Tomb Raider review: Lara Croft is back, slinging arrows
The Tomb Raider games have a long history of showing off the world-class acrobatics and survival skills of Lara Croft. But how did she get that way? In the new Tomb Raider (Mac App Store link) Square Enix reboots the series to give us an origin story for Lara, who is an eager adventurer thrust into extraordinary circumstances. (The game was originally released in March 2013 for the PC and game consoles. Feral Interactive is behind the Mac version.)
After being shipwrecked, Lara and the crew are stuck on a mysterious island. She is then abruptly abducted and left injured while escaping. The new (old?) Lara is scared and scrambles to deal with her unexpected situation. Her journey is both emotional and engaging from start to finish in the 18 to 20 hours it may take you to complete the game.
Gameplay is a mix of exploring, combat, and puzzle solving. The island provides a stunning setting and is a delight to explore as you gradually discover new areas. Part of the appeal of the gameplay comes from how well Lara is animated and moves so naturally; the rest is just good level design.
Various challenges appear throughout the story, which are fun to complete and don’t seem out of place. Most actions earn you experience that can be used to upgrade Lara’s skills at campfire sites. These also serve as fast travel points in the semi-open world.
Combat takes up a large portion of the game, but never overtakes the proceedings. This is easily the most action-orientated of Tomb Raider games, but it feels right. Lara has a few weapons at her disposal, the most versatile of which is her longbow, and she also proves a crackshot with handguns, shotgun, and semi-automatic rifles. Your weapons can be upgraded with salvage and parts that you pick up from all around the island. Enemies are quite clever and will keep you scrambling around fights with their tactics.
The puzzles make sense in the context of the surroundings and the story, not like some ancient civilization had placed them there to confuse future explorers. Otherwise, you actually spend very little time in tombs. There are tombs set for raiding though, just as optional challenges that reward you with salvage and experience points upon completion.
Feral’s port is one of the best looking games on the Mac to date. The setting is just gorgeous and various effects from fire to water to snow storms feel realistic. The game makes full use of the new visual features found with an OpenGL 4.1 update in Mavericks, and almost every option from the PC version is available, save the special hair-rendering TressFX that was optimised for AMD graphics in Windows. In the Mac version you will still frequently want to stop and just take in your stunning surroundings.
All aspects of the soundtrack are fantastic, too. Music will rise from low key to high intensity as needed. The sounds of the island will immerse you in every storm or hill you climb. Voice-work is top notch with the actors bringing a good script to life and adding emotion to their characters.
Given this game’s graphical prowess, system requirements are high if you want to run at maximum detail options. A mid-2010 iMac with a 1GB AMD Radeon HD 5750 graphics card ran the game smoothly at a mix of Normal and High settings. You should check the game’s system requirements before purchasing the game.
For the first time there is also multiplayer in a Tomb Raider title, but only with the Steam version. This is an interesting and decently fun diversion from the single player. Deathmatch, Teammatch, and a few objectives modes across a variety of locations from the game—and some not from the game—will challenge players.
I had to wrestle with the camera somewhat in multiplayer, but the main problem was a severe lack of players similarly pursuing the multiplayer modes. Overall, this is an average part of a spectacular game, worth a look for those interested, but not for getting the game alone.
You don’t need to be a Tomb Raider fan to enjoy this perfect action adventure game. Lara’s journey from naïve explorer to hardened survivalist should not be missed. It is one of the best games of the year.