The Tomb Raider series, along with protagonist character Lara Croft, is one of the most iconic video game franchises of all time.
The most recent title, Tomb Raider, promises to be a reboot of the series exploring Lara’s origin story, giving fans a chance to see how it all began.
Can a popular video game series, one as monumental as Tomb Raider, really be remained after 17 years?
Tomb Raider is the result of a series reboot by developers Crystal Dynamics, best known for their work on ancient titles for the 3DO console.
The game tells the origin story of Lara Croft, now a young archaeologist with limited experience in the field. Her team are on a ship, heading to an island off the coast of Japan, filming a documentary while trying to uncover a lost civilisation who worshiped a powerful monarch, Queen Himiko.
The team are under pressure from the shows’ producers to film something, so Lara suggests searching a previously uncharted area of the island. Her plan would take them through the notorious “Devil’s Triangle”, known for its erratic storms and unpredictable weather.
And sure enough, shortly after entering the area a wild storm picks up, destroying the ship and separating Lara from the rest of the team. She blacks out, and once she wakes up, Lara is hanging upside-down in a cave beside a dead body. Now it’s young Lara Croft against the elements: wherever she is right now, it’s clearly dangerous. She must summon the courage and strength required to survive and find a way home.
Tomb Raider is an emotional ride and the developers have captured that emotion with precision. You will experience Lara’s plight so acutely through the game; not only is she trying to overcome this alien situation, she’s doing so with a tremendous amount of guilt.
To say the game is cinematic would be an understatement and Tomb Raider does feel like you’re playing an interactive movie. Thankfully, this “movie” is very well written and superbly acted so as not to feel tacky. Camilla Luddington’s (True Blood) performance as Lara Croft is a memorable one.
Gameplay elements marry seamlessly into cinematic sequences and so you’re actually “playing the story”; you are the Lara Croft character in this sprawling adventure story.
Of course, this means the title relies heavily on “Quick Time Events”, which I would usually pan for being uninventive. However, in Tomb Raider, QTE’s are handled well and the game still feels incredibly interactive through the action sequences. What I found was that Tomb Raider uses QTEs to allow the player to experience the action, while actually being able to watch the action at the same time.
This is also helped by some pretty snazzy camera angles that puts the player right in the thick of the action.
Gameplay borrows slightly from Tomb Raider games of old. There’s some shooting, some looting and some searching. Puzzles are integrated into the world and the solutions are not always obvious. Thankfully, for inexperienced players or those who are just stuck, there’s a “Survival Instincts” button which highlights clues in the area such as a compass marker, or a wall you’re able to climb.
To survive, Lara will need weapons. In Tomb Raider, these come in the form of various options, such as the Bow. Weapons can be upgraded at campsites by collecting salvage littered across the island. In fact, there is tonnes of items and collectables throughout the game including “GPS Caches” and journal entries from various characters, revealing information about the island. While the game is rather linear in terms of progression, players can return to any campsite they’ve visited to resume hunting for any items they missed.
Apart from hidden items, there are tonnes of side quests to sink your teeth into. You might pick up an egg from a nest and kick off a challenge to find all the eggs in the area for extra experience points. Likewise, hidden tombs can be found along the way which contain special items. These elements are great and make the gameplay feel open and give the player more incentive to take their time and enjoy the game, as well as the story.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer in Tomb Raider leaves a lot to be desired. The game modes, such as “Rescue” and “Cry for Help” are well thought out, but in practice they feel unbalanced and usually end up in a death match, which would be okay had the game been designed for fast combat. Multiplayer modes beg for some teamwork clarity which is rarely found in online games, even in the best of times. Multiplayer feels tacked on, and it would’ve been nice to see the developers flesh out the sprawling solo adventure even more (some how) instead of bothering with a generic, uninspired multiplayer romp.
That said, Tomb Raider is lovingly wrapped in blinding polish and utmost quality. Graphics are great, the score by Jason Graves (Dead Space) is sublime and the atmosphere is spot on.
To me, Tomb Raider is about experiencing the emotion with Lara, and indeed as Lara. This is more than a “girl growing into a woman” scenario; this is a person not only having to live with her decisions, but having to constantly make tougher and tougher ones to survive.
Tomb Raider is a masterpiece. It proves that video games can be fun and tell an engrossing, intricate story at the same time which is as easy to follow and as gripping as a Hollywood movie.