We’ve not seen Lara in a fully blown Tomb Raider game for a few years now, despite the co-op brilliance that was Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, we’ve not seen Lara in a single player, epic adventure since 2008 (Tomb Raider: Underworld). Despite this new release, be prepared to throw out everything you’ve ever known about Lara Croft, because this origin story introduces us to a young, raw and inexperienced Lara and as her teams ship the ‘Endurance’ crashes on the isolated island within the Dragon’s Triangle. Lara finds herself captured and trapped in a cave by a mysterious island inhabitant, but upon escaping she awakens to the gravity of her situation. Her team is scattered, the Endurance destroyed and all hope seems lost, but what better time to become the hero we all know her to be? Lara goes through tremendous trauma over her journey and engages in a lot of firsts, from her first kills of both an animal and another person, she also explores her first tomb, while experiencing some of the largest amounts of both physical, and mental beatings that you will see in gaming, all for simply wanting to escape the island. For those a little squeamish, be aware that there are many confronting scenes within this game, from the aforementioned kills of both animal and human, but also to the discoveries of mass graves filled with rotting corpses, and if you fail at any given time, even some of the death scenes will be a large shock to the player.
While the island and its inhabitants are brutal, and there is plenty of high stakes action scenes within, you will also be presented with one of the most emotional and engaging character narratives seen in gaming in many years. You see the growth of Lara from the sheltered starlet to a hardened warrior, all the while wrestling with the pain that the island is inflicting upon her friends and herself emotionally. You feel genuine concern for Lara when she is forced to kill her first deer, and as she fights for her life against the evil island inhabitants. The gravity of all these moments never fail to dawn upon the player, and deliver some of the finest pieces of character story telling that we’ve seen for many years. Lara is joined by a relatively clichéd group of friends, from the aggressive African-American female, to the angry (and borderline indecipherable) Scott, but these characters do not feature prominently enough to become irritating at any time.
While the powerful narrative is a very much appreciated bonus, so many people have stuck with the franchise due to its history of exceptional gameplay and tight controls. This reboot is slightly different, where despite everything functioning as well as it always has, the context has also been taken into consideration. Lara is inexperienced, she is not the hardened killer we know she becomes in the future, she is constantly scrapping and scrambling for her safety, and it is reflected in her handling, where everything looks like a struggle, and everything looks like it is requiring her to exert all of her energy, and this genuine portrayal really adds to the depth and immersion in the experience. Controls are simple yet effective, following with conventions set by many of its third person shooting contemporaries with a spattering of Quick-Time Events to break up the action. Tombs are obviously present and while these are optional, for those looking for a bit of a mental challenge, or simply looking to break the shooting up a bit then they have been expertly crafted and typically require pinpoint timing in order to succeed. The island is huge and whilst not completely an open world, there are miniature hubs that are scattered throughout the island and these hubs branch out into a multitude of other areas that house dozens of hidden treasures and collectables.
Lara accumulates experience and salvage, from pretty much everything she does, and these points/resources are spent to upgrade both her weaponry and her skillset. Maxing out her skills is something you will really want to do as Lara becomes the ultimate badass capable of taking down dozens of enemies with the aide of her guns or bow. While the guns are obviously suitable for run-and-gun action, the bow allows for stealthy ranged work and Lara is also capable of sneaking up on unsuspecting goons and performing stealth kills. The experience is quite open to play in a multitude of styles with only a few scenarios forcing you down a particular pathway, something that Assassin’s Creed fans will love.
Visually, just like the lead character, the game is an absolute stunner, from the exceptional representation of real-world actress Camilla Luddington as Lara to the artistic design and technical precision involved in making the island as beautiful as it is dangerous. Characters all have their own unique style, and even the hordes of enemies seem diverse enough to not feel like you are felling the same opponent over and over again. I cannot speak highly enough of the world that has been crafted however, from the snowy peaks, to the claustrophobic, water filled caverns and lush, beautiful forests, Tomb Raider completely nails the world design, while arguably setting a new standard along the way with some stunning vistas. The audio is also exceptional, from the Jason Graves score and special sound effects to the outstanding voice-work, again led by Camilla Luddington, and despite Lara’s friends all being very stereotypical, their lines have been delivered exceptionally well.
A franchise first in Tomb Raider is the addition of a multiplayer mode, and whilst it doesn’t do enough to make it a must play component, for those who wish to invest the time they will get to play through several maps and a number of small number of different modes. It is far from the widest multiplayer suite but a number of components of the single-player campaign are present and make the action that much more engaging. The ability to shoot ropes out to scale to greater heights is much appreciated and the added verticality this presents is lots of fun to engage in.
I’ve gone a long time without saying this but there are many connections between Tomb Raider and the hugely successful Uncharted franchise, with both unashamedly taking ideas from the other over the duration, but despite of this fact, both the Uncharted franchise and this latest Tomb Raider game have gone in different directions. Both feature prominent, engaging character based stories, but in different ways, and even though the gameplay is similar at its core the rawness as well as the scrapping Lara must go through sets her apart from the unstoppable force that is Nathan Drake. What cannot be questioned however is how brilliant this Tomb Raider game is. It is not often that we see such depth to a character, especially one that has been going around for as long as Lara has, but Crystal Dynamics pulled it off. Tomb Raider is a must have title, worthy of any and all praise that comes its way, and one you cannot pass up… Buy it now!