Developers: Crystal Dynamics
Publishers: Square Enix
Plot: A young Lara is stranded on an island with her crew trapped by supernatural storms and a crazed cult.
Tomb Raider is back. The franchise has been dragging its feet for a while now, with a small spark of glory with the Legends game. Sadly, Underworld was a disappointing finish for the Keeley Hawes trilogy and the writers had to look elsewhere for inspiration. They decided to go back to the drawing board (a move done so often with the genre, it kind of loses originality), and do a gritty reboot of the beloved character. Before the tombs, the fighting and the fancy butler: this is Lara as we have never seen her before.
The game gives us some great characters to follow. Lara herself is an interesting person to explore. She is obviously rich, but she is passionate about exploring tombs, putting money into expeditions. It never really becomes a plot point here, meaning there is no fancy gadget to get her out of a sticky situation in this game. There are several side characters, almost becoming clichéd like a horror movie cast. There’s the wise old man, the funny guy, the damsel in distress, the self-centred celebrity and the tough woman who doesn’t trust you. While they are unimaginative at a basic level, great dialogue (the most natural I’ve ever seen in a game), makes these characters become more than a stereotype and we begin to actually get scared, when they wander off for too long on their own.
Sadly, there are times when there is too much character development and story for the game’s own good. For the first half an hour of this game, you feel like you are watching a movie that asks you to tap X every now and again. Not until deep into the story do you really get to have an effect on how the action is carried out. It has been sold as an open world game, but the story is pretty much linear with little things to do on the side. It feels like Arkham Asylum, yet there is such an urgency to the mission (quick, save the stranded pilot!), that there is never a good time to do that optional tomb that has just come up on your map. Sure, when the main story is done, there is time to do this, but it never came across as an open world game, which was disappointing.
Not that the linear story is a bad thing. The game gives us a great story and a fantastic gaming experience to go with it. For the first hour of the game, we are scared for ourselves. Lara is terrible at hand-to-hand combat, meaning that if one of the cult members gets within grabbing distance you are in trouble. When a thug runs at you with an axe, the panic kicks in. When you are caught in the open, weaponless, you are often gunned down mercilessly. This game really knows how to get the adrenaline pumping. Even wins feel hollow. The amount of times I have been caught off-guard and have assumed I am dead, only to scrape a win by the skin of my teeth. You always feel like the victim in this game, right until the moment, when the game decides to let Lara get the upper hand. And that moment is freaking glorious.
Oh, and when the game says gritty reboot, it means ‘gritty’. There are some dark, gruesome moments in this game. When you die, you are often treated to a shot of Lara lying on the ground, her last rattling breaths being choked out of her. It is a tough watch at times. Even when you survive, you are often treated to clambering through piles of corpses. There is one nasty scene when Lara is forced to cauterise her own wounds. The writers really want to push this idea that Lara is not just some tidy, predictable game character. She can be dark when the writers need her to be. Once you’ve gotten over that shock, it is good to know that the games have evolved into this. This game is what Batman Begins is to the rest of the Batman movies.
Sometimes I felt the game needed to focus on an enemy other than the men. There is a change of enemies later on in the game, which I shall leave a mystery here, but I missed some of the animal enemies. The wolves in this version were particularly tough. They blended into the forest around them and were remarkably quick. However, as soon as the cult was properly introduced, the wolves faded into the early levels of the game. Not that the human opponents weren’t fun to fight, but I feel like there was a whole other avenue of the game to be explored.
I truly loved playing this game, but the promises of an open-world adventure weren’t really fulfilled. Sadly, I believe that the hype of this game made it impossible for Tomb Raider to meet my expectations. I did thoroughly enjoy this game and want to play through it again as soon as I get an additional chance. There is room for a great sequel in this, but I hope the writers think before they leap. Otherwise this reboot franchise could get old very fast. I will give the little nostalgic moment at the end of the game with villain Matthias two thumbs-up. It was a great touch to end the game with.
Final verdict: A fantastic, gritty reboot, promising a lot more from Lara in the near future.