Lara Croft has always been seen as a tough female icon for the games industry. People everywhere loved her, so much so that she spawned two mediocre Hollywood films and even starred in a Lucozade advert in the mid ’90s. The thing is, we may have been treated to multiple games with the posh British explorer, but we never knew anything about how her life started out. How did she find herself becoming a ‘tomb raider’? What’s happened in her life to make her so hardy and gun happy? Well, 17 years on Crystal Dynamics is looking to address those issues by rebooting the entire series and starting over with some context behind Lara’s actions. Thankfully, they’ve managed to do a damn good job of it too.
Before we delve in though, there’s an elephant in the room here: the Uncharted series. It’s a rather obvious elephant – and something that those who have done little more than observe Tomb Raider will no doubt draw endless comparisons to. In reality though, these couldn’t be two more different titles if they tried.
Naturally Tomb Raider has adapted some of the ideas that Naughty Dog brought to the table, but it all makes sense when you think that the original PlayStation series of Tomb Raider laid all the groundwork for Nathan Drake’s adventures. It should also be noted that while the Uncharted titles are little more than solving a puzzle, running down a linear path, and shooting a small army of enemies on your journey - Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider revolves entirely around exploration of both the island you’re stranded upon and Lara’s psyche.
Kicking off with a disturbingly graphic ship crash and subsequent escape from a madman’s cave, Lara finds herself stranded upon an island in the Pacific where she believes the treasures of an ancient Japanese queen lay buried. Having encountered a perplexingly devout sect of Sun Queen worshippers, Lara’s quickly thrust into rescuing her friend Sam from ritualistic sacrifice, all while keeping the remaining survivors together.
The plot is a little absurd, especially as it progresses and the religious nonsense gives way to some rather unbelievable fantasy, it is still unmistakably Tomb Raider in nature. It’s dripping in the small details found in discarded relics and journals dotted around the island for you to find – each one providing you with a little knowledge about the island’s history. You can’t fault Crystal Dynamics’ storytelling either as, just like before, it’s in keeping with the series’ standard – after all, we all remember that ridiculous man-spider boss thing from Tomb Raider 3. The real star of the show here though is Lara herself and her evolution from naïve adventurer to a hardened raider.
She leaves on her adventure as a fragile girl who the rest of the Endurance crew fear might not be cut out for the expedition. Lara becomes more grizzled through the incredibly distressing situations she’s presented with and, while some scenes have managed to irk some of those online, it all feels rather necessary to make you connect with the plight she’s been placed in.
Early sections of the game revolve around you avoiding detection, meaning it’s all about stealth. As you progress Lara finds herself in more and more combat situations, giving way to more violence and a wider arsenal. You don’t have to play like this though, nothing really stops you playing the majority of the game stealthily using little more than Lara’s rather amazing bow. In fact, I’d say that playing it this way is far more rewarding than just waltzing in like you’re Nathan Drake – last reference I promise. You won’t be wading through corpses until the more absurd ending moments where enemies come in droves, meaning the majority of gameplay revolves around exploration. Which is a key thing in a game that places itself around the idea of an explorer raiding tombs – even if you don’t raid many tombs at all.
Going off the beaten path presents you with secret optional tombs to undertake, but they aren’t more than a few simple puzzles – which is a shame. But they do show promise for future outings, especially when you factor in the enjoyable puzzles and platforming sections found in the story environments.
And that’s the thing you have to remember with Tomb Raider, this isn’t what’s come before, this is something new. Drawing comparisons and expecting a rehash of what’s already been offered is just rather idiotic to imagine. This is a title about setting the scene, placing Lara in a world where her actions make sense and giving you an idea about what to look forward to. If you ask me Crystal Dynamics has done this very well.
It’s not perfect though, but so few things are. The multiplayer feels a little throwaway, despite having some rather nice environments to play around in, and some of the story elements and Lara’s need to touch every single wall gets a little tiresome. The relentless use of QTEs near the beginning also starts to grate, but they quickly become second nature and actually immerse you in the action far more than you’d expect. But those are little more than niggles on the surface of an enjoyable action/adventure title.
The combination of brilliant visuals – with some rather stunning lighting effects – impeccable voice acting, vast environments peppered with hidden trinkets, and Lara’s RPG-esque levelling and weapon modification system creates something rather sublime.
This may well not please everyone, mostly because they’ll be expecting something near exactly like Lara’s older adventures – or will just want another Uncharted title (after all people only ever seem to play FPS that feel like Call of Duty). But, quite honestly, this is just one incredible experience that – while not be incredibly challenging – is a must play title for anyone who likes having some gritty fun.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: Looks incredible and features some of the best voice acting around.
Gameplay – 4/5: Incredibly fun combat with wonderful exploration gameplay, but it’s not the most challenging of action/adventure titles around.
Innovation – 4/5: Empowers Lara in a way not seen before in the series and lays a foundation for future possibilities.
Value – 4/5: Multiplayer is there for when you’re completely done with the single-player adventure, but even that lasts long enough to keep you satisfied with your purchase.
Final Score: 4.5/5
- Vaughn reviewed Tomb Raider on Xbox 360 -