I was never a huge “Tomb Raider” fan. I didn’t understand what the hoopla was about when the game first came on the scene in the early 90s. The controls were too cumbersome and the gameplay was lackluster. Over time, it seemed series creator Eidos was more interested in cashing in on its buxom heroine, Lara Croft, instead of delivering a truly stellar product.
Eidos understood this as it saw its beloved “Tomb Raider” series falling from grace. It attempted a reboot of sorts with “Tomb Raider Legend”. Critically acclaimed, Eidos looked to push the Lara Croft and the “Tomb Raider” series in a more adult-oriented direction, featuring a compelling storyline, easier controls and gameplay that was engrossing.
Unfortunately, Eidos took two steps back with “Tomb Raider Underworld”. The clunky controls were back along with the convoluted storyline and bland gameplay. It seemed the “Tomb Raider” series was destined to be relegated to the dustbin of gaming history on a sour note.
The bad news was that Eidos was retired permanently after the studio was bought by Japanese publisher Square-Enix. The company decided to give Lara Croft one more shot and allowed Crystal Dynamics another chance to rekindle gamers’ infatuation with the heroine. The product the developer made, “Tomb Raider”, is destined to become the standard bearer on how to relaunch a stale gaming series for a newer audience.
“Tomb Raider” is a prequel to all of those other games that were released prior to it. Here you are introduced to a young Lara Croft, fresh out of graduate school with naivety but a strong determination and an intellectual curiosity that we have come to know and love about the archeologist. The combination of naivety and intellectual curiosity is what sets the background for the beginning events of the game. Because she has to show herself to be as smart as or smarter than the lead archeologist, Dr. James Whitman, Lara convinces the Endurance captain, friend and family confidante Conrad Roth, to take a detour that can get them to the island of Yamatai much quicker.
This turns out to be a mistake. The Endurance is destroyed by fierce storms, its crew is scattered about the island and Lara is alone. What should have been a relatively straightforward and simple archeological mission becomes a quest for survival against wild animals, savage men, and an island that is under the influence of raging waters and storms.
Whereas the prior iterations of Lara Croft were brash and bold, the rebooted Lara is scared and vulnerable. She didn’t want to become a heroine; it was thrust upon her. As you guide Lara through her journey of survival on the predatory Yamatai Island, you see a woman who internalizes her pain and emotions and pushes herself through sheer physical will. There were times when you would expect Lara to break down and cry from her harrowing experience, such as after the first instance of coming into contact with sacrificed bodies or freeing herself from a booby trap only to fall on a piece of exposed rebar but she doesn’t allow herself to do it.
As Lara adventures through the island the odds are always against her. She will always be outgunned, flanked by aggressive enemies, and must constantly battle against the raging elements. Fortunately, Lara is not helpless as there are variety of weaponry and tools available to her, such as a bow and arrow, a pickaxe for climbing, and a variety of guns. Each of these can be upgraded to allow Lara to become a more lethal and efficient fighter. In addition, Lara gains experience points which can be used to augment her abilities to become more proficient at finding resources, using her weaponry or searching out secrets that is hidden throughout the game.
Crystal Dynamics also revamped the control mechanics for Lara Croft. Shooting, dodging, and navigating the terrain is very responsive and fluid. The only downside is that the camera is sometimes slow to keep pace with Lara. As a result of the poor camera angles you will sometimes ambushed by enemies that is out of the camera’s view or, because the controls reverse themselves due to poor angling, an erroneous input causes Lara to fall off a cliff. Outside of this error the gameplay is otherwise smooth.
If there is one problem with the game it is that after you beat it there’s not much else to do in the game. Sure the game has multiplayer for those who are interested in playing that but the game does not offer much in terms of replay value for the main game. Collecting all of the items and completing all of the challenges can potentially stretch “Tomb Raider” out to a thirty hour game. However, if that kind of stuff does not interest you expect to beat the game in about twelve hours. After I beat the game I found myself wanting more and was disappointed in not being able to do anything else within the game. Hopefully there will be some downloadable content that will at least warrant another visit to the game.
Even though it is a short game with no replay value, “Tomb Raider” is a game that everyone should experience. Crystal Dynamics has managed to make Lara Croft fresh and meaningful again without having to focus on her “assets”. The characters are not one-dimensional, there is an interesting storyline, and there is a lot to do in the game. However, the most important part of the game, Lara Croft, is given a new lease. This Lara Croft is likable, believable, and endearing. When other game companies look to remake some of their older series or bring sequels to dead series, they all should keep in mind what Crystal Dynamics has done with Lara Croft and “Tomb Raider”. She and her game are now the benchmark by which other games that seek to remake themselves will be measured.