Tomb Raider PS3 review – Uncharted territory a far cry from series’ roots

Tomb Raider PS3 review screens

The supporting cast is a fairly clichéd bunch – gruff Scot, sassy black woman, large Polynesian gentleman – but they each fulfil a role, and the voice acting and script are strong (albeit not a patch on you-know-what). They are, though, very much second fiddle in the grand scheme of things, and Lara’s adventure is an almost entirely solo effort – all the more reason to be thankful this reimagined version has been well realised.

Tomb Raider PS3 review screensOver the course of the game’s running time (which clocks in at around ten hours for an average playthrough) Miss Croft evolves from a bright and intuitive yet hesitant young thing to a confident life-saver and expert weapons handler. The progression in her abilities is a little tough to swallow (more on that later), but the changes in her personality are handled well and believably. The voice work from Camilla Luddington plays a part in this, as does the set of circumstances into which she’s thrust: the various levels of peril and tragedy that befall her band of comrades would elicit an impassioned response from anybody. Crystal Dynamics has pulled no emotional punches here, and the experience is all the better for it.

With regard to how Lara’s skills as a raider of tombs increase, it’s a two-sided coin. Otherwise known as: a coin. From a gameplay perspective it works well: most in-game actions reward you with XP – story progression, hunting wild animals, hoarding collectibles – which in turn translates to a Skill Point once you’ve harvested enough. These can then be spent in a number of different categories. You can enable Lara to fall from high places without suffering damage, to develop additional close-combat skills such as arrow executions, or to harvest more resources from fallen animals or enemies.

tomb raider ps3 review screensIn turn those resources, referred to as Salvage, are what allows you to upgrade your weapons, increasing power, ammo capacity and the like. Spare parts to overhaul each firearm – turning your AK-47 into a Commando Rifle, for instance – are also found at random throughout. The game makes all of this eminently manageable: there’s a limited but sufficient number of firearms, and the upgrades function independently of one another for the most part, so you needn’t commit to one particular set of skills at the expense of another.

An island filled with murderous inhabitants, deadly wildlife, and a young kid battling to save their friends using an ever-expanding set of resources – we know what you’re thinking: how long until ITV makes this into a reality show? Once you’re done picturing Ant and Dec narrating as Pixie Lott fires a longbow at a cannibal, you may also think this sounds a tad reminiscent of Far Cry 3. And you’d be right.

While the plot elements and cinematic flourishes are a clear Drake homage, the emphasis on exploration and upgrades (not to mention being stranded on an island full of nutbars) echoes Jason Brody’s holiday from hell. And while it was difficult to believe that a carefree fratboy miraculously transformed into a tribal leader, Lara’s metamorphosis is an even tougher pill to swallow. Even with the ‘it’s a game, dummy’ caveat, bullets have left guns slower than the speed at which our girl changes from a shy scholar into a grenade launcher-wielding commando. And all in the space of roughly three days – at least J-Bro’s journey took place over a period of weeks or months.

But I’m nitpicking, and once your disbelief has been suspended there’s a huge amount of fun to be had in trying to rescue your friends from this island of the damned. The shooting, for one, is rock solid. Working with the trigger buttons as you’d expect, all the guns have a pleasing sense of weight and impact, and the crosshairs are nicely responsive when it comes to lining up satisfying (and XP-rich) headshots.