Square Enix have taken one of the most influential game series of the last 15 years and rebooted it. And you know what? Its amazing.
I want to start by talking about the story line. We all know Lara Croft as this experienced, dual pistol wielding archaeologist, who rarely has to answer to any one. She’s considered an icon in the gaming world to female gamers every where, a shining beacon of hope in a male dominated industry. This new Lara Croft, to start with, is none of that. She’s young, naive, inexperience and she certainly has never fired a gun before, let alone two at the same time. Her beliefs are grounded firmly in the real world, with no concept of the supernatural. Honestly, the first thought that ran through my head was that she was looking for an adventure, almost as if she had to prove her self.
Being a reboot, there is a lot of retcon going on, Lord Croft has died some years earlier, and Lara has been left alone in the world, bar Conrad Roth, a friend of her fathers, who looks out for her. The story starts on the aptly named ship, Endurance, with Lara and co looking for Yamatai, a lost island off of the coast of Japan. The island is inhabited by a mismatch of shipwrecked survivors, criminals and mercs, mostly whom seem to have gone crazy. They call them selves the Solarii Brotherhood, who worship the ancient God of Yamatai: Himiko. Being a fan of ancient history, instantly my interest is peaked, even if it is fictional. This is explored further by finding artifacts, with are accompanied by a brief description from Lara, as well as being able to examine the item. It also acts as a nice story mechanic, explaining how others have discovered the island before, like the Portuguese, or the Americans. Even the Japanese had a military base on the island.
When the game begins, you are instantly thrown into the action, the ship is wreaked off the coast of a mysterious island, with unnaturally strong storms raging all around. Suddenly, this young Lara is forced to survive. Which is the running trend throughout the game. As the player of the game, not only was I compelled to want to protect Lara, I also found my self wanting her to escape, wanting her to get her own back on those that did her wrong, and wanting her to, above all else, survive.
A majority of the game is grounded in the realistic, it wasn’t until I neared the end of the game did the supernatural pop up. Though, for me, it made it that much more fear inducing. I’ve always found the notion of humans doing twisted things worse than say, Frankenstein’s monster, or a Sorcerer bent on world domination through an ancient ritual. In many ways, it reminded me of an episode of Torchwood (The Doctor Who spin off), where the gang were captured by a village of cannibals. At first, Jack and his crew thought it was an alien, killing and eating it’s victims, only to find out the grim truth about their predicament. Knowing it was humans made it feel so much worse, because deep down you know it really could happen.
Despite being a reboot of the series, the core game play formula hasn’t changed much. And really, why should it? It’s a tried and tested recipe that works. Your basics are there, run, jump, climb, shoot, but also, the addition of the bow has added some interesting and fresh mechanics to the series. Throughout the campaign, you can collect salvage, which you use to upgrade your weapons. Although I had a pistol, a shotgun and the machine gun, I still felt my self going back to the bow. It was fun. And honestly, when you have fire arrows, you can’t help but feel a little bit awesome.
Also introduced in this game, which I believe is a first in the series, is the notion of XP. So, head shot an enemy, you get XP, kill and animal, get XP. As you gain levels you can unlock more skills. You’re not able to tailor Lara to your liking however, as I found some skills were not able to be unlocked unless you had unlocked skills form another tree set, which was a bit annoying, but it did make sure I had unlocked the arrow through the knee move when in close combat. Let’s just say, after I learnt that move, many of the Solarii Brotherhood will cease to be adventurers.
Now, say what you want about Square Enix, but, the one thing that all of the games they have their names on is this: They look amazing. Tomb Raider is no exception. Being fortunate enough to play the game in the higher graphical settings on the PC, some of the scenery was stunning. There is a section later in the game where you go back to where the Endurance is ship wreaked, and it’s breath taking. I spend a fair while just admiring the lighting, the shadows, every thing, it just looked spectacular.
Character animations also felt natural. There were many occasions where Lara would react to the weather, by shielding her eyes, lean into the wind etc, or even when she was running down a flight of stairs, I noticed she would put her hand on the wall as she did so. It’s attention to detail like this which really makes you feel as if you are watching a living person, which again, makes you care that much more. I also love the way Lara reacts to her enemies, shouting verbal abuse at them, and like wise, if you go in there machine gun blazing, they cry out in terror “She’s got a machine gun!”
Camilla Luddington did Lara justice in giving her a voice. She really get’s into the role, making the character that much more real. The emotion in her voice was outstanding, though it does make me wonder if the team at Crystal Dynamics were beating her with a stick to induce the correct level of pain in her voice.
I personally felt Tomb Raider was a good length for a game. I finished it in about 10 hours, but that was only at 60% completion, I deliberately missed out on some of the hidden temples as I was anxious to progress in the story line. This being said, it adds to the replay value, I can easily go back to these areas and explore to my hearts content.
Overall, I would say Tomb Raider is worthy of the name. It might not be the Lara Croft we all grew up with, but this is the start of a new adventure, some thing new and old fans alike can enjoy. I really didn’t want the game to end, but as it came to a close, and I saw Lara standing there, two 9mm’s in her hands, I knew it had to end, but it was only the begging of a much grander adventure, and I, as well as millions of other gamers will be at her side when she sets off to explore parts unknown. Seeing the birth of such an iconic character was enough to bring a tear to my eye.
If you have yet to play Tomb Raider, I cannot recommend it enough.