Lara stands high on a cliff taking in her surroundings. She is bruised and battered with little sleep. The elements have not been kind to her and she is beginning to think her sanity is slowly fading. The enemies she must fight are numerous and ferocious. But Lara knows that if her companions and she are to escape this treacherous island, it will take a hardened will and a lot of courage to overcome the many hardships ahead. What better way to do this than with a full franchise reboot.
Tomb Raider is the newest action platforming shooter in the series, but this is not your average Tomb Raider game. Crystal Dynamics has reinvented Lara Croft from the ground up for this release and it is instantly made known. The game starts with an innocent and carefree Lara Croft out at sea with the crew of a reality TV show. The hunt is on for the lost kingdom of Yamatai and Lara has a hunch that it is located within the “Dragon’s Triangle”. The story takes a dramatic and quite sudden turn for the worst as the ship “Endurance” is somehow wrecked and Lara finds herself struggling to escape the ship and the sea with her life. Upon landing on the island Lara is caught by some of the inhabitants and soon finds herself strung up in some grungy type of cloth cocoon. After some painful scenes and an awkward escape our protagonist finds herself scared, weak and all alone. This is where the game really opens up and we get to play as a different kind of Lara Croft.
No longer is Lara the acrobatic archeologist everyone remembers. Miss Croft fumbles through her adventure; she falls and trips over obstacles even destroying ancient architecture in the process. Oddly enough the platforming in this game works really well. Even with her new shortcomings,moving through the environment is fluid, exciting and at times tense. The areas she traverses throughout the world are almost like puzzles, putting what you have learned to the test if you seek to find everything the game has to offer. And there is a lot to collect including GPS caches, journals, artifacts and the odd challenge items here and there. Can’t figure out how to get that last collectable in the area? Scan your surroundings to see if you missed a well shrouded rock wall or try approaching from a different side. Spending hours in each section of the island trying to collect every last object never gets boring or tedious thanks to the well designed environments. Even weapons, not just used for enemies, tie into the exploration.
Lara’s iconic dual pistols are absent from this release but fear not because by the end of the game your varied arsenal of weapons is enough to crush even the toughest of foes. One of these is the new bow which plays a large part in both exploration and combat. In fact it is the first weapon the player is introduced to. It also turns out to be one of the most fun tools to use (not unlike some recent game that came out in February). All of the games weapons are upgradable and add varying effects ranging from increased fire rate and reload to adding fire rounds or burst fire. This is done by finding salvage throughout the environment and there is enough to find that upgrading never becomes a chore of which gun is more important. The combat is also engaging and satisfyingly brutal. The game makes use of a cover system similar to Uncharted or Gears of War and certain objects in the world can be used to decimate enemies with the utmost efficiency. The melee attacks are especially brutal and, once certain skills are unlocked, become an integral part of holding off the many island inhabitants you encounter throughout the game.
An experience system had been implemented into Tomb Raider giving you XP for just about everything from finding collectables and killing enemies to completing missions and hidden tombs. There are three skill trees to unlock (hunter, brawler, and survivor) and you spend XP upgrading skills that can help you find rare items in the environment, give you more room to hold ammunition or make you the ultimate “axe to face” fighter. Each skill tree also has tiers which you can upgrade even further for some of the best and most deadly skills in the game. Sadly none of these help much in the hidden tombs.
What is a Tomb Raider game without some dark, musty and mysterious tombs to go exploring in? These hidden tombs (totally optional) are scattered around the world and are, you guessed it, hidden. Lara must first find the entrance to each tomb before she can go into them but it turns out to be pretty simple once you figure out that a large doorway with arrows and paintings’ pointing to it happens to be the tomb. Once inside you are faced with puzzles that involve moving platforms, using objects as weights and climbing/platforming your way through. Usually you have to really think about how the overall puzzle will play out and not on just the individual pieces. Upon solving the intricacies of the tomb you are rewarded with lots of salvage and XP that Lara takes with an apparent amount of pleasure. Each tomb you come across will test you with a different puzzle, some of which are pretty simple but rely on timing based elements which can be somewhat annoying. This is where the game mostly falters.
The puzzles and tombs are the most disappointing part of Tomb Raider. The main puzzle area for every tomb is literally a single room consisting of a puzzle and the reward somewhere in an adjacent room. While the puzzles themselves are extravagant and mostly large in whole, they lack any sort of challenge. If you take a step back and look at all the components it doesn’t take long before you’ve solved it before even interacting with it. Some of the most challenging parts are where you have to be on a certain lift or have to shoot a specific part in a limited amount of time; even then it’s only as challenging as aiming or moving into place. Another issue I had was with some of the scripted action sequences where Lara is plummeting down some river or path and your goal is to avoid any of the insta-death obstacles in her way. I remember dying often because I couldn’t tell where the safe route was or couldn’t maneuver Lara fast enough.
There is also a multiplayer mode in the game which includes your average free for all and team deathmatch with a couple new modes like Rescue and Cry for Help. The concepts for these are inventive and work well with the single player game’s setting but offer little variety. Unless you enjoyed Uncharted’s multiplayer or want to get all the achievements/trophies for the game there is really no reason to play it other than for curiosity.
While some may have decried the changes made to Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series this entry is without a doubt the best thing to happen to this franchise since Tomb Raider 2. There are many similarities that can be made to the Uncharted Series but Lara brings enough unique elements to the table that it feels like her own game. Traversing the island is smooth and responsive, the combat is tight and engaging and the story will hold your attention until the credits roll. If you are a fan of Tomb Raider or even if you never played the games before I highly recommend giving it a try. At worst you’ll walk away with a few bruises and scrapes.