Lara Croft originally bust (quite literally) onto the gaming scene in 1996 with the release of the first Tomb Raider. In a time when female gaming characters were little more than victims or hostages, Lara's busty and attractive design along with the mixture of 3D platforming and exploration proved to be an instant hit with the adolescent male gaming population. However, the years were not kind to Lara as a number of less than stellar releases had relegated her to borderline obscurity and bargain bin status.
When developer Crystal Dynamics took over the IP from series creator Core, they realized they had their work cut out for them in order to make Lara relevant to an entirely new generation of gamers. They honed their chops by releasing an anniversary compilation of her previous titles and also released Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light; a top down isometric shooter that was a drastic change from any previous title she had starred in until that point. They pitched the idea of a series reboot and an origin story, which given the previous title's lack of success made sense. A reboot of the series allowed them the freedom to work with an existing IP while allowing them to stamp their creative vision on the series.
The story begins with a younger, more realistically proportioned and clothed Lara on board the SS Endurance for what is presumably her first archeological dig. The ship and crew get caught in a massive storm as they approach the Dragon’s triangle in search of an island that an ancient civilization of Yamatai were rumored to have inhabited. The opening hour or so of the game has Lara narrowly escaping with her life on a number of occasions from both environmental dangers as well as hostile inhabitants of the island.
A survivor is born
Crystal Dynamics chose this tagline for the reboot of the series and does a good job showing the progression of Lara from an innocent and naïve individual to a hardened woman through a number of excellently scripted set pieces including a memorable trip down a raging river that also involves a parachute. During the course of the game the island becomes a character itself and you encounter a wide variety of locales from lush island forests, shantytowns, a decrepit WWII base and a monastery that has supernatural elements. Not once during the 15-18 hours it takes to complete the game did I feel that these environments were forced or out of place. The development team did a great job of seamlessly working these environments into the game in a believable manner.
Scattered throughout the island are tombs, documents, relics, GPS caches and challenges that are all optional for the player but provide valuable experience and salvage that is necessary to increase Lara’s odds of survival as well as upgrading her weapons. I particularly liked the way Crystal Dynamics handled this aspect of the game and while fans may cry foul due to the lack of massive puzzle filled tombs, the smaller tombs serve the narrative of the story better while maintaining a high level of immersion for the player. By the end of the game, Lara had been through hell and back, her appearance tattered and torn and her demeanor reflected that of someone who had experienced what she had on the island. Gamers only interested in experiencing her origin story can skip a majority of that content; just know that you will be doing yourself a huge disservice if you choose to do so as they provide a fair amount of insight into both Lara as well as the island and its inhabitants.
Lara is back in a big way
When you are playing through this game it is clear to see that Crystal Dynamics truly loves Lara and the Tomb Raider property as they are both handled with the utmost care and respect throughout the entire game. This game has an extremely high level of polish throughout all aspects and mechanisms within the game and during my playthrough I only encountered two minor glitches that were easily rectified by restarting from my last checkpoint and both times only resulted in me losing a few moments of progress. The graphics are among the best of this generation and while comparisons to Nathan Drake and the Uncharted series are inevitable, I found both the gunplay and platforming in this title to be significantly tighter and better than those found in their counterpart (one of the only complaints that can be leveled against Uncharted).
Budget conscious gamers can expect to get around 15-18 hours on a first playthrough depending on how thoroughly you search the island. I completed the game with a completion percentage of 92% and was right around the 18 hour mark. The game also ships with an adequate if not unnecessary multiplayer mode including your standard deathmatch, rescue, and free for all modes. Players interested in the multiplayer should expect around another 15-20 hours to reach max level and unlock most of the content available in multiplayer. So expect anywhere from roughly 15-40 hours of entertainment for your dollar. While the game lacks a new game+ or multiple endings, you do have the ability to freely roam around the island after you’ve beaten the game in search of collectibles and the like.
I for one, cannot wait to begin a new play through as the polish, storytelling and handling of one of my favorite gaming characters leads to this game being one of the best games released this generation and a great starting point for the character. Fans of Lara Croft who had long since given up on the character owe it to themselves to experience the rebirth of an icon. The games ending hints at new adventures and I can’t wait to see what the team at Crystal Dynamics has in store for one of gaming’s most beloved females in the future.