De-glamourising and gritty reality seem to be in vogue these days. Ask any one who saw Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, which portrayed Bond as far more human and sensitive than the smooth-as-silk, wise cracking secret agent that earlier films had portrayed. Well, Tomb Raider (yes, that is actually the name of the game) does the same for gaming’s most famous heroine, Lara Croft. Gone is the super curvy lady with a penchant for roaming around weird locations with guns strapped to her waist and dressed in costumes that seemed to ignore both temperature and mosquitoes alike. The Lara Croft in this game is younger, more vulnerable (she actually cringes in fear), not immaculately coiffed, and is definitely not looking for trouble. Oh, and the ridiculous curves are out.
Tomb Raider is clearly an attempt by developers Crystal Dynamics to revive one of gaming’s most iconic series. And it certainly needed it. Thanks to a few less than inspired titles, people were beginning to identify it more with the Angelina Jolie films based on the games than the games themselves. And to make matters worse for the franchise, a new series — Uncharted — had reset the benchmark for the action-adventure genre, both in terms of presentation and gameplay.Indeed, some cynics might even say that Tomb Raider is nothing but Uncharted with Lara Croft playing the protagonist instead of Nathan Drake. We are not going to be THAT cruel and are instead going to give the developers a round of applause for having the nerve to change one of gaming’s best-known figures and give her a whole new look.
Moving to the game itself, which we played on the PS3, Tomb Raider starts off with a 21-year-old Lara Croft heading for her first expedition with her team — to find a lost Japanese kingdom which was led by a queen who possessed amazing powers. However, her ship is hit by a storm and Lara finds herself on an island, cut off from her friends. And then starts a story that is the most gripping we have seen in the entire series. Croft gets kidnapped, escapes, and then finds her way around the island, tries to discover what happened to her friends, dodging animals and people (cultists, mercenaries, tribes...it’s a crowded island), lighting torches, and using a bow and arrow instead of her usual pistols. And we see a new Croft — one who is shocked when she kills someone, one who almost gets sexually assaulted (this is NOT a game for children), and one who is looking to survive rather than slaughter...at least initially.
For, as the game progresses, Lara moves from being a stunned survivor to being a killing machine. No, the wisecracks are not there, and neither is the Tomb Raider swagger, but we must confess that we found the transformation from scared to scary a bit too dramatic. Mind you, we were too busy helping her bump off enemy after enemy to notice for a while. It is not all shoot shoot and kill kill, though. There is a strong adventure streak in the game too, and Lara does get to explore some ruins and solve a few tricky puzzles. And it all looks sensationally good. Yes, when it comes to sheer graphics and sound, we must confess that this is one of the best games we have played for a while. There are times when the cinematics that are actually supposed to tell you the story morph a bit too smoothly into the game itself, which can lead to some confusion (we were surprised at being asked to hit keys in the midst of what we felt was a cinematic more than once).
Gameplay is a standard, button-mashing exercise — veterans of the series will feel at home with it, while newcomers should give themselves about a quarter of an hour to get up to speed with it. The game itself is of reasonable length of 15-20 hours, depending on how well you play it. There is a multiplayer element too but frankly, it falls flat after all the adventure and dramatics of the main title.
It has its rough edges (we would have liked more roaming around and puzzles, really) and definitely will shock hardcore fans of the series, but we must confess we love Tomb Raider in general and the new Lara Croft in particular. At least for the first half of the game before she gets into killing machine mode. So much so that we wish that Crystal Dynamics had made this a stealth and survival game rather than a shooter with elements of adventure thrown in. The end hints at other such adventures and we are certainly looking out for them.
There is a new Lara Croft in game town. And she is very welcome.
Tomb Raider (PS3)
Price: Rs 2,499