One of my earliest gaming memories was playing Tomb Raider 2 and spending literally hours playing around in Croft Manor, there was so much to do, an obstacle course, a gym, a swimming pool and best of all, a butler who would follow you round everywhere. Everyone has this memory, and every single one of us tried to lock him in the fridge.
This is not that Tomb Raider. This is a different beast all together, and for better or worse, the old Lara Croft has gone, replaced with a younger, more naive version prone to accidents and vulnerable to what is happening around her.
It’s obvious from the outset that Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have put a tremendous amount of effort forth in creating not only an extremely polished game, but something truly special that will stand the test of time. Reboot or Origin story, call it what you will, Tomb Raider is an attempt at breathing new life into a franchise many considered past it’s use, to be relegated away with other gaming stalwarts like Crash Bandicoot and Parappa the Rapper (don’t pretend you didn’t love it).
Lara’s journey in this itteration concerns the lost ancient Japanese island of Yamatai, a kingdom once ruled by the Sun Queen, and it’s this island and the aforementioned Sun Queen, Himiko, that the plot concerns itself with. After using her nouce to great effect, Lara stumbles across Yamatai, taking with her the crew of the Endurance and what happens next plays out like the strangest episode of Takeshi’s castle you will likely see. Lara is kidnapped almost immediately by cultists-de-jour where she is promptly trussed up, then dropped onto a large piece of rebar, pretty soon after she gets stuck in a bear trap. This is not the Lara we’re used to.
The crew of the endurance are made up mostly of stereotypes and none ever really stand out apart from Whitman, who’s betrayal is telegraphed so obviously he may as well be wearing a neon sign. Lara however really does stand out. She feels vulnerable to play as and you never quite feel control in the many gunfights you get into, that is not to say that Crystal Dynamics have messed up this particular gameplay feature, just that Lara always feel human, and this is a big plus.
Combat is well handled and whilst comparisons to the Uncharted franchise will be made, it still feels fresh, especially when you factor in the stealth mechanics which are handled automatically (for example, when Lara gets near a create or low wall, she will automatically duck down to remain hidden when enemies are near) and the weapons on offer. Lara is limited to 4 weapons, a trusty pistol, gaming’s new go to weapon – the bow and arrow, an assault rifle and a shotgun. All of these weapons can be upgraded through finding salvage (the game’s upgrade points system essentially) or through finding weapon parts in various containers scattered around Yamatai.
The plot moves at a brisk enough pace, though there is always time for a bit of exploration, it’s often a joy to wander around one of the many connected hubs (the game isn’t quite open world, more a series of interconnected smaller island sections that Lara can move between at any point) and just take in the breathtaking views of the island. The developers have really pushed the hardware with this one and it shows. Draw distances are massive and the level of detail on show is unbelievable at times.
It may feel a lot like Uncharted at times but that does Tomb Raider an injustice. What we have here is proof that even big budget games, often rushed out to meet deadlines, can still have care put into them and that evidence is in abundance with Tomb Raider. With excellent platforming, fun combat and enough to do to keep you coming back even after finishing the plot, Lara’s latest adventure is the start of a brilliant new chapter in the Tomb Raider series, one that will hopefully lead to as many fond memories as locking that old butler in the fridge back at Croft Manor.