If you’ve been paying attention to media for the past fifteen years, then you’re probably aware of who Lara Croft is. Whether you imagine Angelina Jolie from the Tomb Raider movies or the pixelated model of Ms. Croft from her PS1 days, Lara Croft was one of the first videogame characters to move beyond the videogame spotlight and into the mainstream. She was such a staple of videogame culture that when Naughty Dog showed off their new game Uncharted in 2006, it was quickly dubbed ‘Dude Raider’ on the internet due to the game’s mix of climbing and combat. While the Uncharted series went on to sell millions, 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld went on to sell a disappointing (apparently)1.5 million copies at the time. Developer Crystal Dynamics decided to reboot the series and show us a younger version of Lara Croft and focus on how she became the confident, ass-kicker that we all know. Its funny how even videogame life can be cyclical. What was once seen as nothing more than a shameless rip-off, the Uncharted franchise seems to have been an inspiration for the reboot of Tomb Raider. From the game’s new movie-like presentation, improved combat and burning building scenarios, the inspiration of Uncharted seeps through. And what a wonderful inspiration it has turned out to be.
Tomb Raider introduces a younger version of Lara Croft, out on an expedition on a ship called The Endurance through the Dragon’s Triangle. Croft and her companions are searching for Yamatai, a mythical island once ruled by the Sun Queen, Himiko. When The Endurance crashes during a freak storm, Lara is separated from the rest of the crew and forced to explore and survive amongst the island’s hostile inhabitants.
The story of Lara’s transformation into a survivor begins as soon as she steps foot on Yamatai. The first hour is a sequence of carefully scripted set-pieces and a ton of quick time events whose sole purpose is for character development. Hunting animals for food and scavenging for parts is used to showcase Lara’s vulnerability and self-doubt in an unfamiliar and volatile situation.
Shortly after the first hour, the game opens up and the island is yours to explore. After Croft performs her first kill (the game’s first truly emotional moment) all bets are off. The game quickly escalates to taking on five enemies at a time. Killing is now part of who the Lara Croft character is and the player needs to get used to it as wave after wave of enemies surround you as you try to find the rest of your shipwrecked crew.
Tomb Raider does away with its history of auto targeting and goes into a full third-person shooter. This could be a shock to long term fans but it’s a change that needed to be made. Enemies will now flank Lara for better firing positions, flush her from cover with grenades or charge her at full speed, depending on the situation. Lara will now automatically begin sneaking when unaware enemies are nearby or crouch behind cover without having to be told so from the player. It’s so natural that you don’t even realize it at first.
While combat never felt particularly great in any other Tomb Raider game, the combat here feels fantastic. Scavenging for parts lets you upgrade your weapons and all of them are effective, especially once leveled up. Upgrades include being able to fire incendiary rounds with your shotgun or being able to lob grenades with your rifle. The bow is the standout weapon though. Used for combat and traversal, it is an integral part of the story. Plus shooting a guy in the neck with an arrow is just way more satisfying than getting a headshot with any other weapon. Nonetheless, the shooting feels completely satisfying with every weapon and some of the melee counters you can unlock are extremely brutal.
It’s no surprise that the climbing in Tomb Raider feels top notch. Swinging from limb to limb feels as natural as it ever has and Lara’s mountain climbing axe serves as both a traversal tool as well as a melee weapon this time around. Lara also now has an optional Instincts Survivor Vision which can be toggled on if you need assistance in traversing the environment. Climbable walls, flammable objects and rope surfaces you can attach to light up when toggled. The game is so well-designed that you can get through the game without it.
The whole tomb raiding aspect of Tomb Raider has taken a back seat to the origin story. Each tomb you’ll encounter is optional with the exception of the first one you come across. Each tomb contains classic Tomb Raider puzzles but can be completed within a matter of minutes. As a long time Tomb Raider fan, I have mixed feelings about this. I like that the exploration of tombs is still in the game but would have preferred bigger tombs to explore. Plus the animation of Lara lighting her torch as she descends into a tomb from above is just straight up bad-ass. But I totally understand why Crystal Dynamics did this. This reboot was meant to bring in an entirely new generation of Tomb Raider fans. Hopefully this will lead to a sequel where the exploration of actual tombs is a more prominent feature.
Tomb Raider also for the first time in the series’ history has a multiplayer offering. Sadly though, it’s nothing special. It has everything you’d want from a multiplayer effort nowadays – multiple characters, lots of unlocks, a leveling up system and multiple modes, but it doesn’t add anything new to the crowded multiplayer landscape. The verticality in each map has been done before and better in the multiplayer components of Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3. Sadly, this multiplayer will probably be forgotten in a matter of weeks. It seems like it was only an inclusion to sell additional maps as DLC. And this is the game’s only weak spot.
As someone who was looking forward to this reboot since it was announced, I am genuinely surprised how good it turned out. Camilla Luddinton’s performance as Croft is outstanding and the game’s new movie-style presentation will have you questioning if you’re actually in control of what is happening on screen multiple times. The combat is the best it has ever been and there are loads of secrets to find. The score is fantastic and the game ends in such a way that it is both satisfying to long-time fans and newcomers alike. This is one game that everyone should experience.