I didn’t like Lara Croft. The busty, dual-wielding explorer wasn’t the bada–, Indiana Jones type I wanted her to be; she was a two-dimensional character intended to sell video games with her cleavage. So, imagine my surprise when the reboot of Tomb Raider washed all of that away, started from scratch, and built a strong, female character I grew to admire and adore.
On the quest for the tomb of the sun queen Himiko, Lara and the crew of the Endurance are ship-wrecked on the island of Yamatai when a powerful storm comes out of nowhere. Separated from the rest of the crew, Lara has to make her way alone, forced to learn how to survive against not only starvation, exposure, and the local wildlife, but crazed men stranded on the island for far too long.
Lara’s evolution from a fresh-out-of-college bookworm who breaks down when she is first forced to kill a man into a bada– that yells, “I’m coming for you, you b—–ds!” before rushing into a fight is incredible. The 12-hour campaign may seem too little time to so completely change that character, but the game paces her ability to adapt well, and actress Camilla Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy) sells it with Lara’s internal dialogue, which forges a true connection with this Lara over the character’s portrayal in the past. Lara’s supporting cast helps out a lot, too, as the crew of the Endurance provide plenty of opportunities to explore different facets of Lara’s personality, whether that’s the paternal relationships she has with Roth who knows something of the Croft heritage, her closeness with her best friend Sam, or how she butts heads with Reyes.
Lara suffers some serious injuries throughout the game. Suspension of disbelief is a must, as half of the things she goes through would kill a real human being, which isn’t to say that Crystal Dynamics pulls punches. Lara’s injuries stack up over time but never felt excessive to me but almost welcome. The sort of things Lara goes through and the scars she gains would cause no one to think twice if a male character were in her position. Perhaps most astonishing and excited to me is that not once in this game did Lara feel exploited because of her body. Sex doesn’t enter the picture here and why should it in a fast-paced adventure where survival is the most important goal? The central plot of Tomb Raider is excellent, as well. While the adventure itself has a very Uncharted feel, the mystery is a lot less clear cut, providing opportunities for exploration and deduction on the part of the players.
The game looks incredible. The island of Yamatai is gorgeous, and Lara’s travels take her to plenty of locations: the jungle, beaches, mountains, and, of course, tombs. Crystal Dynamics outdid themselves in providing an environment that’s as fun to explore as it is to shoot people or watch Lara’s story unfold. Typically, manipulative parts of the environment are highly visible, resulting in players going, “Oh, I guess I need an item for this,” but such elements in Tomb Raider went completely by me with little more than a second’s consideration, because they are so well incorporated. The character’s animations are smooth, and Lara reacts to what happens around her, whether that’s clutching her side from a fresh wound or stealthily moving around when she hears voices ahead.
Which takes us to gameplay. Lara is channeling the Katniss/Hawkeye/Green Arrow vibe that’s sweeping our media, and the bow is easily the most fun part of gameplay. The bow actually feels like a bow in combat as holding the button and drawing back the bow to line up a shot is important in order to deliver any real power with it. The selection of trick arrows Lara gains access to during the course of the game, such as fire arrows and rope arrows, provide plenty of new opportunities to interact with the environment and take out enemies in creative ways. The other weapons – pistol, shotgun, and machine gun – are a lot more traditional, but all of these weapons can be spruced up through the game’s upgrade mechanics using salvage Lara finds around the island, allowing players to tailor their weaponry to their specific needs and play style. Similarly, Lara levels up over time and is able to gain new survivor, hunter, and brawler skills that can do things like increase the amount of salvage collected, allow Lara to retrieve arrows from enemy bodies, or gain access to brand new attacks. It was late in the game before I stopped having a new ability I had to get, and that never happened with regard to weapon upgrades; there are so many fun options.
The enemies aren’t the brightest I’ve ever faced, but they are tough sons of b—–s, providing a real challenge in most encounters. The fighting in Tomb Raider encourages making use of the environment and switching between weapons to stay one step ahead of the enemies. The most satisfying thing, however, is taking them down quietly. The bow is an ideal weapon whether taking out a bad guy from a distance or sneaking up and choking them out using the body of the weapon. I’m normally the kind of player who prefers to ready a gun in each hand and charge in, but the stealth gameplay was so much fun without being frustrating that I enjoyed breaking out my sniper skills and taking down different guards as if solving a puzzle.
Besides stealthy takedowns, the game’s actual puzzles are solid, too, whether as a general part of gameplay or one of the game’s many hidden tombs, required some amount of brainpower. Unlike Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake, Lara doesn’t have a little notebook in her pocket with all of the answers. There were a few scenes where I grew frustrated, feeling like I couldn’t make any progress, but eventually I always came up with the answer, and it was incredibly satisfying. Besides the tombs, Tomb Raider includes a wide variety of collectibles from GPS caches, relics to recover, challenges to complete, and journal entries. For the collector-style player, there is a lot here to keep you busy for a while, and for those more concerned with story, the journal entries are a great way to learn a little bit more about what’s going on, even if the screens and presentation of them are rather dull.
The one major failure of Tomb Raider is the tacked on multiplayer mode, which is cookie cutter at best. About the only element of multiplayer combat that felt unique was the ability to set up traps such as lightning rods and rope traps to throw off or defeat the opposing team. Four kinds of matches are available. Free for All and Team Deathmatch are exactly what you’d expect while Rescue and Cry for Help offer up team objectives that change dependent upon if you’re playing as a Survivor or a Solarii. While a cool experiment, I was more frustrated as in both game types I had fun playing as the Survivors and hated the Solarii based objectives. As to be expected Tomb Raider‘s multiplayer features some ability to customize and level up a character though this system is bare bones, requiring many levels under a player’s belt before granting access to decent weapons or character models as key to the game as Lara.
Lara Croft and Tomb Raider have been reforged. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend taking the time to get to know this Lara Croft. I used to dislike this character, but now I am eagerly awaiting Crystal Dynamic’s follow-up and another chance to step into Lara’s boots.
Story: 10.0, Presentation: 8.75, Gameplay: 9.0, Multiplayer: 6.5, Overall: 9.0