gameplay had stagnated. Crystal Dynamics aim, then, is to tell the untold story of Croft’s origins: How she became a tomb raider, where it all started, and how she becomes so cold and merciless.

For the most part, Crystal Dynamics excelled at showing the industry this was how reboots should be handled, albeit with a few nonsensical hiccups along the way.

Tomb Raider follows the story of then-ABC’s TV Show LOST. Jack, Kate, and Sawyer (played by Lara Croft) are on a plane (played by a boat) and a storm forces them to crash onto an island steeped in mystery and intrigue.

Despite feeling similar to the hit TV show (including Dharma stations) the story of Tomb Raider and Croft’s origin is compelling from start to finish. Even when it’s being outright silly, you’ll be itching to experience what happens next.

Certain lines like “When all seemed lost I found a truth,” and “Sacrifice is a choice you make, loss is a choice made for you,” help raise the story to levels exclusively occupied by BioWare titles. When a character speaks, the player is hanging off their every word.

The near-flawless writing is complemented by an equally stellar performance by Camilla Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy, True Blood). Luddington brings depth to Croft. As she shivers and tumbles her way through the world, Luddington reflects it effortlessly. When Croft is falling to pieces, as is Luddington. At no point does the player see Croft as a sprite in a videogame. She is a living, breathing person going through hell, thanks to Camilla Luddington.

One scene in particular shows how Crystal Dynamics are pushing the boat out when it comes to conveying a powerful and more impactful story. During the opening scenes, we see Lara Croft’s reflection in a mirror. Staring back at her is a young girl full of hope. Later in the game, she looks into the same mirror, only this time staring back at her is someone else. This Lara is dirty, scarred, and emotionally drained. This Lara, is a survivor.

My biggest gripe with the story is that for everything it does right, there are times of utter foolery, and I can’t work out whose fault this is. Take for instance when Croft makes her first kill. After this moment, killing instantly becomes second nature. Armed with a pistol and bow, Croft kills countless enemies mere moments after she first spilled blood. What’s the message? That once you’ve killed, it’s easy to then kill repeatedly Ad Infinium? Croft was nearly sick when she first killed, but after a few minutes she’s okay with it and using her pickaxe to slit the throats of downed villains? It’s a bit much.

Herein Lies the Problem

Lara goes from killing for the first time via a QTE, to head-shotting everyone is slight within minutes. It’s a jump in character that doesn’t make sense. By the latter half of the game, it does. Lara has had enough and is determined to save her friends by offing anyone who gets in her way. She has a purpose and a goal, and over time has learned how to handle the weapons efficiently. Jumping from scared to merciless killer so fast just doesn’t work thematically.

There’s another issue that plagues the first half of the story. Someone decided they wanted to hurt Lara as much as humanly possible. Almost to the point of it being a kink.

Everything Lara does goes wrong and ends up hurting her. At first, it’s to help the player want to ‘protect her’ and gain vengeance for the ordeal she has gone through, but after a few hours of Lara getting hurt, it becomes nothing more than an unfunny comedy sketch.

A few examples of this are: Lara falls, but falling isn’t enough, so she lands on a spike. Lara must enter through an enclosed space, with pipes either side of her. Lara’s bad day means one of the pipes happens to burst at the exact point she decides to pass them, resulting in her getting burnt. Lara climbs a ladder, ladder breaks. Lara reaches the top of said ladder, birds fly out causing her to nearly lose her grip. Lara is saved. No wait. She’s not. Lara investigates. Falls to her death, survives somehow, grabs a parachute. First parachute doesn’t work…

It’s all too conveniently set up. Everything she touches turns to sh*t. I get she must overcome adversity, but how much adversity is too much? Surely there comes a point where the game desensitises us and when something bad happens, we react with ‘Meh. Lara’s having a bad day again.’

It’s a shame that some of the best voice acting and writing this generation has seen is marred by such bizarre design choices.

These issues are mostly rectified by the halfway point. QTEs become sparse and Lara can go more than five minutes without falling over, allowing us to really get inside her head and start to empathise.

What’s interesting is the latter half of the game more than makes up for the shortcomings of the first – you’ll finish Tomb Raider feeling satisfied. The story is tighter and it’s easy to lose yourself in the hard-hitting gameplay.

Gameplay

Tomb Raider features some of the most exciting shooting mechanics this side of Gears of War. The bow in particular is such a joy to use that you may end up using it exclusively. Running into a group of enemies is sure to result in death, so it’s up to the player to find the best way to dispatch them. This could mean sectioning them off and shooting them in the back of the head with your bow or firing an arrow into a lantern to cause a fire or explosion. It’s up to the player how they want to handle fights.

When you’re not trading bullets or arrows with enemies, you’ll be exploring. Tomb Raider is a linear game but you never feel like you’re tethered to a specific route or tied to what the game wants you to do. It’s here that Tomb Raider creates a real sense of a size that is begging to be explored. Hidden away in caves are tombs ready to be raided: short puzzle sections that give you something else to do should you need a break from the story.

Every aspect of the game’s world has been crafted to look gorgeous even by today’s standards. The way fire creates a backdraft when it hits ceilings, or the way Lara shivers at night, or if you’re on PC, her hair via the TressFX feature, everything looks stunning to the point where it’s easy to forget this is a game at the end of the current generation’s life-cycle.

In Conclusion

Like Lara Croft, Tomb Raider narrowly avoids a death sentence. On one hand, there are faults that make it laughable. On the other, it makes up for its faults and leaves the player feeling immensely satisfied and like they’ve experienced something brilliant.

As the credits rolled, my thoughts were that of satisfaction. Even for all its faults, Tomb Raider is a game worth playing. It somehow manages to fix itself the further you progress, which is both marvelous and baffling.

Is Tomb Raider worthy of your consideration in the modern era? I’d have to say, yes. Definitely.

Availability

  • Steam
  • Xbox 360
  • Xbox One
  • Xbox Series X|S (via backward compatibility)
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 5 (via backward compatibility)
  • OS X
  • Linux
  • Shield TV
  • Stadia
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Wesley Copeland

Wesley Copeland is a gaming and tech journalist with over 10 years of experience writing online. Originally starting in video games before specializing in tech and toys, you can find his bylines at IGN, VG24/7, Kotaku, Tech Radar, Games Radar, PC Gamer, and many more. He's also highly passionate about how tech can be used to better our day-to-day lives.