ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Tomb Raider First Impressions

Tomb Raider. That name will as surely spell excitement for some as it will disappointment for others. Like certain other long-running series’ of games (e.g. Final Fantasy), Tomb Raider has seen its ups and downs among gamers over the past decade and a half. Personally I’ve enjoyed every one of the games despite their differences, but ever since 2002’s Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness flop, new developer Crystal Dynamics has been hard pressed to create a game that truly pleases long-time fans of the series and newcomers alike. Will the franchise reboot launched yesterday be enough to breathe life into the series yet again? It may be too early to tell, but here’s some first thoughts on the world’s most recognizable video game heroine‘s latest adventure.

I’m sure this is the first question everyone familiar with the series will want to know: is the new Tomb Raider, even while being a reboot, still Tomb Raider? Well, it honestly depends on what you think of when you think of Tomb Raider. Lara Croft herself is still reminiscent of past Crystal Dynamics creations, albeit younger and far more realistic (more on that in a bit). However, the environments are much more reminiscent of the older Core Design games. Unlike Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld, accessible platforms and objects are not highlighted in some unnaturally obvious way, just like the games of the 90s and early 00s, but at the same time, the game’s heroine is a far cry from the hardened and disproportionate character the series used to be known for. It all boils down to…


Realism is the new Tomb Raider‘s middle name, and it’s not just in the highly detailed graphics. Yes, the graphics are terrific, especially on a DX11 PC with super high-res textures and support for Tessellation and TressFX, but it’s the detail in the gameplay that sells the graphics as being truly lifelike. Controls are not a one-size-fits-all affair–in the opening sequence alone you’ll be introduced to a variety of uses of the controller, with the standard configuration only coming into play for about three quarters of the initial experience. And even then, don’t expect things to be so easy. Lara will occasionally trip or slip along the way, but by no means is it frustrating. The controls are in fact done so well that even in these more arduous moments you feel what’s going on. There’s no sense of needing to mash buttons until the stupid game behaves.

Quick-time events have even finally been done right, which will please many gamers with a distaste for how they were implemented in the last few Tomb Raider games. Put simply, QTEs in Tomb Raider are hard, and intense. When I tried to go at them like I do in other games, I failed. That’s because they aren’t filler content, but actually an integral part of the experience. They’re designed for realism, and each one succeeds in causing you to feel the actions in a way that directing an analog stick simply couldn’t do.

A New Personality

Lara’s behavior itself has also gotten a healthy dose of realism. Sure, the one-liners of yesteryear were fun and all, but let’s face it: the Lara Croft of the past was practically superhuman. And that used to work. Even in the late 90s the world’s heroes were still along the lines of James Bond and Indiana Jones–human beings that were just a cut above human beings. For better or worse, that style of hero is simply a trend gone by. What’s ‘in’ today is for everything to be realistic–for heroes to be human, to be flawed and to have struggles. There is yet time for me to be proven wrong–I’ve only just begun the game–but so far I am confident that Crystal Dynamics has done a masterful job of crafting Lara Croft into such a person without making her less distinguishable or iconic.

Time Well Spent

It seems only yesterday that I looked eagerly upon the first bit of concept art to leak for this game three years or so ago. Since then the opening sequence of Tomb Raider has been demoed in multiple venues even before its E3 debut, and I have caught every one. It was an amazing moment finally seeing it all play out on my own screen where for the first time, the controller was in my hands. It was no less thrilling for having seen it before, and the adventure to follow is set to be one of 2013’s finest. Yes, Crystal Dynamics has doubtlessly made a reboot to be remembered.