She’s back and she’s better than ever, and this time she looks like she’s dressed herself, rather than by a male game developer. Tomb Raider is the origin story of beloved heroine Lara Croft, who first hit our screens in 1996.
Shipwrecked on the dangerous island of Yamatai, home of a violent and crazed cult, Lara’s adventure of survival is one that pushes her both physically and emotionally in order to save her friends, whilst learning a few heavy lessons on the way.
For such a powerful story, Tomb Raider demands an exceptional setting; backdrops of natural caves and forests are blended with shanty towns, Japanese WWII leftovers, and cultist monasteries. Some of the landscapes are vast and truly breathtaking, and the depth of the graphics is impressive. There are also optional tombs littered along your journey waiting to be discovered, holding hidden treasures and plenty of salvage to collect, which will keep the traditionalists among you more than happy. It’s a backdrop that is both true to the franchise but incredibly fresh.
Some of the landscapes are vast and truly breathtaking, and the depth of the graphics is impressive.
It’s a fantastic environment to explore, and you’re constantly on your toes as your settings often change around you. This isn’t normally too much of a problem due to the fantastic controls, and the plentiful array of new skills you learn along the way.
It certainly doesn’t feel as difficult as some of its predecessors; part of this is down to the “survival instincts” button, which provides a helping hand by highlighting both enemies and points of interest; hard-core-Crofters need not worry though, as the feature can be easily disabled. There are many moments which will definitely have you standing back to assess the situation carefully, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of game play.
There’s still much of the old Tomb Raider in the game; there are moments of isolation and discovery in the caverns, tunnels and tombs requiring you to leap, traverse and scramble like the Lara we know and love. However you definitely feel elements of Unchartered and even Call of Duty creeping in here, with cover-based combat, regenerating health, Quick-Time-Events and cinematic set pieces.
There are many moments which will definitely have you standing back to assess the situation carefully, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of game play.
One of the areas of definite improvement is in the combat; Lara learns a whole new range of stealth and melee skills, and the violence that arises in the game certainly warrant the 18 certificate. Although the range of weapons is small, each has a huge scope for modifications and the bow is a particularly satisfying addition. Different scenarios will demand different weapons- often swapping between them quickly, though there’s nothing like hiding in the shadows and going for a long distance arrow-to-the-head shot.
In a sense it’s the body count that is one of the most jarring aspects of the story; having been nearly assaulted and crying over her first human kill, she’s soon popping heads and we’re awarded with it by extra XP. The only lead up to this transformation is mentioning to her mentor that in fact her first kill was “too easy”. Once we’ve passed this however, we’re fully on board with Lara as she turns from survivor, to saviour to hardened explorer.
Different scenarios will demand different weapons- often swapping between them quickly, though there’s nothing like hiding in the shadows and going for a long distance arrow-to-the-head shot.
It’s this journey that makes us love Lara even more; she is such a well realised character that her friends and enemies in comparison do seem a little under developed, and you can pretty much guess the fate of each ship mate as soon as you’re introduced. It’s worth keeping an eye out for the journals scattered throughout the game, which certainly gives these characters a little more meat.
Arguably it’s the multiplayer aspect that developers should try and keep interesting in the long run to stop people from trading in. So far, there’s only the relatively fun but unremarkable Team Deathmatch and Private Rescue games, but there are four other maps and apparently at least one other game mode on the way, so fingers crossed the best is yet to come.
This is definitely a reboot worth backing, and it will be fascinating to see Lara’s progression from empowered young woman to legendary explorer in the sequels. Crystal Dynamics have struck the right balance between modernising the franchise and sticking to its roots, effortlessly placing Lara right back on the map.
Image: Spielbrick Films via Flickr