Lara Croft’s latest adventure is easily her best
Lara Croft is dead. This time, she was ripped apart by wolves. Death had also come in a variety of other forms before: boulders, bear traps, spikes to the throat–each over-the-top execution a display of vulnerability. These shocking moments were heavy-handed with their message, but it came across loud and clear: Lara Croft, the newLara Croft, isn’t a pistol-wielding superhero. She’s an inexperienced adventurer caught in the middle of a harrowing sequence of events. The only thing more surprising than the brutality Lara endures during Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider reboot is just how polished the whole experience is. Tomb Raider is a fantastic game and an excellent origin story for one of gaming’s original treasure seekers.
After getting shipwrecked on a mysterious island during her first-ever archaeology expedition, Lara finds herself in one life-or-death situation after another. Her crew is missing, and the island’s cult-like inhabitants are eager to kill her. The narrative’s dark, distressing tone is established right from the onset, and never once does it stray during Tomb Raider’s 15-hour campaign. This consistency builds a great deal tension and intrigue, and you’ll be eager to keep playing to see what will happen next.
Throughout the game, you’ll be tasked with solving elaborate puzzles and taking on sporadic groups of enemies in addition to plenty of platforming and exploration. After you finish Tomb Raider’s long-winded tutorial, it easily rivals the best Uncharted has to offer–and that’s not a claim made lightly. Where Uncharted props itself up on Nathan Drake’s charm, platforming prowess, and ability to shoot dudes in the head without getting bummed out, Tomb Raider’s foundation comprises excellent pacing and an ominous story of survival.
“Tomb Raider’s foundation comprises excellent pacing and an ominous story of survival.”
The development of Lara’s character is an integral part of that experience. She’s a far cry from the stylish adventurer you used to know. In the stead of a dolled up gunslinger is a do-what-it-takes female lead who’s intelligent and capable. It’s unsettling to watch her brave some truly disturbing situations–at times, Tomb Raider is more survival horror than action adventure–but she deals with it because death is the only alternative, culminating in her gratifying evolution from a green explorer to a seasoned survivor. It’s a shame that caliber of character development doesn’t extend to the supporting cast. Her shipwrecked friends are pretty generic characters who, while rarely annoying, just aren’t memorable.
But what those characters lack in magnetism is more than made up for by the incredible personality and mystery of the island setting. It’s a bizarre place filled with ancient shrines, World War II-era bunkers, and all sorts of relics and trinkets spanning multiple centuries. It’s always clear that something strange is going on, and the island’s secrets will tease you right up until the very end. You’ll explore a huge variety of environments, sectioned off into hub-like zones, while uncovering its enigma, too. From underground ruins and snow-laden mountain tops to lush forests and grim oceanside cliffs, no one area ever feels like a rehash of another, and the sheer amount of detail in each is impressive.
“…the island’s secrets will tease you right up until the very end.”
During Lara’s journey, you’ll encounter plenty of dangers. Traps, hostile cultists, and vicious animals alike will stand in your way. Nearly every battle feels like an intense battle to the death instead of just another shootout, and you’ll rarely encounter more than five or six enemies at a time. The enemy AI is great for the most part, as foes will kick over tables to form barricades or shoot off flares to call for help. Best of all, they often react realistically to your shots. Cap an enemy in the leg, for example, and he’ll go down to the ground where you can finish him off with a melee execution.
Lara’s inexperience shows through early on, as her shots are pretty inaccurate and weak. By defeating enemies, solving puzzles, and finding the many collectibles hidden on the island, you’ll gain experience points and resources for upgrading Lara’s skills and weapons. Other games that try to emulate the growth of an unseasoned shooter don’t pull it off quite like Tomb Raider does–by the end of the game, Lara’s transformation into a powerful heroine is noticeable and feels natural.
“Every encounter feels like an intense battle to the death instead of just another shootout.”
But Tomb Raider isn’t all about fighting. It’s totally common to spend five minutes exchanging fire with a group of enemies, then go 45 without seeing a soul. These breaks in battle are filled with great platforming segments, clever puzzles, and adrenaline-pumping set piece moments, and the pacing throughout is unrivaled by any other game in the genre. Even the rate at which Lara obtains new weapons and equipment–like rope arrows that open up new sections of some zones on the island–is admirable, as you’ll snag gear right up until the final chapters.
Tomb Raider’s single-player campaign alone is worth the price of admission, but its multiplayer component will be a welcome addition for those looking for a bit more longevity. Multiplayer maps are filled with climbable ledges, zip lines, and level-specific traps that are perfect for scoring easy kills. There are some pretty decent modes to keep things interesting for awhile, too, such as Cry for Help in which one team must capture a series of control points before the other kills and loots 20 players. That said, the multiplayer doesn’t feel fully realized, as it doesn’t really introduce anything new to keep you interested after a dozen matches or so.
“…the multiplayer doesn’t feel fully realized, as it doesn’t really introduce anything new to keep you interested…”
Even if you’ve never been a huge fan of Lara Croft’s fortune-hunting adventures, Tomb Raider is sure to impress. Its expert sense of pacing, captivating setting, and dark tone create a truly memorable experience that’s further enhanced by an immense level of detail. Lara Croft, the old Lara Croft, is dead. In place of a dolled-up gunslinger is a do-what-it-takes survivor–and we hope she hasn’t had her fill of adventuring just yet.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.