To gamers everywhere, Lara Croft is the genres favourite female character. Those who have spent many hours solving puzzles, killing bears – and yes, even raiding tombs – will have had great fun guiding this gaming legend through her adventures. I remember playing the original on the PS1, feeling all bad-ass as I made Lara perform backflips around the place and swan dive off of ledges. So, when I heard that Square Enix were planning on rebooting the franchise, I had mixed emotions. Even though I love Square Enix as a publisher I was sceptical as to whether they were right for my favourite gaming heroine and hoped that they would not further drive this series towards its seemingly inevitable decline. With Tomb Raider Legend, Anniversary and Underworld providing a very standard experience what the series needed more than ever was a fresh start and what a start it turned out to be!
Straight away, Tomb Raider establishes itself as a prequel to the original game series, letting us take control of a younger more naïve Lara just starting out on her adventures. It is on this faithful trip to the Dragon’s Triangle off the coast of Japan that Lara will be transformed into the character that we know and love. The game starts off by setting the scene with what feels like a long cinematic. You will be controlling Lara’s movements in various sequences but it feels very scripted and linier that while definitely set the right mood for the game could have allowed the player to have more control and feel like they had attributed to what they were seeing on screen. However, after the first hour the game really comes into its own and more than makes up for the initial linier segments.
Combat had always been very samey for the Tomb Raider games, Lara depending on her faithful double pistols to take care of any threats she may encounter. This model has been changed in this latest instalment with a greater emphasis placed on the fact that Lara is fighting to survive in an environment of which she has little control over. This is reflected in the weapons within the game. While Lara does eventually find herself multiple guns, such as a shotgun, machine gun and pistol, most of the game will be played sporting the bow and arrow that has become the icon of the new Lara Croft. This changes the way the game is played quite significantly. While traditionally you would fly around the screen shooting everything in sight the combat now has an emphasis on stealth and the bow fits into this perfectly. Lara will now automatically seek cover when near it, crouching behind logs, walls and boxes, this with the bow generates the feeling of stealth so much that I began to feel bad when I had to go in guns blazing (though it is still a perfectly good option) Weapons can also be upgraded at various stages by collecting salvage around the island. Weapon upgrades can vary from extra damage, larger ammo clips and even equipping silencers to guns. The upgrade system allows you to chose which weapons you wish to focus on creating a customisable combat experience.
Even with a great emphasis on improved combat, Tomb Raider is no normal action game. Square Enix have thankfully realised that the best part of the game is the character, and a lot of the focus is on Lara. It is not until after the first hour of gameplay that Lara takes on her first bad guy and we are provided with a very moving experience. In a moment of frantic button bashing where Lara is fighting to out muscle her attacker she is forced to pull the trigger making her first ever kill. It is refreshing to see a hardened character such as Lara Croft to have to come to turns with what she has done and it genuinely makes you think and realise that her previous innocence has not vanished. Lara’s character then continues to develop throughout the game allowing the player to fully understand and be a part of what made the character into what she would later become.
Moving away from the emotional transformation Lara’s skill development is relatively hands on. The player will earn experience whilst completing challenges, missions and killing enemies – this XP can then be redeemed to upgrade Lara with various different skills. These skills will enable her to become a hardened survivor, but the path she takes is up to you. With three kill tree to choose from –
Lara can develop her skills in stealth, endurance and brute force points can be spend developing the path that you feel is most suited to your style of game play. However, I found that these skills did not have a massive effect on what I was doing and by the last quarter of the game I could easily have managed without purchasing the remaining skills.
The majority of these skills can all be utilised by Lara’s ‘survival instincts’. With the push of a button Lara will scan the surrounding area in a similar way to eagle vision on Assassins creed. Survival Instinct will highlight any areas of interest from rock faces that can be climbed, boxes to loot or enemies wandering around. This feature become especially useful when you wish to find all of the collectables in the map, the skills allowing for survival instincts to be improved, helping you in this endeavour.
So what about any of the old aspects that made Tomb Raider great? Well like any Tomb Raider game, there’re plenty of opportunities to, well… raid tombs. Entrances to tombs are found around the map which lead to different puzzle sections that can be completes for rewards. These incredibly detailed areas range from ancient burial tombs to grand temples and world war two bunkers. Each offering its own challenge that can be overcome using different gameplay mechanics. These Tombs give a very nostalgic feeling of earlier games and provide a nice break from the main storyline with some providing the most breath-taking scenery I have seen in recent games.
The looks and sounds in the game are incredible. With terrains including wide open mountain ranges to dense and wile jungles the environment never becomes boring and there is always something to see. The occasional drip of water echoing through caverns or the howl of a wolf in the wilderness adds an eerie realism to this already realistic game. It’s difficult, near impossible, to highlight a place that this game that feels uninspiring and dull.
It is important to note that this game does come with a multiplayer mode. However this just feels tacked on and, while many of the great aspects from the single player find themselves taking form in multiplayer, the whole things seems unneeded. Offering only standard variations such as death match and capture the flag it feels lacking. I would have loved to see a mode that pitted a couple of players surviving stealth to outwit the opposing team trying to hunt them down (take note Square Enix).
Tomb Raider is easily one of the best games that I have played in a while. It is such a relief to be able to say that without it feeling forced. I now know that this series will continue to provide us with great gaming and the industry’s most famous heroine will continue to live on. This is a beautifully polished game with an unneeded, though enjoyable multiplayer bundled in. Top Scored Square Enix, now please excuse me while I go and Raid some more Tombs.