It's a question that's been sitting in our heads since we were confirmed for the appointment last week at CES – why does a game like Tomb Raider need multiplayer? After all, for the longest time, the Tomb Raider legacy has been mainly about the sole journey of one woman, adventurer Lara Croft, and not necessarily "guy on boat" or "savage". In fact, outside the release of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, there's never really been a need to bring in more than one player at a time.
Regardless, Crystal Dynamics is giving the idea a shot anyway for its reboot, which will be hitting stores in March for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Along with the single player adventure, the supplementary multiplayer will give others a chance to join in the fun.
But at least the multiplayer is focused, and doesn't even involve Lara. It's being handled by the folks at Eidos Montreal, the same team behind Deux Ex: Human Revolution. It's a series of Team Deathmatch and Private Rescue match-ups between two specific teams – survivors and scavengers – in a fight to the finish.
During our hands-on time with the game, we managed to find ample room to run around one of the five maps that will be included in multiplayer, a small, deserted village in the midst of Chasm. Scavengers start out from the top of the map, able to see most of the village from a distance before working their way down, while survivors sling their way across a canyon on a zipline, eventually settling into the bottom and working their way towards the top.
Team Deathmatch is rather basic – get the most kills for your team before the other team does – but Private Rescue holds a bit more challenge to it. In this, both teams have specific goals, and whoever meets theirs first – before time runs out, that is – wins the match. For survivors, it's a matter of collecting five crucial medicinal packs and bringing them back to home base; while the scavengers simply have to rack up a high enough score through killing the survivors.
The game has some great multiplayer basics to it, including great shooting controls and an array of weapons. Your two main ones of choice, aside from an assault rifle with limited ammunition, are the bow and arrow and the melee attacks. The bow and arrow is crucial for sniping capabilities, and rather handy for picking someone off from afar. As for melee, you can strike someone when they're close, and, before they're patched up by a colleague, move in for a vicious finishing blow.
There are some neat traps you can put down in Private Rescue mode, including explosive barrels that can do some damage to groups, bombs that you can lay down (making some doubt whether they should move ahead or not, as there's no indication as to who laid down the trap) and even rope snares. Out of all of these, the snares are the least effective, as you can still shoot at someone hanging upside down, then take a second to shoot the rope and get free. All of these add unpredictability to a game, and even something as simple as a collapsing floor can be your best ally.
There are minor perks throughout each match, but so far, the only one we know about is Sandstorm. By activating this, you can create a virtual blinding effect, while the team that conjured it can see enemy positions – as well as their teammates. It's a good temporary effect that can help you turn the tide in a match. (More perks will be introduced later.)
Though the multiplayer lacks the complex look of the single player game (we played some stages from that and will have a hands-on report soon), the map itself is very good, featuring plenty of spots to hide out and create ambushes, or take someone down from higher ground, then run in for the kill. It's a decently sized map, one that will keep you busy for a while.
A good variety of characters are also available on each side, and though their skills don't differ, there are some good faces here, between the desperate look for the survivors and the downright evil appearance of the Scavengers. Other characters will be downloadable following the game's release, including a bonus freebie provided by Square Enix, one that resembles actor Zachary Levi (he did voiceovers for the game and hosted its behind-the-scenes vignettes).
We're still wondering about the necessity of multiplayer in a game like Tomb Raider – as well as what the other four maps and additional perks within it will hold – but, for now, it's a decent romp. Eidos Montreal could've easily done worse with this (like Lara vs. Lara), but there's still that question of what kind of long-term appeal it'll really have. That said, at least it's enjoyable, and for some, that may be enough.
Tomb Raider hits stores on March 5th.