Lara Croft is a young archaeologist on the ship Endurance. She is accompanied by Roth, an old Croft family friend and former Royal Marine, her friend Sam, as well as Alex, Reyes, Grim, and a celebrity archaeologist named Dr. Whitman. The Endurance crash lands on an island, which turns out to be Yamatai, a lost Japanese empire that they had been looking for. A bloodthirsty, strange cult shows up to the shipwreck and tries to capture and kill the outsiders. Lara soon discovers that the cult is led by a madman named Mathias. Lara narrowly escapes capture at the hands of Mathias's men, and must track down her friends and escape the island.
The plot is very well done, and there is a real sense of mystery from the get-go that only grows, even as Lara uncovers new information about Yamatai and the cult. Her rational outlook on the world is challenged by seemingly supernatural events and phenomena, as well as her morality about killing, which quickly becomes necessary for survival. The game's writing is superb, and Lara is a fully three-dimensional character that changes throughout the game, from scared and confused to a confident adventurer that will do whatever it takes to rescue her friends. There are some twists along the way, but nothing groundbreaking. Overall, the plot is very well done, and suits the game perfectly.
After initially escaping the cult, Lara comes across a bow, and finds a handgun, machine gun, and shotgun throughout the course of the game. The weapons can be upgraded with the use of salvage, which is found in crates, lockers, enemy corpses, and animal corpses. Along with the salvage, there are parts around Yamatai that are specifically used to upgrade a particular weapon. The upgrades are what you would expect: reload, ammunition capacity, damage, recoil, and so on, as well as upgrading weapons to another level - the makeshift bows upgrades into the recurve bow, and the WWII submachine gun upgrades into the assault rifle, for example. XP is gained through story progression, killing enemies and animals, finding collectibles, and solving puzzles. XP and salvage are used at campfires throughout the game, and occasionally at campfires, Lara will sometimes open up about how she is, what is going on; this is called Lara's Diary, and there are 10 entries throughout the game. Campfires also allow the player to fast travel to other areas, which you will be using if you want to get into areas that you originally couldn't without certain gear/weapons.
Exploration is the primary focus of the game, and it is done sublimely. Mini-puzzles are integrated into the exploration, and it feels very natural to solve mini-puzzles to open up a new path. Fire, wind, gravity, and rope arrows are just a few elements that are used throughout the game. Lara can climb rock walls and use valves with the help of a climbing axe, shoot rope arrows to create zip lines, and much more. Takedowns, arrow kills, and headshots. Enemy AI is smart, and will use cover and fire (such as fire arrows, molotovs, and barrels of fuel) to their advantage; fire is particularly devious, as it sets the area on fire and forces the player to find new cover. Sometimes the combat can break the immersion the game creates, but not very often. You'll find that, far more often than not, stealthily sniping an entire group of unaware enemies is a pleasure.
Lara will sometimes enter chase sequences, and it's usually more a case of running away, sliding and floating down white water rapids full of debris. Quicktime events are often used in cases where Lara is captured or attacked by a wolf, and they are pretty intuitive. QTEs such as those typically consist of mashing the left and right keys and then pressing the melee or interact buttons. I have died a number of times due to a couple particularly difficult QTEs, but that was mostly because I didn't know what to expect.
For the most part, this game is linear, and in my opinion, this is a good thing, as it keeps a fast pace. You always have a set goal that requires progression into new areas, but these areas are done well, as they are vast and begging to be explored. Tomb Raider does a fantastic job at balancing linearity and an open world. The controls of this game are very good, which is a common complaint with third-person adventure games. I can honestly say that I have never been frustrated with the controls in this game.
Tombs are, of course, in the game, though they are optional and mostly yield little bits of lore as well as nice XP and salvage bonuses. The puzzles are very natural and free-flowing, and require a fundamental understanding of the game's physics. The tomb puzzles aren't extremely difficult, but do require you to have the entire piece and use them in the right way. Just like parts of the normal game, fire, gravity, and wind are often a big part of the tomb puzzles.
The ambient sound is well done, such as wildlife and natural phenomena such as wind and water. The voice acting is extremely professional, and Camilla Luddington, who voices Lara, stands out as easily the best voice acting in the game. You can hear the emotion in Lara's voice, her pain, her frustration, and more.
This game is gorgeous. The island of Yamatai is simply jaw dropping, with waterfalls, caves, mountainside villages, downed WWII-era fighters, ships, and much more, all of which looks lifelike. The opening cutscene of the game is the best I've seen in a game in a long time, and if you squint you could almost swear that you were watching a movie.
Faces are extremely well done - particularly Lara's. You can see the dirt, blood, and emotion on Lara's face and body. Don't get me wrong, though, all the characters are exceptionally detailed, and facial animation is exceptional. This is the current apex of video game graphics, in my humble opinion.
I haven't played a lot of it, but there is multiplayer that should tack on a hefty amount of play time, as well as the fact that there is no shortage of collectibles (various ancient, WWII, and modern era items and documents that all give XP for being discovered). By my estimate, the single player alone could take 10-15 hours to complete, and around 20-30 if one is going for a 100% playthrough without a walkthrough.
While this is a game that you will likely finish and (other than multiplayer) put away, I would highly recommend buying Tomb Raider, simply because it is one of those rare games that sucks you in and doesn't let go. The story pacing, vast amount of interactivity and the true bond you’ll feel with Lara are nothing short of spectacular.