Tomb Raider – Been there, done that.

Back in June 2012, just after E3, I wrote a post about how the new Tomb Raider game seemed to bear striking similarities to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. Later, in December 2012, a preview appeared on the PC Gamer website which was less than flattering.

It referred to there being “a lack of meaningful interaction” and also made comparisons to the Uncharted series. Having just recently completed the single-player portion of the game, I’m now in a better position to comment.

Before I continue, let me reiterate that I’ve been a Tomb Raider fan since the first game, and let me also be clear that I did enjoy the game. Many have voiced their displeasure at certain aspects of the gameplay. Some people dislike the QTEs, but I don’t mind them. Others don’t like ‘linear’ games, but that doesn’t bother me either; in fact, I contend that all games are basically linear, though that’s another discussion entirely.

Still others have pointed out problems with the story, such as Lara’s initial injury not hindering her too much after the first few minutes, or the fact that a young Ms. Croft goes from reluctant killer to mass murderer seemingly in an instant. While I see all of those as fair points, none of them spoil it for me – video games always have slightly fanciful aspects to their stories, it’s just part of the escapism they provide.

Uncharted: Lara Croft Edition

My main issue with the game is that it never felt as epic as it should have, and there’s a very good, easily identifiable reason for that: I felt like I’d played it all before. The similarities to Naughty Dog’s franchise picked up in that E3 2012 video were just the beginning. Of course, similarities are common between games these days, and not necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion, the Uncharted series is utterly brilliant, and any game which imitates it well enough can’t help but be good.

I’m well aware that Uncharted isn’t a shining beacon of originality itself. It borrowed heavily from the original Tomb Raider in the first place; but it borrowed ideas and gameplay mechanics, and improved on them. That’s not the issue. The problem for me is that in creating this new game, Crystal Dynamics haven’t simply borrowed ideas and gameplay – it genuinely feels as if they’ve lifted entire sections from the various Uncharted games, and simply replaced the model of Nathan Drake with a model of Lara Croft.

There are the parts I mentioned in that previous post: Lara begins the game injured and soon has to climb a crashed plane perched precariously on a cliff (the train, Uncharted 2); jumping, missing a hand-hold, falling and crashing through scenery; crossing logs over large gaps; being chased towards the screen by crashing/exploding vehicles, and the desperate slide to seemingly inevitable doom only to be saved by the last-minute grab of a ledge. In all honesty, for the first two to three hours of Tomb Raider, it felt like I was playing a compilation of the best bits of all of the Uncharted games, from the original Drake’s Fortune on PS3 through to Golden Abyss on the Vita.

But as you progress through the game, there’s even more. On a few occasions, Lara emerges onto a cliff-side to a rather spectacular sunset; after the first of these, you have to turn left and head down a narrow path – which is exactly like a section in the original Uncharted. She squeezes through narrow gaps in caves with a flaming torch (Uncharted 3). She slides down gullies on her butt, with you having steer her around obstacles (Golden Abyss). There are ‘heavy’ enemies with riot shields, which you (initially) have to get behind to take them out (Uncharted 2 & 3). An entire section based on climbing around wrecked ships (Uncharted 3). Burning buildings, bridges which collapse as you sprint across… there are even puzzles where you need to pick up and throw some cans, and it works just like the grenade aiming in Uncharted, complete with arcing arrow to show you where they’ll land. It’s all in here, but it’s never quite as good as the Uncharted version.

If I had the required equipment, I’d make a video of all the exact parts of Tomb Raider and their equivalent sections I’ve seen in the various Uncharted games and put it on YouTube. As I don’t, I present this ready-made alternative, which I originally found posted on the SCEA PlayStation Community on Google+. It doesn’t cover all of the similar areas, but it will give you a good general idea.

Cover Version

From the ‘incidentals’ to the major events and set-pieces, my guess is that anyone and everyone who has played the Uncharted series will tell you that they feel like they’d seen and done it all before – some of it more than five whole years ago in Drake’s Fortune, and generally with a higher quality finish. When the original Uncharted borrowed from Tomb Raider, it changed and improved things in all areas, raising the bar; while it was obviously similar, it never felt like a carbon copy as many parts of this do.

If the new Tomb Raider were music, it would be a Westlife album – cover after cover of some of your favourite songs, but not one of them quite as good as the original. It may therefore surprise you to hear that despite all this, if you haven’t picked it up yet, I would still recommend it. Taken purely on its own merits, it’s a thoroughly decent, enjoyable game. That said, you will almost certainly enjoy it more if you haven’t previously experienced the adventures of Nathan Drake, as you won’t have that permanent, slightly overwhelming sense of deja-vu.

If you do pick it up and enjoy it, and you haven’t played Uncharted yet, be sure to try them out afterwards; I guarantee you won’t regret it.