Tomb Raider has been a household name for seventeen years. Its protagonist, Lara Croft, was one of the first truly successful female virtual game characters. She is so loved by the gaming community that her popularity has spread from games to novels, comic books, movies, and even theme park rides. We all know her as the English archeologist who respectfully loots ancient tombs, and shoots everything in her way with near super-human style. Now, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics have decided to ask the question, “How did Lara Croft become Lara Croft?” The latest installment simply called Tomb Raider will answer those questions with a total reboot of her character. Fear not, loyal fans. This may not be the Lara you remember, but this will be one game you won’t soon forget. The greatest treasure you can find is the game itself.
Our story begins as a young Lara sets off on her first ever archeological expedition aboard the ship Endurance, to the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai. This is the home of the legendary shaman queen Himiko, also called the “Sun Queen”, who is said to have mystical powers. After a violent storm the crew finds themselves shipwrecked on the Yamatai island, and they are not alone. Lara’s group is separated, many members go missing, and they are confronted with a cult-like group of island dwellers who are eager to kill them at every opportunity. The plot is dark and mysterious from the beginning, and you quickly realize that this is not a game about adventure–this is a game about survival.
This tone is set from the start, and it never wavers throughout the 15+ hours of campaign play. You’ll find that with all the tension and intrigue, you will barely be able to put down your controller. You are set against a nearly hopeless situation, waves of evil islanders, enemy strongholds, intricate puzzles, and elements of magic and wonder. Tomb Raider rivals anything Uncharted has brought to the table–and that isn’t said lightly. Many of the components are the same: excellent platforming, third person shooting, action, adventure, and puzzles. However, it’s the fantastic pacing and unmatched storytelling that gives Tomb Raider the edge.
Lara’s character development is a sight to behold. Event by event she is transformed from an intelligent adventurer to a savvy survivalist, doing whatever it takes to save herself and her crew. She is faced with making tough decisions that will clearly resonate with her the rest of her life, and is forced to be tough in the face of death. Some of the situations she finds herself in are truly unsettling, as Tomb Raider occasionally ventures from action-adventure to the survival-horror genre. This reboot of our favorite treasure hunter makes Lara more real and relatable, allowing her room to grow into the heroine we all know and love. It’s unfortunate that the supporting characters don’t share that caliber of character development–they are fairly generic and one-note personalities. However, what is lacking in their growth is made up for in every other facet of the game.
The environments are astounding in both detail and variety. You are allowed to explore the entire island, and for ease it is sectioned off into hubs that are accessed by fast travel points. Each area has relics, documents, and secrets that not only land you achievements, but help you unravel the mystery surrounding the island. Lara climbs, leaps, and hunts through dense jungles, underground chasms, snowy mountain tops, ocean cliffs, WWII bunkers, and Japanese temples. Every environment has its own signature feel and nothing is rehashed, making it one of the most detailed and original platform games out there. Not only are the environments stunning, but the in-game graphics and cutscenes are beautiful. The transitions between the two are completely fluid, further drawing you into the story.
There are dangers galore in Tomb Raider. Around every corner are traps, cultists, and dangerous animals looking to put a stop to Lara’s progress. The enemy AI is pretty sharp, flanking you and overturning tables to provide themselves cover. They even react realistically when you go on the offensive. Finishing moves become a highlight of the combat, so while head-shots are nice, shooting an enemy in the leg and finishing them off with blow to the skull is incredibly satisfying. Engaging in combat is usually left up to the player. Experienced gamers will make use of the stealth aspects, sneaking up behind enemies and using their bow to take them out with deadly, silent shots. To put the cherry on top, Tomb Raider handles like a dream. The camera always remains manageable and never inhibits the platforming or combat. The controls are simple, yet require a bit of finesse.
Lara gains experience by collecting items, fighting enemies, and solving puzzles. This XP is then used to upgrade her skills and weapons. She also continues to find useful items to add to her inventory right up to the end of the game. The growth of Lara’s skills feels incredibly natural, going from a poor shot and a limited climber to being familiar with a slew of weapons and flying over impossible terrains. Leveling and upgrading are features tackled by many games, but few have achieved the fluidity and natural character growth that Tomb Raider has.
The campaign alone is entertaining enough to warrant a purchase, but Tomb Raider features something we’ve never seen from the series: multiplayer. There are a handful of modes that keep things interesting for a while, the best being Cry For Help in which one team must capture control points before the other team kills and loots twenty players. There are also deathmatch, team deathmatch, and a sort of ‘capture the flag’ mode. The maps are littered with climbable terrain, zip lines, and traps that can be used to your advantage or demise. Still, it feels as though the multiplayer wasn’t fully fleshed out before release. It’s a common sight to see players trying to duke it out in close quarters by spinning around while zoomed in to their gun sights, somersaulting every which way to dodge, and shooting/slashing wildly to no avail. I understand that Square Enix was looking to get a little more replay value out of the game, as well as sell some DLC. It is what it is. The multiplayer is fun for a while but, being neither creative nor innovative, the charm wears off rather quickly.
Although the multiplayer is the weakest part of Tomb Raider, it doesn’t detract from the game as a whole. The new Tomb Raider is impressive, massive, thoughtful, and incredibly fun. The days of a flashy, superhuman Lara Croft are behind us, and hopefully we will see more of this relatable, survivor Lara in our future. With amazing graphics, outstanding storytelling, and phenomenal gameplay, Tomb Raider is more than worthy of being part of the franchise, and is by far the best addition yet.
Tomb Raider gets a 5 out of 5.