After taking over the series back in 2006 and sticking to the busty, dual gunned adventurer everyone was familiar with, Crystal Dynamics finally got the chance to take Tomb Raider in a brand new direction. One that would take the franchise into uncharted waters as it were, placing all prior source material in the washing machine and setting the spin-speed to max. What ended up coming out of the re-fresh is not only a much younger, less bustier, Lara (frowny face), but a much more relatable change to the tomb raider, as we get the chance to see Lara in the deepest, darkest moments.
Picking up in her early twenties the story takes you on the journey of Lara’s transformation from young girl to born survivor; giving you more interest in her back story than her bra size. Though she is portrayed as more of a vulnerable girl this time around, she is a Croft after all, and, through the duration of the story, is put through many situations that test her strength, as well as courage. Upon entering this new game, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve entered the next title in a horror series. Everything feels a lot grittier with death animations making a particularly strong impact. If you fail to hit a quick-time event, then expect your head to be squashed by that large boulder. Plus if you encounter an unhappy wolf on your journey and fail to avoid that, prepare to see those teeth sink into your leg in a short amount of time. This amount of detail is jarring at first, given the more colourful approach of previous games, but it does help you care for your character even more, also making the world you’re in feel a lot more grounded in reality.
Addictive by Nature
Mechanically the gameplay is very tight and extremely well put together, making it a joy to play and very hard to put down. I’ve very rarely enjoyed a game as much as I did with Tomb Raider, and I think it’s a testament to the fantastic energy and talent within the team. Attention to detail is also phenomenal: with wildlife roaming the jungles, the sun cascading across the face of cliffs and waterfalls carving through the ancient landscape. It all comes together to help make the atmosphere feel rich and vibrant, as though it was a place that actually exists. Other notable details include the art direction and graphics, which are by far the best I’ve seen on current consoles, and the fact that we are able to play games of such quality on eight-year-old hardware is sublime. Not to say that there isn’t the occasional frame rate issue or slightly jarring character models, though.
Upgrades play a major part in the gameplay, with many weapon enhancements being introduced throughout the campaign. Almost in the same fashion as the upgrades seen in Rocksteady’s Arkham series, your basic equipment can later enable you to enter parts previously inaccessible. Alongside a rewarding upgrade system of your basic equipment, you also obtain skill points that upgrade main skills, such as being able collect more loot from enemies or climb obstacles faster. You can also upgrade weapons by collecting scrap, which is commonly found in wooden boxes. Once enough is obtained you then have the option to upgrade one of your four main weapons. You start with a bow, move to a gun, then complete your arsenal with an assault rifle and shotgun. For each of the weapons you have a choice of reducing kickback, increasing ammo capacity or even adding a silencer – it’s entirely up to you in which order you decide to do this.
Now before you ask, yes there are tombs to raid. Actually, there are plenty of hidden tombs. Some are simple and some require more brain cells to work, but perhaps the best thing about them is that each one is different in style and structure. One may require you to add a certain weight of boxes in order to reach a higher area. Whereas another might need you to open a window to direct airflow into a specific section, in order for you to push an object a certain way. There were a few times where I was slightly puzzled on how to move forward, but if enough time passes without progress then Lara will provide hints through her keen observations.
To me this title is a mix of my two favourite games – Resident Evil 4 and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Sure it borrows many ideas from both of them, with the “rope pull” reminding me immediately of the same move used in the Arkham games, but it doesn’t just take ideas – it builds upon them as well. The biggest rival to this game, in my opinion, is the “Uncharted” series. Naughty Dog knocked the action/adventure genre out of the park with stunning visuals, a great cast and a cracking storyline; I genuinely thought that nothing could top it. But I think this new image of Lara Croft combines the best pieces from new gaming innovations over the last decade, melding them all together and provides the player with a rewarding and addictive play-style. Watch out Nathan Drake because you have some serious competition.
For those of you who pour countless hours in tracking down all hidden tombs and exploring the island after completion (it becomes free-roam afterwards) multiplayer does make an appearance. In traditional format both Team Deathmatch and Free-For-All are included, alongside a couple of round-based modes. One called “Cry For Help” which sees players activate radio transmitters whilst preventing the enemy (Solarii) from stealing their batteries. While the other mode is called “Rescue” as survivors attempt to recover medical supplies, as the enemy tries to stop them at all cost. I found most modes rather fun, with “Cry For Help” being a particular favourite of mine. Connection issues did occur however, plus the visuals definitely take a hit, but I did find it a worthwhile diversion.
- + Fantastic reinvention of a tired series
- + Stunning visuals, paired with a top-class atmosphere
- + Great pacing and rewarding character progression
- - Occasional technical hiccups keep it shy of perfection