Believe it or not we’ve been going on adventures with Lara Croft now for nearly 17 years. During that time we’ve seen many changes to the franchise and Lara herself. There have been many games released on various platforms over the years and the series also spawned a couple of decent movies. It’s now time for a change again as Lara is back in the simply titled Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider is actually the first major reboot of the series which explores her origin story. The game takes a look into Lara’s past and aims to explain her transition from young archaeologist to fearless action heroine. Reboots of series are fairly common place but they can risk upsetting long-time fans if the end result is widely different. We’re happy to say that with Tomb Raider there’s no need to worry as Crystal Dynamics have pretty much nailed it.
The story behind Tomb Raider is strong and well written with a full cast of well realised characters. The game begins aboard a research vessel called Endurance. Lara is part of an expedition team who are being filmed for a documentary about their search for the lost kingdom of Yamatai. The search is taking place in the Dragon’s Triangle off the coast of Japan. A freak storm rips the ship apart and the survivors wash up on a mysterious island that comes complete with cultish inhabitants and an ancient lost civilisation. However this is just the beginning of a near relentless series of events that begin Lara’s transformation.
For the next few hours Lara is put through a horrific ordeal that affects her physically and psychologically. With constant large falls as well as being beaten, bitten, impaled, shot and almost drowned you really feel Lara’s pain. It’s tough to watch and when you get things wrong you get to see some rather gruesome deaths too.
Each step you take on this journey with Lara helps you understand how she grows into the character we know from previous games. You get to experience Lara needing to find food and realising she needs to hunt and kill animals to do so. The game makes you shiver as you see Lara sat freezing cold trying to get warm by a campfire. You also see her discover a dead body and her reaction to killing someone for the first time. The game makes you feel her vulnerability and you kind of feel protective of her. You soon realise that you need to do whatever it takes in order to survive.
Lara is very mobile and she controls extremely well. Moving around the environments is easy and as you gear up more options become available to you. These include the ability to climb craggy rock faces as well as shooting rope arrows to move structures or connect large gaps. The left shoulder button uses Lara’s Survival Instinct ability which highlights important objects. It’s a useful ability and can help put you on the right path if you get stuck. Some players might not like this addition to the game so it’s worth pointing out that it is completely optional.
The game is full of spectacular set-pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in a blockbuster movie. Many of these sequences give you limited control and some make use of dreaded QTE’s. Fortunately they are well done and easily passed with a little trial and error as the worst punishment the game gives you is a quick restart.
The island is large and refreshingly there isn’t much constraint on where you go next which allows you to choose your path. As you progress you find campsites where Lara can rest or use to fast travel to previous campsites. This allows you to go where you want and is essential for going back to find all the various collectibles on offer. Each area is littered with hidden secrets and there are Relics, Documents, GPS caches, Treasure maps and Secret Tombs to find as well as Challenges to complete. The optional Tombs you find around the island bring back the kind of puzzles seen in previous games. None are too taxing but they do provide a little head scratching and it’s very satisfying when you beat one.
The combat is very solid and Lara can use a variety of guns or opt for her bow. The bow is incredibly useful for distracting enemies so you can take them out silently from range or melee. How you tackle enemies is entirely up to you as the game makes it possible to go for all out action or to creep around stealthily. When enemies are close by Lara automatically goes into stealth mode allowing you to stay hidden while you position yourself and decide your next move.
Fallen enemies and items around the island provide salvage that you can use to upgrade your gear. When you have enough salvage you can use it at campsites to craft upgrades. This might be increasing the rate of fire and damage output of your bow or taping bullet magazines together to allow more shots before needing to reload a gun.
Everything you do in game grants you XP and certain things like killing an enemy with a headshot awards more. Lara gains skill points which can be spent on one of three talent trees – Survivor, Hunter and Brawler. Where you spend skill points will depend on your preferred play style as you can boost things such as how much salvage you obtain, how much ammo you can carry and the amount of damage you can deal.
Graphically the game is stunning and as with previous games the action is mostly viewed from a third-person perspective. The camera is fantastic and at times it moves to a more cinematic view which really helps you connect with the game. Lara’s animations are some of the best we’ve seen. Also the soundtrack accompanies the game extremely well and the voice acting is of a very high standard.
Tomb Raider is the first game in the franchise to feature online multiplayer. There are three team-based modes on offer – Cry for Help, Rescue and Team Deathmatch – and a free-for-all mode. The team modes put teams of four against each other with one team playing Survivors and the other playing the island cultists, the Solarii. Players can choose their character from an initial selection and unlock others. It is also possible to create loadouts for each team suited to your play style.
Team Deathmatch and Free for all are pretty standard modes that most players will be familiar with. Cry for Help is a round-based mode where the Survivors battle to activate radio transmitters while the Solarii try to prevent them. Rescue is a bit like Capture The Flag where the Survivors must go and retrieve medical supplies and the Solarii need to kill them by execution to score.
At launch there are five maps on offer – Beach, Chasm, Monastery, Shrine and Underground. Some of these maps feature locations comparable to the main game while others expand the island. The multiplayer is fast paced and features similar but expanded controls to the main game. The biggest difference is the addition of a sprint option.
The inclusion of multiplayer is a surprise for a Tomb Raider game but it’s actually a pretty decent first attempt. Players who want to unlock everything will need to put serious time into it to reach the cap of level 60. The mode is to be continually expanded via premium DLC and hopefully this includes tweaks based on player feedback.
Overall Tomb Raider is an absolute triumph and a fantastic reboot of the series. The main campaign is more than enough reason to buy the game and it will keep most players busy for a good 15 hours. This is by far the best Tomb Raider game of the series so we’re pretty confident that we’ll be seeing many more adventures for Lara.