For such an iconic video game character, Lara Croft has always lacked depth in personality. Regardless of whether the original intent of the Tomb Raider series was to propel Lara into the mainstream, it happened and it’s something that hasn’t been taken advantage of.
After nine games and two movies, you’d expect Lara to be a fully fleshed-out character, but she’s not and with the gaming world now taking huge steps forward in story telling, something needed to change to make her interesting again.
It’s clear from the opening moments in Tomb Raider that this is Crystal Dynamics' intention. Rebooting an old series seems to be a fashionable concept. It can bring a new lease of life into a tired formula and has done wonders for the likes of the James Bond and Batman movies.
So like the latter, it has been decided that in order to retell and understand Lara’s life we need to go back to where it all began.
In The Beginning
tells the story of a young enthusiastic Lara Croft. She’s barely reminiscent of the action figure that has spiraled out of control in recent years. In fact, after she is shipwrecked on an island full of cult-following murderers, she’s nothing more than a quivering mess.
As time moves on we see her become more powerful as she uses the world around her - from hunting for food and starting fires to evading enemies and ultimately killing - to gain survival experience.
As much as I enjoyed this element to the game, it was somewhat spoiled by how quickly Lara (d)evolves from being scared, threatened and disgusted into to a cold-hearted killer. Even more so that the more important character challenges that she faces are addressed with cut-scenes and Quicktime Events (QTEs) rather than gameplay.
That being said, once the initial character progression is over with, the story takes a more interesting turn. Once it has these hooks into you, you’ll be stuck to your gamepad, especially when the game starts dropping some of those frustrating QTE moments.
What unfolds from thereon in is a dark and twisted story, full of surprises, laced with moments of out-and-out horror, but it’s one that constantly holds your interest and keeps building and building right to the very end.
At its heart Tomb Raider
is essentially an “Open World” game. Although it never really lets you stray too far on the island, you always feel as though you are getting from A to B in your own way. It’s a game that drives you forward with objectives but never punishes for going off the beaten track.
Exploring the island is a treat. After the initial hour of climbing and jumping about I was a little concerned that the Parkour-like gameplay could get a little old, but the further I went into the game, the more it introduced new elements of travel to me.
Soon enough I was scaling walls with picks, and zipping down wires that I'd shot from Lara's trusty bow. Tomb Raider in 2013
is aware of what could possibly hold it back, and it constantly and successfully addresses it.
The game also trusts the player more than Uncharted
ever does. There are no bits of scenery that stick out like sore thumbs. Whatever you think Lara can grab onto, she can. You feel free to climb how you want to.
There is also a fair number of collectables and challenges dotted around the island. There are crates to open for resources that can be used improve your weapons and equipment. You can go hunting and skin animals for XP in order to gain new survival skills and improve Lara's durability and library of moves; there are posters to burn and statues to light, none of which are rammed down your neck - they are all there if you want to do them and they’re all fun.
If you do fight the linear pull of the main story, you’ll be treated to some fantastic exploration and easily one of the best parts of the game – the Side Tombs.
Side Tombs can be found all over the island and although they’re pretty hidden-away, you’ll have no problem locating them, what with a marker appearing on the map if you enter the generous radius of one.
I can’t tell you how much I love these Side Tombs. Once you enter one you’re treated to an isolated puzzle that must be completed to unlock its secret. Your reward is nothing more than XP but the puzzles themselves are fun, challenging and represent the Lara of old. I’m glad Crystal Dynamics hasn’t dropped this part of the Tomb Raider
My only complaint is that there simply aren’t enough of them.
Hey Good Looking
Visually, Tomb Raider
is incredible. Whether you’re running past foliage or creeping between rocks, the game never fails to pop your eyeballs out of your head.
When outside the landscape and ruins of planes, boats and shanty buildings make up a realistic and beautiful surrounding. Shrubs and trees blow in the wind naturally, while buildings look worn and completely individual from one another.
While inside the game constantly plays with light and shadows to create misdirection and tension. Some tombs give off an enormous sense of scale as they open up in front of you after crawling through small spaces, others are more intimate and creepy, littered with burnt-out candles and charred human remains.
I found myself stopping to take in the environment constantly, adjusting the camera slightly to try and get the best view of the artwork and assets around me. I was taken aback by just how much detail is in this game.
The only elements that let Tomb Raider
down slightly are the animation and physics associated with Lara herself. When jumping from one platform to the next Lara extends her arms out to grab a ledge and in doing so seems to float to it if it’s slightly out of reach. Likewise, running around on steps has the ‘invisible slope’ effect, where characters feet never seem to react correctly to the change in level.
But these are very minor gripes that only pull you out of this fantastically crafted world for nano-seconds. For every moment of disappointment, there are four or five moments of sheer eye melting goodness.
As for the audio, Tomb Raider
is a little more hit and miss. In terms of atmosphere the audio direction is incredibly good. Caves dripping with fluids; wind tunnels and waterfalls are all represented perfectly. Play this game with headphones on and you could feel as though you were there.