Tomb Raider; for many, that name carries a storied legacy harking back to the early days of 3D gaming, but in the 2013 reboot from Square Enix & Crystal Dynamics, we get to visit Lara’s roots to discover how she became the hardy survivor we all know and love today. When the very first Tomb Raider title was released on the Sega Saturn & Playstation 1 in 1996, we got our very first taste of her adventurous way of life and we loved it, with the game selling over 7 million copies worldwide. Since the original adventure, many sequels have been made of Lara’s exploits, some being incredible hits with fans, some not so much. This modern-day retelling gives us insight into her past and sheds some information on her family and how she became to be such an influential female figure in the gaming industry and one hell of an awesome treasure hunter to boot.
Tomb Raider is set on a mysterious island full of wild animals, dangerous gangs of men, secret tombs and it’s up to you to piece together clues to figure out a way off this seemingly prison like island. The environment is full of dangers and throws you into many tough tasks and environment based challenges, which is what fans associate and love about the Tomb Raider series. The variety of locales on the island is incredible as it ranges from deep jungle areas to hard to navigate mountain villages; there are even old wreckages and rusty bunkers hidden within the island to plunder. These grand, detailed surroundings bring life to the story that unfolds and adds natural tension to your missions and adventuring which is one of the reasons this game is so damn good.
The backdrops add beauty throughout the game, whether they’re calm sunny landscapes or stormy brutal rain storms. The lighting throughout the game also plays a big part in the more exciting and perilous moments of the story, giving a lifelike quality to the cinematics, and an edge of excitement to the gameplay, with dancing shadows and perfect reflections from the water. The game looks pretty damn good, with Lara’s character model based on performance capture data which brings her further to life. The other characters you meet also have loveable qualities that come shining through, thanks to some charming regional accents and great dialogue.
The games control system compliments the playing style very well. It’s fluid, easy to use and dynamic, with various controls for Lara’s movement and combat. In some aspects the very first Tomb Raider titles were hard to navigate, with issues stemming from fixed camera angles and Lara’s general movement causing frustration for gamers, however in this title you can scale old wreckages with ease and get right into some exciting and gritty exploring. There’s a really good balance of combat too, from intense gun battles that take place in the games varied environments to some surprise animal ambushes. All of this is very rewarding due to a solid over the shoulder view of Lara and her crosshair. You can also move the camera angle while you climb too, this means that if you jump or fall to your death it’s normally an honest slip of the finger, not a dodgy camera angle.
You’ll first start off the game with nothing but a torch and have to find all the necessaries along the way including that trusty bow. With the torch you can set certain objects ablaze but you will have to find something already burning to light it from until you can upgrade your tools to do it yourself. The same with Lara’s bow, when you find it you will only be able shoot standard arrows until you unlock rope arrows and fire arrows. Some of the game’s weaponry and tools are locked within the game, so you can only discover certain advanced pieces of gear at certain times in the plot. There are parts of your upgrades scattered around the island too and once you’ve nabbed a set you can upgrade your weapon or tool with your scrap at one of the camp sites. There’s also the option to travel back to earlier areas using the camping sites which is especially rewarding. The game treats you well like this; it doesn’t spoil you with too much too soon. You can only explore so far until you need a shotgun for example to blast your way through a wooden panel and up onto a hidden ledge. The game keeps you itching for more and fuels your whole exploring experience this way, which in turn adds heaps of quality to your overall adventure.
While you’re getting to grips with the controls and tools, there’s the combat side of the game to indulge in and surprisingly Lara actually carries all of the weapons with her, she is such a hard nut to crack. The creators have also added an automatic cover system, lending fluidity to the numerous combat moments, bearing in mind that you need to be near objects for her to interact with them. You can lean and fire over around objects which gives the game some strategic options while you fight or you can go in all guns a blazing and throw in a couple of rolls for good measure. As cool as the combat sounds, it does suffer a little bout of repetitiveness as it’s a little bare. The A.I doesn’t really feel too smart but these guys occasionally will run at you or pop up with a shield which creates a harder confrontation. The seemingly bare combat is a shame as the rest of the game seems smart and fluid, the combat just doesn’t bring depth and interest like the other features and activities in the game, not that there’s anything particularly wrong with it.
Along this treacherous journey there’s plenty for Lara to sniff out including GPS tags which glint when you get close to them, you have your Survival Instincts Vision feature to use which is handy when trying to spot treasures. When you have this vision enabled you can spot items of interest as they glow orange, you can also upgrade this to pick up on GPS tags and Artifacts too which drags you deeper into the whole experience. Lara also has an experience bar which can be filled in many ways through combat, treasure finding and even some good old fashion animal hunting.
Ultimately the levels/areas are really engaging with a secret tomb to find in each, along with scattered Artifacts and some bad guys to punish. You’ll scale huge cliffs in the rain and rope slide through broken down villages which creates a feeling of freedom. The gameplay is smooth and ensures you enjoy Lara’s journey to the full. The range of weapons is just varied and balanced enough to create different combat situations and won’t leave you craving more. The collectables and challenges will turn you into a keen explorer without you really noticing it which is why this game rates so highly, it’s woven almost perfectly into itself. The games mix of adventure, peril and combat works so well you’ll want to get lost in Lara’s adventure for hours, the deep and moving plot will only make this urge stronger as you find out more about this femme fatale and her beginnings. All of this you can track really easily too, using the in-game menu system, which again is easy to navigate. You can check out your Artifacts to see which ones you’re missing, the same with documentation. You can take a look at anything you’ve missed by hovering over the appropriate camping site when in Fast-Travel, here you will see a list of in-area objectives and your current percentage of completion. This makes Tomb Raider a game that is very tempting to go all out on to get that 100% target competition.
Lara herself has so much character and charm as you get so see her with her shipmates in her more natural state of mind, figuring out the next part of their expedition and in some pretty extreme situations too. There’s such a vast array of varied situations, so you really do get a good sense of who she is; a strong adventurer and a damn good friend. The voice acting is produced to such a high quality that it adds much depth to the dialogue and to the relationships between Lara and the characters in game.