It was way back in 1996 that Eidos Interactive first introduced us to the now iconic and globally recognised femme fatale, Lara Croft.
Eight games and seventeen years later, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have teamed up to completely reboot the franchise. Lara’s been given a new, realistically gritty coat of paint; and is sporting a more ‘innocent’ attitude than the confident, no-nonsense Croft of the PlayStation One. But apart from a new image and vastly increased number of audience-pleasing polygons, how is the new reboot any different to the Classic Tomb Raiders of old? Well, at it’s core, very little’s changed.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Tomb Raider’s story begins with fresh-faced, post-graduate Lara, setting out on her first expedition to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai. Things soon start to go South however, when some Bermuda Triangle-esque storm weather runs her team’s ship aground, and Lara is left stranded, separated from her friends and her gear
The game’s opening section feels almost reminiscent of MGS3: Snake Eater. Your immediate objective is finding the necessary resources to keep Lara alive, which is achieved by hunting down the local fauna for some sustenance. But it’s not just hunger and the island’s hazardous terrain that are threatening Lara’s survival. Yamatai’s dangerous cult of ‘Sun-Queen’ worshiping inhabitants is the real enemy, and trust me when I say you’ll be seeing a lot of them about.
In most cases you’re given a choice in how you want to dispatch your foes. Go in stealthy with the bow and climbing axe, or go loud with the various rifles, shotguns and small arms at your disposal. Whichever way you prefer to go about things, Tomb Raider’s combat system (whilst a little unoriginal) is great fun and accommodates either style of play. Excellent set pieces make for some truly cinematic fights as Lara is pitted against groups of increasing lethal opponents. And a surprisingly deep upgrade system furnishes her with an imaginative variety of satisfying combat moves that keep fights feeling intense. The upgrade system also extends to the games ‘survival’ aspect, allowing players to invest skill points in Lara’s resource gathering, and improve how efficiently she can navigate the environment.
Whilst the combat system is important, Tomb Raider titles have always been best known for their platforming, and this latest addition to the franchise doesn’t disappoint. As Lara progresses deeper inland, more and more elaborate environments are made available to explore. Ancient, Eastern-style castles spanning chasms are great fun to swing, jump and clamber across. And some gorgeous tropical vistas and landscapes make for some spectacular views as you work your way through the world.
Further exploration is rewarded with a variety of collectables to pick up, which offer an insight into the island’s history and game’s story. These pick-ups also offer an opportunity to hear to Lara’s commentary on what she’s found. And whilst normally serious, there are a few genuinely funny moments where spectacular finds are turned over to reveal ‘Made in China’ labels plastered on them.
Unfortunately though, these little, optional commentaries are what provide the game with some of its rare chances to show off Lara’s character. For the majority of the story she comes across as a little two-dimensional and even by the game’s end, it’s hard to feel like she’s really developed at all. She does occasionally get angry and upset over the events of the main arc, but these displays of emotion are few and far between, and subsequently, she can feel difficult to empathise with.
In short though, this latest Tomb Raider is a thoroughly enjoyable one and despite its change of image, still does justice to the gameplay elements that made the franchise what it is today. The story is engaging (even if its protagonist isn’t) and the skill/weapon upgrade system feels suitably rewarding. It’s a little short, coming in at approximately eleven hours for a ‘one-hundred percent’ play through. But the various collectables, optional tombs and extra objectives on the island, offer plenty to do without feeling overwhelming.
Despite its flaws, this latest entry to the series is still a great one. Whether you’re an old fan or new to the tomb-raiding scene, you won’t be disappointed with what’s on offer.