Looking back on the 17 year old super franchise, Lara Croft has always been a contention point in the discussion about video games. She simultaneously holds the title of sex symbol and icon for women in video games at the same time. She appeared as a premiere female super hero in the 90s and was one of the few of the kind at the time and an important step, but married with the skimpy outfit and an exaggerated bust she is still dismissed by some to be derogatory. Over the years she has move further away from the stereotype, but limited by her static 2D persona, she lagged behind as better female leads developed. Since a revival of “old” Lara wasn’t viable the only route left for Crystal Dynamics was a reboot. A dozen plus releases and two films after the first game, the twin pistol toting, superhero, sex icon has had a major “reinvention” and Tomb Raider takes it in its stride.
The story begins when a recently graduated Lara is mysteriously shipwrecked on an expedition to Japan with her friends. Lara grows as she learns to traverse rooftops and scale mountains from one brilliant set piece to another to escape the island and uncover its secrets. Lara’s emotional arc has twists and turns that guide her from a morose but driven student, to victim, murderer, and finally hero. Camilla Luddington’s stellar voice acting and animation capture delivers this fantastic emotional rollercoaster despite relying heavily upon exposition. You will be tearing up at one point and cursing the next. However the same could not be said for any of the other characters. They’re not terrible, but when compared to how much you see and feel of Lara, they simply don’t match her depth.
Although there are some debatable choices, such as relying on quick time events, the clean UI and simplified controls is the most noticeable. There is no crouch, nor cover button. When you get into the vicinity of an enemy Lara crouches to tell the player that she’s in danger. In this mode, she automatically takes cover and then leans out to shoot at your command and thanks to the third person viewpoint it isn’t as clumsy as FPSs. The climbing is smooth and easy to manage, and as such every time I missed a jump I was to blame and not the game. All this combines into a neat and fluid movement system and small things like reacting to her environment really help the immersion. Accompanied with a simple level up mechanic and neat combat design that balances stealth, and close and long range combat, and outsmarting your enemies feels slick and rewarding every time.
Exploring the island is a treat. The game is beautifully rendered and the island has some of the most breath-taking vistas. From parachuting to climbing, each set piece is exciting and gloriously pretty. Whilst it suffered for demoting puzzle elements to optional secret tombs that have no consequences on the plot, it successfully carries on the tradition of epic adventures that has been a hall mark for Tomb Raider games. Extra credit has to be given to the effort they put into Lara’s hair, which flows naturally strand by strand, making Lara even more believable whilst my PC screams in pain. The music isn’t stellar, but it adds to the gravity of each emotional moment. Although the gunfire lacks impact, the ambient sound from wildlife and the environment are excellent and bring the world to life.
The multiplayer feels forced. It isn’t bad and utilises all the mechanics in the game, but pales in comparison to the single player. It was hard to find a server, not because there was bad matchmaking, but because there was no one playing it. It’s best to ignore the multiplayer and focus on the story.
All in all this game is fantastic for anyone, fan or not, who wants an immersive adventure with a compelling lead character and a wonderful world to explore; this game is a shining example of how reboots are done.