The very first Tomb Raider was released in 1996, almost twenty-years ago. Since then, Lara Croft has starred in dozens of games and even two successful feature-films. However, over time her character has become increasingly exaggerated, to the point where she’s more of a joke than a ‘real’ character.
Well you can throw all that out the door, as Crystal Dynamics has developed a reboot, an origin story so good that it reinvigorates a dying franchise with a much-needed boost in pretty much every category thinkable.
No more is Lara a busty, nearly invincible action-hero, but rather, she’s fresh out of college, and eager for adventure, ready to follow in her father’s footsteps as a professional archeologist. She’s innocent and unsure of herself, but thanks to the urging of her mentor/father-figure Conrad Roth, she agrees to accompany him on a trip to search for the lost Japanese city of Yamatai.
This is Tomb Raider like you’ve never seen it before. The game wastes no time tossing you into the fray, and within minutes after hitting the ‘Start’ button you’re thrown headfirst into an adrenaline-laced adventure.
This is an origin story done the right way. Lara is a real person now, with a believable, easy to relate to personality that draws you into her story right off the bat. You’ll wince when she’s injured, feel the pain she feels as her world falls apart, and grow up right along with her.
Crystal Dynamics deserves to be applauded for their fresh portrayal of one of gaming’s most recognizable icons. It was a difficult job no doubt, but they’ve succeeded where so many others have failed and given new life to a rather tired character.
Praise also has too be given to Camilla Luddington, the actress who voiced Lara, as she is the primary reason the player so easily bonds with Lara and gets invested in her character and story. Luddington adds the perfect balance of the youthful innocence and intense emotion that comes with playing Lara Croft as she transforms into the action-hero we all know.
The story of Tomb Raider, however, leaves something to be desired. While it gets Lara from point A to point B well enough, the underdeveloped side-characters and incredibly dull antagonist makes the story feel as if its lacking the depth needed too really grip you.
It takes a lot of risks, and while most of them pay off in a grand way, some of the plot twists or revelations fall a little flat and just seem out of place in a game that’s so grounded in reality.
However, while all this could prove fatal for some games, Tomb Raider’s gameplay and protagonist are so good, that the somewhat weak story can be forgiven. This is Lara’s story first, and the rest are details.
One of the risks Crystal Dynamics decided to take is that Lara isn’t actually given a weapon until about thirty-minutes into the game; and she doesn’t get her first firearm until about an hour or so in. This is one of times where the risks paid off, as this allowed you to bond with Lara, and then, when it all hits the fan, you’re right with her as she is forced to do things she never thought possible.
The much talked about ‘first-kill’ is one of the most intense, scary, and brutal things I’ve ever seen in a video-game. Seeing Lara taking another person’s life for the first-time is violent and shocking, and its this one scene that defines the entire experience.
However, it seems a little odd that not even ten-minutes after this turning point, Lara is able to nail headshots and takedown dozens of nameless thugs without a second thought. While certainly an abrupt change in character, and one not everyone will be okay with, I still bought into it. Just like Lara, you’re forced into violent situations where it’s kill-or-be-killed. And once you cross that line, there’s no going back.
What really makes this game so great, however, is its gameplay. A game can have a great story and fantastic characters, but if its not fun to play, then there’s no real reason to invest your time in it. So while the story isn’t as well-developed as I may have hoped, the combat, platforming, and open-world aspect of Yamatai are all so great, so in-depth, that I was able to easily forget about all of the flaws.
The only real problem I have with the gameplay is the way it uses QTE’s (quick-time events). While I’m fine with the occasional usage of a QTE, as it can enhance a scene at times, they’re used too much in the beginning of the game and get tiresome awfully fast. It comes across as distracting and can really yank you out of the experience, especially when they seem to be tossed in just to speed things up.
Thankfully though, they tend to taper off and mostly disappear as the game continues. This not only allows you too fully enjoy the openness of the game, but also get fully invested in the game once again.
Also, for the first time in a long while, a Tomb Raider game actually has great combat. Using the bow feels natural and is very satisfying to use, and the other three weapons you’ll find (all of which can be fully customized and upgraded) add an extra layer of depth to the combat that is much appreciated.
Exploring the cursed island of Yamatai is an adventure in itself. It allows for the player to explore at their own pace, and is not only absolutely gorgeous to look at, but is littered with so many collectibles that it will please any and all gamers. And thanks to a fun, albeit simple, upgrading system, you’ll be able to enhance Lara’s survival, hunter, or brawler skills in whichever way you deem fit.
The collectibles here are also implemented in one of the best ways I’ve ever seen in a game. Even outclassing my beloved Uncharted series, the various treasures and documents you find not only reinforce the mystery of Yamatai, but also give depth to the aforementioned boring side-characters. And the inclusion of optional tombs is a welcome one, even if the puzzles within may be considered overly simple.
While the game does come packed with four multiplayer modes, I’m not really going to discuss them as, one, online play isn’t really my thing, and two, it’s bare-bones and uninteresting. Although, I will most likely give it a try, as fifteen of the fifty-one trophies can only be earned through multiplayer, the story mode is the real focus here without a doubt.
Tomb Raider is not only the best Tomb Raider game in years, but it’s also one of the very best origin story/reboots I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. It’s exciting, realistic, and at times flat-out brutal.
It has just enough nods to the past games to make it familiar, but original enough so that it’s new and extremely exciting. It’s an adventure very much worth taking.
Story: 8/10 – While not very deep, and lacking a real antagonist, the overall story comes second compared to Lara’s own personal story; one that is very, very good.
Gameplay: 9/10 – While there’s an over-abundance of quick-time events in the first few hours, once the game opens up, things get great. The combat feels fresh and smooth, and the platforming’s fun and exciting.
Presentation: 9/10 – Thanks to some great, intuitive menus and upgrade systems, Tomb Raider has some great presentation, the only downside being the occasional visual glitch.
Graphics: 9/10 –The island of Yamatai is gorgeous in every form and way. The lighting effects are great, and the mood is set up brilliantly. However, some of the facial animations come across as a little wooden.
Replay Value: 9.5/10 – Multiplayer aside, the game allows you to go back after you finish the story mode in order find any of the collectibles you may have missed. And this is as fun as can be.