The first Tomb Raider (1996) game on the original Playstation system was one of those game that actually sold systems. You wanted to go out and buy a PS1 just to play it. Now, 17 years later, Lara Croft returns in an all-new adventure that reboots the series and takes fans back to her beginnings as a young scholar on her first and very much unintended adventure. The new Tomb Raider takes its cue from the Uncharted series while still remaining faithful to its original roots.
The game begins with Lara setting out on her first expedition aboard the ship Endurance, with the intention of finding the lost kingdom of Yamatai. The mysterious island is reputed to have once been home to a great kingdom ruled by the Sun Queen, Himoko. The Endurance is caught in a violent storm leaving its crew and passengers stranded on the island as Lara is separated from the others. Initially Lara has to fight and flee her way out of a flooded cave and begin exploring the island. The island lies within the Dragon’s Triangle, a Far East version of the Devil’s Triangle and various ship and aircraft have crashed or wrecked there over the years.
Initially the game hand holds you through the opening as you get your feet wet moving about, learning the basics, and finding your first camp. Campsites act as your bases of operation where you can rest, take a meal in, and expend the various XP you earn for weapons or skills upgrades. Yes one big difference between this and the older games in the series is the inclusion of RPG elements that allow you to upgrade and define Lara how you see fit via a skill tree. The island is sprinkled with secrets and hidden items for you to locate and salvage. These are what allow you to upgrade Lara’s abilities and weapons. A lot of these items are simply collectibles that add flavor to the game such as journal pages while others directly improve your character. Others such as maps become essential as the point out where certain items can be located.
The first order of business is getting a weapon, in this case a long bow and arrows. You’ll learn to hunt although food isn’t necessary really but it does give you some early practice with aiming and firing the bow. As the game goes on you’ll find many more items like pistols, shotguns, grenade launchers, etc., until you’ve assembled quite an arsenal. The bow is always a great weapon, particularly when stealth is needed. The weapons and skills make this Tomb Raider far more fun when it comes to combat. It’s no longer about just picking the strongest weapon and blasting away but picking the right weapon for the battle. Combat is smooth and satisfying, even with some of the quick-time moments.
Lara is still about leaping and climbing about and shimmying along walls. Control feels more precise than it has ever been. Veteran Tomb Raider players will remember those frustrating pillar to pillar leaps where you had to creep just right to the end of the pillar without falling off to line up your leap. Wall crawls and jumps feel natural and harrowing as they should. The best games put you into the action, not just as an observer of the action and Tomb Raider does so in masterful fashion. The thrills keep your heart racing throughout the 12 – 15 hour campaign.
While the main campaign pits you against a violent cult of criminals known as the Solarii Brotherhood, Tomb Raider never forgets its roots. There are plenty of tomb-exploring side missions complete with challenging, but not too frustrating puzzles that harken back to the days of the early games in the series. Treasure hunting has never been so much fun!
Camilla Luddington is absolutely superb as the voice of Lara, conveying both her vulnerability as well as her determination. Some reviews have complained about the supporting characters being under developed which are true but on the other hand when has Tomb Raider been about supporting characters anyway? Ok so most of them are one-dimensional but they do their job.
The only real disappointment, and this is a minor gripe, is that multiplayer is weak. Multi-player features four, uninspired modes and frankly they seem like they were included only because Developer Crystal Dynamics felt a need to include it. It wasn’t necessary…
Fantastic gameplay, harrowing action, and smooth control all combine to herald the return of Tomb Raider as one of the giants of the industry!