It’s been a long time since anyone has seen a new Tomb Raider game, and even longer since a main game in the series has been good. Needless to say, hype was high surrounding Crystal Dynamics’ reboot; a hype that was further enhanced by epic trailers, controversy, and, you know, actually looking like a good game. Now that Tomb Raider is finally released to the masses, does it reinvigorate a series that was on its last leg? Here’s the review for Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider tells the story of Lara Croft. This isn’t the Lara that players will recognize from any other game in the series, though. This version of the iconic character is young, impulsive, and, most importantly, an amateur at just about everything. When her boat, and crew along with it, washes up on shore on the island of Yamatai, Lara and her friends are engaged in the fight of their lives against enemies both real and supernatural. This setting provides an amazing backdrop to tell a harrowing tale of survival. Early on in the game, Lara is solely focused on surviving her first moments on the island. She escapes captivity, but then is charged with taking shelter from rain, fending off wolves, and finding a weapon and food. It isn’t until a solid hour or so into the game that the action ramps up, successfully pushing Lara over the brink into full-on heroine mode, though the change happens gradually over the course of the campaign.
The story is expertly written as long as it involves Lara. The tertiary characters, save her best friend, Sam, and mentor, Roth, are all criminally underwritten. It never hurts the story, but it’s easy to notice the one-dimensional representation of everyone else on the island when Lara is so well-written. The same is said for the game’s villain, Mathias, who has an interesting backstory that is revealed through collectibles, but if you don’t seek those out, you’ll never have a good grasp on his character because the script doesn’t provide him many opportunities to become a real character.
As Lara fights her way through the island , players will see a location that gradually opens itself up to become a fully explore-able playground. The game initially feels linear, but once it opens up there are a multitude of possibilities for Lara to collect items, complete challenges, and find hidden tombs. Courtesy of outstanding game design, the whole island isn’t opened up to the player right away. Instead, you will unlock items as you play through the story that give Lara the means to further explore the island, encouraging you to revisit areas if you want to find everything. As an added bonus, exploring is actually fun. Whether you are climbing, jumping, or sliding your way around the environment, it’s as fun in the final minutes as it is the first few times you do it. It speaks to how well-designed the game is when you’ll want to explore the island and find every last collectible once you finish the story, which is something most games can’t achieve.
Lara will also find herself a small arsenal as players progress through the game. The shooting is surprisingly fun, not matter which weapon you are using. They all feel outstanding to wield, and each comes with a variety of attachments and customization options that you can unlock by collecting salvage scattered about the island. Pair this with Lara’s ability to level up as she completes certain actions, and you‘ve got an amazing amount of depth when it comes to customizing the heroine. By the end of the game, Lara will be fully outfitted to fight the toughest of enemies, though the combat remains a challenge throughout due to a reliance on players’ reflexes and accuracy, more than their ability to hunker down behind cover and wait for enemies to pop around corners.
As if a great story and awesome gameplay weren’t enough, Tomb Raider also looks great. The environments are the star here, as you’ll run the gamut from swampy forests to snow covered peaks. The variety of locales this island sports is impressive, and it helps keep the game fresh, no matter how long you’ve been playing. The character models are also exceptional, especially Lara. Her animations are some of the best seen on consoles today, and her voice acting helps sell everything her character goes through. Much like how they were written, the rest of the characters are serviceable, but not memorable. If there’s one complaint to be had in the production department, it’s that the sound is cranked up too loud, and it often blows out speakers at loud moments, which is a strange issue, but definitely one that can come from the game, and not from your home theater settings.
If it sounds like there isn’t much not to like about Tomb Raider, that’s because there isn’t. Tomb Raider is one of the best games of this console generation. Aside from the entirely forgettable multiplayer mode, everything about this game is perfection. The developers at Crystal Dynamics should be proud of what they’ve accomplished here, and hopefully they don’t wait until the end of the next generation before releasing another game in the franchise. Lara Croft is back at the top of the heap, and this new version of Tomb Raider is a benchmark that future action games will attempt to compare to, though few will succeed in the way Crystal Dynamics has here.