Lara Croft has been one of the most famous, if not THE most famous, female main characters in any video game in history. She first hit consoles worldwide in 1996 with the first TOMB RAIDER game and has since appeared in ten games in the following seventeen years including yesterday's release for PC, Playstation 3 and XBOX 360. She is basically Indiana Jones with short shorts and a hell of a bust. Unlike previous entries in the franchise, this TOMB RAIDER shows us a naive, inexperienced Croft. The game is a prequel taking place before the events of the other games...and it is a pretty exciting and viscious one at that. Think of this game as the Casino Royale or Batman Begins of the Tomb Raider franchise.
The game begins with Croft on a research vessel headed for a mysterious island several miles off the coast of Japan. As per usual Croft and an assortment of other characters are after fame and fortune dealing with a hidden relic on this supposedly deserted island. Of course things don't go as smoothly as the characters would have wanted and the ship capsizes in a violent storm in what one character described as the Bermuda triangle times ten.
As fate would have it Croft and the others crash upon the island they were searching for. It is here that Lara learns to survive in the wild: hunting, scavenging, rock climbing and...eventually...kill her first opponent. Unlike previous entries in the frasnchise, which have all benn rated T+ by the MSRB, this game holds nothing back and unleashes the violence and fury in full M rated glory. When you kill a deer or wolf for food or kill one of the bad guys with machine guns coming after you...well...it gets messy. The game pulls no punches and instead goes for relative realism the whole way and it was a brave decision by the developers to do this.
The game itself is absolutely gorgeous to look at and the level designers did a fantastc job of creating an intensely moody atmosphere in their rain drenched jungle terrain. The sound is also excellent and involving. The sounds of the wolves lurking in the bushes or lunging at you when you least expect it is enough to keep you on your toes and keep your bow and arrow or pistol at the ready. Or the sound of armed patrolmen talking to themselves and walking past you as you crouch down behind a rock, praying they don't spot you. Everything is as near perfect for this kind of game as it could ver hope to be.
It's not hard to see how many notes the developers of TOMB RAIDER have taken from Sony's immensely popular and successful Uncharted series. True Lara Croft was around way before Nathan Drake, the hero of Uncharted, Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3, but the way the game has been designed and the way it plays out feels an awful lot like Uncharted, only grounded in reality more than spectacle. Lara Croft is more of a vulnerable character as opposed to Nathan Drake whom always seems to have an answer for all the puzzles and chaos and brushes off the hundreds of people he kills as if they were flies. That's not insulting Uncharted as they are excellent games, but this Lara Croft is a more relatable character. She feels the toll of her adventure, as do we. Once again, just another great choice by the developers.
In closing, TOMB RAIDER is an excellent game. The level design, sound design and story are all top notch and keep the game relentlessly playable. If you enjoy these kinds of games then don't think twice about picking this up, especially if you are already a fan of the previous games. Rest assured, Square-Enix has done an excellent job revitalizing Lara Croft for this generation and we, the gamers, are all the better for it. Kudos to all involved.
This review was for the PS3 version of the game.