All great art has the potential to move, touch and inspire us in profound ways. Whether its a painting, a film, a book or a sculpture, the artist's work flows from the core, seeking to somehow affect the viewer or reader.
In the same way, a great video or computer game has the ability to transcend gaming and become a work of art that moves, touches and inspires.
The collaborative team of artists at Crystal Dynamics and Eidos have created a game that succeeds at doing just this. The game is the latest installment in the now famous Tomb Raider series, aptly titled Tomb Raider.
I just finished the story mode of this breathtaking work of art, and I am... Well... Breathless.
Lara Croft, billionaire heiress to the fictional Croft fortune, has been a cultural icon since her triumphant debut way back in 1996. Garnering critical acclaim throughout the console and computer-gaming industry, Lara was a smart,savvy, adventurous female incarnation of Indiana Jones.
A new twist on the platform-style game made popular by Super Mario 3D on the Nintendo console system, Tomb Raider had a recipe for success that included wide open environments, mind bending puzzles, bad guys to fight with an assortment of weapons, jumping, climbing and spelunking, all wrapped up with compelling story lines and a rivieting musical score.
With her British accent, inquisitive nature and adventurous spirit, Lara and Tomb Raider took us to exotic locales filled with wonder and danger. From the pyramids of Egypt and Venetian canals to Mayan ruins and the rooftops of London, there was never a shortage of action, environmental eye candy and finding of treasure.
There was nothing like it and I immediately fell in love with all things Tomb Raider, replaying a number of the games and their sequels multiple times.
And I guess it didn't hurt that Lara was an incredibly sexy woman that was brought to the big screen quite effectively by Anjelina Jolie.
While the franchise did begin feeling dated after a number of sequels that didn't advance with technology or competing games (and an awful Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, which I didn't even finish due to its terrible mechanics), a reboot in 2006 led to a series of releases that once again put Lara in the front seat of adventuring amongst gamers.
Technology in processing power and graphics has advanced exponentially over the past few years, along with a greater understanding of what makes a game fully immersive. The development teams have leveraged every last ounce of these advances to create an action-adventure that is better than most films coming out of Hollywood.
Interestingly enough, they took a unique approach with the story. Rather than a sequel that continues to unfold Lara's story, they opted to set the way-back machine to a very young Ms. Croft. The plot reveals how Lara's interest in archaeology found a place in the real world where she becomes the ruthless take-no-prisoners adventurer we have known her to be.
From the Wikipedia entry:
The game begins with Lara setting out on her first expedition aboard the ship Endurance: to find the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai, home to the legendary shaman queen Himiko, called the 'Sun Queen'. Traveling with Lara are Conrad Roth, an old friend of the Croft family and former Royal Marine: Joslyn Reyes, the ship's mechanic: Alex, a computer specialist; Jonah Maiava, a fisherman; Angus "Grim" Grimaldi, the helmsman; Samantha 'Sam' Nishimura, Lara's best friend and the group's camerawoman: and Dr. James Whitman, a celebrity archeologist desperate to make a big find and escape bankruptcy. Against Whitman's advice, the group begin searching in the Dragon's Triangle, a place infamous for missing ships and violent storms. The ship is struck by a violent storm and splits in two, stranding everyone on an isolated island. Lara tries to reach the rest of the group, but is captured by a strange, savage man and trapped in his cave home. Lara manages to escape, but is wounded in the process and causes the cave to collapse. As she begins searching the island for the other survivors, she hears strange chanting sounds and comes across ritualistic carvings, along with further signs of habitation. She eventually finds Sam and a man called Mathias, who claims to be one of the passengers. As Sam tells Mathias the legends of Himiko, Lara falls asleep: when she wakes, Mathias and Sam have gone.
Thus begin's Lara's quest to discover what is taking place on this island somewhat reminiscent of the TV show Lost. Planes crash, boats sink and no one can get off the island for some mysterious unknown reason. You get the point.
From Jungles and crash sites to an enormous shantytown and a creepy temple, there scenery is amazingly beautiful and detailed. You'll stop just to admire it again and again.
The action is intense, varying from waves of enemies you must take down and collapsing bridges to raging rapids and a plethora of zip lines. Because this is a console port, there are plenty of QTE (Quicktime Events) where you must mash a certain key in order to kick an enemy in the face, grab on to a ledge or go for the jugular in a final kill. By and large, this are unobtrusive and add to the flavor of the game. For true Tomb Raider fans, there is a plenty of running, jumping, dodging, shooting and puzzle solving.
There is an RPG system for acquiring and upgrading your weapons in this game. You pick of salvage materials from boxes, crates, treasure and downed enemies. This allows you to add new features to your pistol, bow, shotgun and rifle as you progress.
And in true form, there is plenty of special finds along the way. Artifacts, which vary from zone to zone, and pages from various journals of those in the story, help to add background to what is taking place on the island.
What exactly is taking place? I won't say much other than to tell you that it is very dark... and very creepy. This isn't a game for the squeemish or under 15 years old, in my opinion.
While there is a main storyline that unfolds (and a very good one at that), there are seven optional tombs which can be discovered along the way. Each one contains additional treasure and/or upgrades for your cache of weapons.
Not only are the gameplay and graphics spot on, but the audio is superb. The voice-acting is mostly good, though Lara's character certainly overshadows the rest. But the music adds to the flavor and intensity of the game perfectly. It's not overwhelming, but always right on to supplement the mood and feeling of what is taking place.
Once the story is finished, you understand why Lara has a taste for more tomb raiding. You are then allowed to re-enter the island at any of the campsites (which act as save-game and quick travel areas.) This is where you can go back to locate artifacts, gps units, journal entries and complete other tasks to see and do everything the game has to offer.
It's rare that I feel as passionate about a game as Tomb Raider has evoked in me. If you are prepared to immerse yourself in 15-20 hours of casual gameplay that will change the way you experience gaming, Tomb Raider may be just the ticket. Pick up your copy at Amazon.com
Have you played the game? How about previous entries in Lara's adventures? Are there other games which have given you similar experiences? Please leave your comments in the form below!