Tomb Raider is the 2013 reboot to the popular franchise staring one of video game’s most iconic ladies – Lara Croft. Ms Croft, who has been played in live action movies by the lovely Angelina Jolie, is for all intents and purposes Indiana Jones with boobs. Although the original Tomb Raider was a smash hit the reputation of the series has dipped in recent years after a number of lacklustre sequels. Thankfully Crystal Dynamics have managed to revitalise the property in this latest adventure. Using Unchartered as inspiration this new instalment has introduced a bunch of gameplay improvements to the title, most notably in the controls department. Lara no longer controls like a tank… although the size of her missiles has sadly been reduced.
The game’s story chronicles Lara’s origins showcasing her transformation from a meek archaeology student, who in one cut scene hilariously mutters “I hate tombs,” to a badass explorer who slays dinosaurs with twin pistols. When the game begins we see Lara and chums become stranded on an island after a horrendous storm sinks their ship faster than Spain’s hopes of retaining the World Cup. Players must aid Lara in finding a way back to civilization before she misses the next episode of Games of Thrones. This won’t be easy though, as the island is populated by a group of armed cultists who wish to sacrifice Lara’s pals in the hopes of resurrecting a deceased Japanese shaman.
Story wise I have to say that I enjoyed Tomb Raider although players should be warned that things start slow. The first hour is rather dull and riddled with annoying quick time events. Thankfully things improve once the game opens up and you are given the freedom to upgrade Lara’s skills however you see fit. Crystal Dynamics’ attempts at humanizing Lara are commendable, but regrettably fall flat due to inconsistencies between the story segments and gameplay. The early cut scenes for example present Lara as a dainty lass, who is no more athletic than your average I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here contestant, but from the offset we see that she can nimbly traverse over ravines with dexterity that would put Spider-Man to shame.
In a similar vein Lara’s transition from sweet girl to cold-hearted killer could have been handled better. Supposedly she is pushed over the edge when one of her captors tries to sexually assault her. I wasn’t too convinced by the scene in question; although the sequence may have been toned down after an early trailer resulted in outcry from journalists who accused the developers of using rape as a tasteless plot device. I would be surprised if the said clip was censored though, as the game doesn’t shy away from violence against women. I lost count of the number of gruesome ways in which Lara can perish. One particular death were she gets impaled through the neck is especially stomach churning. Poor Lara takes more punishment that a proponent of BDSM.
Gameplay wise Tomb Raider has been likened to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series although I cannot comment on those comparisons, as I am not acquainted with the exploits of Nathan Drake. To me Tomb Raider’s combat is akin to the excellent Resident Evil 4 with a smidgen of puzzle based platforming. As a dunce who is not adept at 3D platformers I feared that I would regularly get stuck in this game, but that was not the case thanks to the title’s forgiving difficulty curve. Leaping over pitfalls and scaling over walls is a doddle thanks to the responsive controls and the brainteasers are never too taxing. Use the shotgun to destroy a barricade, burn down an obstacle with a torch, traverse gaps using a rope and so on. If you have graduated from the Zelda school of dungeon crawling Tomb Raider’s puzzles shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge.
The game’s combat is especially satisfying, which is just as well given how I often faltered at sneaking past guards (alas I’m as stealthy as an elephant wearing clogs.) Over the course of Lara’s journey our heroine acquires a decent arsenal that can be upgraded at camps using scavenged materials. The weapons at the player’s disposal include a machine gun, pistol, axe and shotgun. My favourite instrument of destruction is however the bow and arrow. Ever since the Hunger Games hit cinema screens female archers seem to be all the rage. That’s fine with me as the majority of them are “hot”… especially when they can shoot “fire” arrows that toast enemies.
My rating for Tomb Raider is a five out of five, as the game is tons of fun to play. I think the only people who will be disappointed with this reboot are old school fans who prefer Tomb Raider games that focus more on puzzles than action. The game took me three evenings to complete, which works out at around twelve hours (plus however long it takes to acquire all of the optional collectibles.) That’s good value considering that you can pick up the title for around a tenner if you shop around. Graphically the game is gorgeous and sound wise Camilla Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy) does a brill job of voicing Lara. Amazingly Square-Enix have commented that the title did not meet sales targets, despite shifting a million copies within two days and 6.5 million units since release. Wow talk about unrealistic expectations. Ah well perhaps the sequel will perform even better, especially if Crystal Dynamics can maintain the level of quality shown here.