This much awaited reboot of the renowned Playstation franchise has been met with some controversy and cynical speculation up until its release. Tomb Raider takes the story back to Lara Croft’s roots, telling the story of how she became the iconic character she is today.
Short answer its great. The game peaks at around the first two hours in an extraordinary opening and despite flashes of absolute brilliance later, there are a few pitfalls that stop it from being something special.
Tomb Raider opens with Lara and her crew’s ship being sunk by some unknown force mid-expedition, leaving her and all the plot-important crew stranded on an unknown island. From there on its a game of survival as Lara must reunite with her companions and find a way to be rescued. But of course its not that simple.
Lara wakes to find herself tied up in what looks like some form of sacrificial ritual hall and must escape and evade her captors all the while discovering the dark secrets of the Island, spanning generations and to stop her adversaries. Cliché? Yes. But it provides a rather enjoyable blockbuster fare with a dark twist that sets it apart, even if it is sometimes a bit jarring.
The first 2 hours where you frantically sneak around the jungle, bow in hand, discovering old bunkers and remnants of lost cultures, all the while avoiding enemies is absolutely astonishing. I don’t say that lightly, it was some of the most fun I’d had in ages, mixing high concept design and set-pieces with a slow, methodical gameplay was a win-win that is rarely ever seen and had me thinking it was game of the year material right there.
I just wish Tomb Raider had remained like this, and that’s honestly my biggest complaint. It almost achieves this perfect balance of desperate survival and enjoyable action, but unfortunately falls into typical underwhelming tropes that detract from the tone way too often. Uncharted-esque cover-based gun fights ensue with the typical enemy progression of tribal, militia, soldier, heavy soldier enemies etc and a few action heavy scenes become monotonous and uninspired if you’ve played any Third Person Shooter in the last couple of years. Scenes by themselves are great, but seeing Lara jump off a collapsing building at the last second, barely grabbing onto a ledge around 50 times becomes tiresome. Further Clichés involve the likes of Shielded enemies, grenades flushing you out of cover, turrets, unreliable cover and even a weapon upgrade system. These features only act to detract from the good. At it’s worst, some sections remind you eerily of those in Spec-Ops the Line or Far Cry 3 but played completely straight faced, without the ironic commentary.
That being said, the things Tomb Raider does well, it does really well, so much so as to make it possible to forgive the somewhat repetitive and predictable nature of some of the set-pieces. For one, the game is gorgeous, straight up gorgeous, with an attention to the minutia of every texture, lighting effect etc that is rarely seen in an environment this big and open. In fact, just about everything technical about this game is sublime. Special mention should go to the sound design, the cold drips and soft echoes throughout the caves and the soft rustling of bushes make the experience wonderfully atmospheric. It should be commended that a non horror title has put this much effort into crafting sound that so well reinforces the situation and mood.
The gameplay is varied with the aforementioned gunfights, sneaking and climbing familiar again to those who have played uncharted but more refined with new mechanics and items that switch up your play style being introduced all the way through, making a replay through the old areas with the tools to get to previously unreachable locations very appealing and immensely satisfying. The controls are responsive and it was rare that I found them a burden, which really is saying something for a Third Person Shooter PC port.
On a side note, The emphasis on female empowerment and the references to so called ‘feminist-fiction’ such as ‘The Descent’ really were a pleasant and welcome surprise and Lara’s character arc is especially great, even though it can sometimes be at odds with the somewhat power-fantasy-ish gameplay.
The other Characters as well as the story are so-so but that’s made up for by having incredibly interesting lore. Notebooks and artefacts from various time periods spanning the 1940’s to the 1600’s to present day are scattered around the semi open world, helping you fill in the blanks of the main story. These also help in gaining a greater understanding of the island and its interesting history. Normally these things are shoehorned in for completionists but the writers put a lot of effort into making it interesting and they pull it off.
For the £7.50 I got it for in a steam sale this was a steal. It’s worth the full price unlike a lot of AAA titles, it has actual replay value that doesn’t amount to ‘find all 100 things’ that far too many games default to. The astonishing amount of Tombs, gun parts, lore and artefacts to find and explore mean that I will probably be playing it over at least once more. Although the few places Tomb Raider squanders its potential it suffers as a result, holding it back from being what it could have been.