Since her first appearance in the original ’96 Tomb Raider, Lara Croft has evolved into one of the most recognizable female video game characters of all time. Nearly seventeen years later, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix are wiping the slate clean with a younger, more relatable Lara. The end result is an engaging and exciting M-rated reboot that combines treasure hunting and action platformer with traces of survival horror.
Tomb Raider wastes little time before descending you into a lethal situation, opening with an intense series of events that leaves Lara and a documentary crew stranded on an island in the mysterious Dragon’s Triangle. It doesn’t take long for her to realize this island is under control by a mysterious force that won’t allow its inhabitants to escape. The narrative’s dark, frightening tone is established right from the onset, as Lara is brutally tortured and battered by the environment and a group of ritualistic cultists. You quickly realize that this is not going to be your typical adventure game, but a transformation of Lara from a fledgling, naive archaeologist, into an empowered women, ready to do whatever it takes to survive. The moment when Lara’s determination perseveres, when the tables are turned and she is no longer the hunted but the hunter, is exceedingly rewarding. It’s an emotionally draining rollercoaster with intense scenarios that substantially increases until the end credits roll.
Aside from the more mature theme, the other facet you’ll notice when you start Tomb Raider is that the visuals and presentation are top-notch. The island is structured around a series of freely explorable, interconnected sections that are abundant with wildlife to hunt, relics to collect, and optional hidden tombs to uncover. The game gives you the impression of an open-world environment with a fair amount of freedom, but in actuality, Lara’s adventure is linear, with some minimal backtracking for previously unobtainable items. Which is perfectly fine since no two areas look alike and the environments are beautifully rendered with detailed textures, and the light emitted from your torch as you walk through hauntingly narrow interiors lined with human remains is stunning. From underground ruins reminiscent of the movie Descent to flimsy shanty towns and lush forests, the sheer amount of detail within each level is impressive. Lara’s gripping journey is aided by impressive controls, a powerful soundtrack and a variety of challenges that will test your skills.
From the gorgeous island vistas to the stylized QTE button prompts, Tomb Raider‘s artistic execution never disappoints. Even Lara herself is a delight to watch, with impressively realistic animations that respond intelligently to context. Whether she’s clutching at her injured side and hobbling after a painful fall, extending her arm to hold herself up against a wall, or slipping between a tightly packed set of steaming hot water pipes, the illusion never falters. These actions obvious take cues from Nathan Drake from Uncharted, but the references don’t stop there as Tomb Raider gives us a meticulous game, capaciously punctuated with impressive set-pieces. Whether running over a collapsing bridge or through a burning building, Lara deals with some truly climactic challenges. When not running for her life, Lara will be performing familiar actions like climbing rock faces, jumping over chasms, shimmying up ropes and solving puzzles.
When enemies are near, Lara transitions into a crouching stance, and will automatically take cover when she approaches a crate or a pillar. While most cover systems are obtrusive, Croft manages to flow naturally from cover to combat to regular movement. When taking cover, enemies won’t be able to spot Lara, allowing her to sneak up behind them for silent, yet brutal executions with her pickaxe or combat bow. When spotted, the challenging AI will launch flares to disclose your location, toss grenades or flank your position. Melee attackers sometimes charge forth, requiring a quick transition into dodging and countering their wild swings. Lara, meanwhile, fights back with a bow, handgun, rifle and shotgun, with plenty of convenient exploding barrels and fire arrows to sow destruction amongst her foes.
Skill points are unlocked through XP, which is gained by hunting animals or by killing enemies in creative ways, and salvage is collected from boxes of scrap hidden throughout each area. Collected salvage and XP can be redeemed at base camps for new abilities and upgrades to your equipment, like explosive arrows, extended clips and silencers. As Lara gains new equipment, she can fast travel to previous areas and access previously unreachable territory by firing rope arrows to cross large gaps or using a pickaxe to pry open doors. Lara is also equipped with a useful skill called “Survival Instinct”, which highlights key objectives and collectables in your environment. It serves the same function as “Detective Vision” in Batman: Arkham Asylum, and you’ll find yourself using it often to scope out your surroundings – sometimes a little too often.
Crystal Dynamics includes a routine multiplayer mode that spans four different match types, with standards like Free-For-All and Team Deathmatch joined by two Raider-specific options. Coupled with a fully realized leveling and loadout system that gives you tons of options for customizing the way you play, multiplayer comes off as being implemented just to keep players from complaining about its omission. There are a few interesting part of the multiplayer is the handful of traps, like rope snares and lightning rods, you can use against other players. Although each mode increases the longevity of the title, none of it really introduces anything new and fails to comes close to matching the level of excellence set by the single-player campaign.
Similar to Dmc Devil May Cry, Tomb Raider is another example that reboots don’t always end up being disastrous. Its masterful sense of pacing, enthralling setting, riveting character development and dark tone create a truly memorable experience. Aside from the humdrum multiplayer, there is absolutely no reason to avoid what is otherwise one of the best action adventures I’ve played since Uncharted 3.
Editor’s Note: Tomb Raider was reviewed using a Xbox 360 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 version, this review will be updated accordingly.