The first thing you realize about the newest Tomb Raider version of Lara Croft is she takes a lot of punishment. Nothing in the game goes easy for her.
In fact, it’s hard to believe she can survive large drops, grievous wounds and several captures — all after a violent shipwreck on a mysterious island. But she does, with enough pluck and tenacity to make her one of the coolest heroes we’ve seen in awhile.
This new Tomb Raider, developed by Crystal Dynamics, is meant to give us Lara’s origin story, to explain how she became a extreme explorer badass that we’ve seen in the nine previous Tomb Raider games.
Lara has always been smart and tough, but because of her notable physical “assets,” the games could easily be cast aside as exploitative. Re-imagining Lara with her substantial backstory will extend her shelf-life and hopefully open a path for more great games to come.
Before Tomb Raider‘s release, the marketing team faced some unfortunate blowback. One reviewer opined the game was designed for players to “protect” Lara, because she’s so “weak” and “helpless.” The outrage was anything you’d expect, but I’m glad to report there isn’t a shred of “helplessness” in this game.
Lara hardly feels comfortable landing on an uncharted island, but she’s far from incapable. When you’ve first crashed, Lara’s voice quakes, she curses a lot and she moves more delicately across this unexplored world. But the story is smartly written: Lara has good reason to be so adept at climbing, shooting and exploring. Still, she’s got a way to go to get there, and her metamorphosis is fun to watch.
The character is expertly voiced by actress Camilla Luddington, and while Lara’s in-game monologuing might not be for everyone, it adds a lot of immersive element to the game. You’d probably yell “shit!” a lot, too, if you just saw a bunch of bodies hanging from the ceiling.
That definitely diminishes as you get to the heart of the game, as Lara becomes more confident. She was a character I found myself really liking, an awesome representation of what a female action hero should be. Please, game creators, more of this.
From the moment you swing down to the floor after being captured, Tomb Raider doesn’t let up. It feels like a breathless action movie from start to finish — an enjoyable rush.
A lot of players will compare the game to Uncharted because of the environmental obstacles, and it’s not an unflattering comparison. But Tomb Raider has always been known for great jumping and exploration sequences, too, and this reboot does that justice. Whether you’re exploring a gutted airplane shell or racing across collapsing rooftops, you’ll get an adrenaline rush.
Crystal Dynamics paid special attention to the camera work in this game. Even though it’s in third-person, the camera gets right up in Lara’s perspective, say, if she’s traveling through a claustraphobic cavern. When you’re climbing high, the camera falls way back, giving you and Lara the shared experience of feeling very small and vulnerable.
The only times the action takes a break are during some of the game’s Quicktime events, when players have to hit certain buttons at the right moments to complete a cinematic action. It will often be when you’re sneaking along a dark cave or up on a passage, whereupon you’re suddenly grabbed by the enemy. You’ll have to toggle the joysticks and hit some perfectly-timed buttons to escape without being killed. Make any assumption you want about my abilities, but I usually failed these on the first try — it’s a jarring and game-stopping moment, especially when you have a rhythm going. When events like that have multiple series of buttons you have to time just right, it’s not really testing your gaming skill or making the the game more enjoyable; it’s just kind of lazy. Not all of them were bad; the prompts that employ your shotgun to clear away rubble while careening down a waterfall were well-timed and fun, but I think the game relies too much on Quicktime events for fights, especially early on.
This one criticism aside, the action and combat are evenly balanced, generally. It’s obvious the game’s creators tried to ramp up the level of combat to make Tomb Raider a bit more modern, and generally it holds up well, especially because most battles had a sneaky way to climb up to enemies for a better shot.
For those who love the exploration parts of the original games, Tomb Raider has a bit of an open world feel, so you can explore hidden temples. Twice when straying off the beaten path, I found small temples full of collectables, usually ancient artifacts that contained clues.
You can also use other collectables to upgrade weapons, and find geocaching points to increase your map size. Though the game is hardly a sandbox, there is more exploration available than some more linear action games. You’re even able to warp back to previous spots with a fast travel system, available from your campfires.
Reimagining a popular franchise like Tomb Raider had to be a risky choice, but it’s one that paid off. Players are treated to a more realistic and awesome Lara Croft, a fantastic story and some of the most fun action you’ll find in recent months. Before the game season picks up, it’s worth purchasing Tomb Raider, out Tuesday for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.