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Tomb Raider multiplayer hands-on: Exploring Uncharted's territory

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Crystal Dynamics' rebooted Tomb Raider will come complete with its own multiplayer mode — built by Deus Ex: Human Revolution developer Eidos Montreal — to complement Lara Croft's single-player adventure. Thematically, the competitive multiplayer component suits Tomb Raider's survival-focused gameplay, but based on our hands-on time with one of the game's multiplayer modes, there's a disappointing lack of originality at play.

Tomb Raider's multiplayer suite has been in development for two years, according to its developers, who stress that the theme of survival is very important to its design. That's reflected in the justification for Rescue mode, which pits Lara Croft's shipmates in a battle against the island's inhabitants, the Solarii, over medical supplies.

Rescue mode is a twist on Capture The Flag competitive play. One team, the Survivors, must grab a medkit, then transport it to a drop-off point. Snatch five medkits and the Survivors win. Trying to prevent that from happening are the Solarii, who must rack up 25 kills to win the match. Solarii players can't just shoot a Survivor to kill him or her, for reasons unexplained; they must confirm the kill with a melee attack, ripping into a Survivor with their climbing axe to finish them off.

The mode mixes a dash of Call of Duty: Black Ops' Kill Confirmed multiplayer rules with Uncharted 2's excellent Plunder mode — Survivors can even toss their medkit to other players to speed up their movement and unburden themselves, similar to Plunder's idol-throwing technique.

Rescue mode's rules, when combined with an emphasis on platform traversal and third-person shooting, makes first impressions of Tomb Raider's stab at multiplayer feel shockingly familiar. And while it appears that Tomb Raider's multiplayer borrows a bit shamelessly from its more accomplished peers, it does attempt to differentiate itself in other ways. Players can set traps in multiplayer maps, like an instant-kill spike trap or rope trap that causes players to hang upside-down. Environmental events, like a windstorm that reduces enemies' vision, can also be triggered by players. Zip lines and wall-climbing also add touches of variety to the game's multiplayer arenas.

Players may find some longevity in Tomb Raider's multiplayer, thanks to an XP-based progression system that unlocks players skins, Call of Duty perk-style skills and an arsenal of weapons — including the intriguing option to fight with bow and arrow.

It's a bit odd that Tomb Raider hews so closely to multiplayer conventions established by other (admittedly very popular) video games, as the characteristics that have attracted me to Lara Croft's adventures don't seem to be interestingly exploited here. But simply appealing to the Tomb Raider audience that may have never had the PlayStation 3 required to experience Uncharted's multiplayer may be the right opportunity for Square Enix.

There were glimmers of fun in Tomb Raider's multiplayer offering, even though we fought with the game's slippery aiming and camera. Given the pre-release nature of the game and the fact that Square Enix only recently announced the very existence of Tomb Raider multiplayer, we're hoping things firm up in the game's competitive mode in the remaining weeks of its development.

Square Enix will release Tomb Raider for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC on March 5, 2013 in North America.

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