The first major video game release of 2013 is actually a re-release of sorts. "Tomb Raider,"the new action-adventure platforming game developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix (TYO:9684), is a reimagining of one of the most iconic franchises the game industry has ever produced.
Much of this fame (and occasional notoriety) comes from its protagonist, Lara Croft. But "Tomb Raider" producers caught themselves in a public relations snafu late last year after developers made a number of unseemly comments about Ms. Croft’s body, her implied sexual assault in the new game’s story and the protective impulse this was meant to inspire from its largely male audience. Crystal Dynamics has maintained that this was simply a case of bad wording on its part, saying that, once players viewed the controversial segments within the full context of "Tomb Raider," they wouldn’t seem quite so unseemly.
Now that the game is just a day away from release, critics have finally gotten their hands on the final product. So what do they think?
For the most part, Crystal Dynamics has proved its point. “Tomb Raider” scored high reviews from major gaming websites such as IGN, GameSpot and Kotaku and even attracted the praise of mainstream news organizations such as NPR and CBS. Gameplay, graphics and the voice-over work and animation of the surprisingly human characters all earned high marks. The major sticking point most critics had was the game’s similarity to “Uncharted,” an acclaimed action game that’s exclusive to the PlayStation 3 consoles by Sony (NYSE:SNE).
As for the messy questions about the game’s sexism? “After playing the game,” Ben Kuchera wrote in his review for the Penny Arcade Report, they simply “feel silly.”
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See excerpts from some top reviews below.
“'Tomb Raider' is well-written, sympathetic, exciting, beautiful and just incredibly well-made. The single-player rarely makes a misstep, and, though Lara's quick transformation into a hardened killer seems at odds with the narrative at first, the game quickly moves past it. It is a superb action game that brings a new emotional dimension to one of gaming's most enduring icons and repositions her alongside Nathan Drake at the top of gaming's action-hero [hierarchy].”
“'Tomb Raider' builds slowly through discovered diary entries, buried relics and environmental observations. It's subtle and thoughtful in a way I didn't expect. That unexpected thoughtfulness extends to most of the game. It's easy to point out the many ways that 'Tomb Raider' borrows bits and pieces from other popular games of the last five years, but Crystal Dynamics has blended these disparate strengths into something remarkable. It's cinematic yet open, intense yet laid-back, fresh yet polished. It's a near-perfect embodiment of the age of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with a hint of what to expect next.”
“'Tomb Raider' could so easily have gone wrong, and its opening gambit looks like it's heading down a most erroneous path. It starts off with some ambushing QTEs and absolutely pummels Lara Croft into the dirt to such a degree, you'd almost suspect the developers were getting off on it. This first impression is an awkward obfuscation, however one that soon erodes to reveal a savvy, thoughtful and, above all, immensely enjoyable game. In fact, I'm happy to go on record as saying this is the best 'Tomb Raider' game I've played. Tightly produced, competent in both its puzzling and its combat, this is one reboot that manages to be unequivocally superior to its predecessors. Lara Croft has at last scaled the mountain of relevance once again, and the view's pretty good from up there.”
“Beneath the noise, there is an engaging story clamoring to be heard, and there are moments of true beauty, serenity and pathos fighting for attention. The game does get better as it goes on, and, despite the distractions, the last few hours are a pleasure to play. At the center of it all is a brilliant character, still iconic but more human and believable than she's ever been before.”
“There's not much that the team at Crystal Dynamics didn't nail in the new 'Tomb Raider' reboot. You may run into a few frustrating moments where you think Lara should be able to jump but can't, and early on there's some strange rules as to how Lara can light a torch. [It's] worth pointing out that this 'Tomb Raider' is probably not the right title to introduce a younger gamer to the series. This is Lara Croft like you've never seen her before. It's graphic and littered with gut-wrenching moments of agony and triumph. While no doubt a fantastic experience, this 'Tomb Raider' reboot isn't for all ages.”
“'Tomb Raider' retains its own identity, and much of that is down to its British heroine. Whether she’s huddled up against the cold or sending five men to their doom with an explosive arrow, this is still Lara Croft, one of gaming’s most distinctive heroes -- and now she has a personality that extends far beyond the bounds of her bra straps. If the purpose of a reboot is to redefine a character and set them up for the future, then this is a job well-done.”
“['Tomb Raider'] is a finely crafted reboot, one that ensures that Lara Croft herself won't become a relic of the past. It's gloomier, yes, and laden with a thick sheen of meta-awareness. This new origin story throws more trouble at its heroine than ever before. But the changes folded into this 'Tomb Raider' add a turbulent urgency that the old adventures lacked. We're left with a Lara Croft that we know better. She can handle what's coming, especially when it looks like she can't.”
“Whatever the setting, however well-designed the tombs, however precise the controls, 'Tomb Raider' wouldn't work if you didn't care about Lara. And, at first, you don't. When the game begins, she's a bit of a killjoy, so obsessed with her work that she almost forgets how to deal with actual people. But once things get grim and she's forced to face the fact that help isn't coming, her humanity is touching to see. We see her in a way we never have before -- vulnerable and real. Other 'Tomb Raider' titles have focused on bits and pieces of Lara's personal history, but she's never been so truly human as she is in this latest incarnation. Her journey to get off the island is a fun adventure, but her emotional journey from student to survivor is what makes this Lara so appealing.”
“This is the sort of immersive gaming that casual Web-based and mobile gaming just can't manage. Thanks to high-end graphic and sound design, big-budget console games like 'Tomb Raider' can be quite cinematic. They can work like movies. When attention is paid to classical narrative virtues -- story, character, atmosphere -- the gaming just gets better.”