Lara Croft has been a gaming icon for years now - sometimes for the right reasons (puzzling, adventure-filled gameplay) and the wrong ones (perhaps a bit too much attention on her physique and not enough on making some of the sequels actually worth playing). Thankfully she's seen some progress over her last few releases, making the Tomb Raider game playable again - but are they worth playing? Probably once, but I'm not sure about replaying. Luckily I got my hands on this game while it was relatively inexpensive and gave it a shot, and here's what I found:
Graphics - 8:
This is sort of a mixed bag. Lara animates much better than ever, with some convincing acrobatics to compliment all of the climbing and gunplay. There are some nicely varied vistas in the game now too, from being in impressively dusty old tombs, to underwater sequences and lush jungles. It is not a perfect score though, due to some peculiar clipping issues. On several occasions I wound up being able to see through solid walls I was pressed right up against. The camera is also built in such a way that it tries to lend a dramatic, sweeping view of your surroundings. It works more often than not, but there were plenty of times the camera was driving me nuts as well, giving me a great view of my landscape and a horrible view of what I was trying to do with Lara. Cutscenes looked really sharp, it should be noted.
Sound and Music - 9:
Lots of sound effects to be had here, and they worked well with my surround system. Bullets flying by don't ring quite as true as those found in more action-intense games like Modern Warfare, but they do the job nicely. Drips of water can be heard in some passages, and it should be mentioned that there was plenty of good voice work too. The music was particularly good in my opinion. It fit the set pieces, added necessary tension. All in all, I thought this was probably the strongest aspect of the game.
Gameplay - 7:
The combat and movement works well - this is probably the mot fluid Lara Croft I've played to date. The menus took me a bit of getting used to, but they were effective once I was used to how they worked. As much as I liked the idea of the underwater sequences, I found them to be a bit annoying at times. In particular the first one had me feeling lost until I got the feel for the game. The puzzles were solid more often than not, but there were still some odd control issues when trying to control Lara within the context of her environment. The camera, as mentioned before in graphics, was also a bit of a chore. I found it to be perhaps my most challenging opponent at times. That said, I liked that I did not have to go back very far most of the times I died.
Intangibles - 6:
There's hidden stuff to find throughout the game - treasures if you will. There's some customization you can do along the way as well that helps add some variety should you play it through again. Neither one was motivation for me to not trade it in. There is also some downloadable content that can be purchased for it, though it's nearly as expensive as buying the game used itself. The story's alright if a bit predictable. The voice acting and cut scenes make it a bit more entertaining, but it doesn't do much more than move the action along - I never got particularly invested in it.
Overall - 7.5
All in all - it's a Tomb Raider game, right down to the exploration, Lara Croft, buggy camera and decent if clipping visuals. I enjoy Lara and her games enough that I recently picked up the Xbox Live Lara Croft game, and I'm curious about this prequel of sorts that is on the way in the coming year. Maybe they will breath some new life into this series that while solid, is starting to feel a bit like one of those relics Lara is always in search of.