Even though the Tomb Raider franchise hasn't always been at the forefront of gaming, nobody can deny its sheer power. Sporting the most recognisable female protagonist around in Lara Croft, it's been able to go through numerous changes in direction and brand, while also having a change in studio in the middle. Lesser franchises would have folded, but Tomb Raider is rather resilient. And it's something which Crystal Dynamics have been keen to showcase with their plucky, younger version of Lara Craft in the latest iteration of the Tomb Raider franchise.
Previous Tomb Raider games have focussed on a hardened, confident version of Lara Croft, but in this reboot, there's a strong emphasis on her youth. This is a story about how Lara Croft became who she is.
Trying to follow in her father's footsteps, Lara sets out on her first expedition. They're attempting to find the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai and if all goes well, they hope to sell their expedition to TV channels. All doesn't go well though, and after entering into a part of the sea known as the "Dragon's Triangle", their ship is ripped apart and they become stranded on an unknown island.
This island turns out to be the exact place they were looking for, but they aren't alone. There are a group of people living on the island who're lead by a man named Mathias. The super natural also comes into play and the story revolves around Lara trying to stop Mathias, while attempting to uncover exactly what's behind the freakish weather.
It's a decent plot and the introduction of a cast of characters makes the experience feel more complete. Not everything goes to plan and although the game doesn't delve too much into the back story of the other characters, the situation lends credence to what they have to go through.
In the early stages of the game, you will find yourself just trying to survive. After washing up on shore, you're captured and forced to escape from a rather grimy part of the island. It sets the scene in a fantastic way, as you're lost, alone and clinging to life. It's ironic really, because once you manage to meet up with one of the other survivors, it becomes more a mission about rescue than survival. Lara makes a quick transformation from someone who seems rather scared and out of her depth, someone who feels terrible remorse about killing a deer for food, to someone who has little problem taking down a horde of psycho killers.
It feels as though the game lost its way a little bit with this - the transformation of Lara Croft feels a little fast-tracked somehow.After the initial part of the game is over, Tomb Raider becomes much more open. The game is split up into different areas, many of which can be explored. This is part of the game's beauty, as you're able to venture back to these locations at almost any time to try and find hidden relics, or attempt to complete one of the various tombs.
This focus allows for the gameplay to retain some semblance of platforming, which is nice to see. It means that you aren't just pushed down a linear path the whole time - you're encouraged to see what each area has to offer. Once you unlock new items, you will also be able to access new sections to these areas.
As seems to be the rather "cool" thing at the moment, Lara's main focus is around the usage of a bow and arrow. Other weapons become available later on, but the bow is very much at the centre of what happens in the game. Without it, you wouldn't be able to solve most of the puzzles. To the game's credit, it's used in rather inventive ways. You have the standard "point and shoot", but you will also unlock napalm and explosive arrow tips. It also has secondary uses, such as being able to create zip lines and allowing Lara to pull objects. In short, it's implemented very well. So much so, that you might just find yourself using it for kicks, even if the other weapons are more suited - they just don't feel as badass.
As you go through your adventure, each of the four weapons can be upgraded. However, you'll have to obtain plans first. Going along with the whole "survival" aspect, you will constantly be finding scrap materials around and once plans have been obtained, this can then be used to upgrade your weapons. These upgrades range from adding a silencer to your pistol, to adding quick-change mags to your assault rifle. It's a nice touch, as it works with the whole concept the developers were going for.
Lara can also be "upgraded". By killing enemies, completing puzzles and finding artifacts, she will gain experience that can be used to enhance her skill set. There are 24 skills in total, which are divided into three different categories - surviving, hunting and brawling. As you can expect, the first enhances Lara's ability to scavenge, the second enhances her killing abilities, while the third makes her more "hardened".
There are some good concepts throughout. The platforming feels better than anything else out there, with the inclusion of expanded jumping ranges and climbing mechanics. The experience system also integrates well. However, it wouldn't be too harsh to say that the combat is perhaps not up to the same standard. It's still good, but it's not great.Outside of the standard ploughing through enemies, the whole stealth element isn't implemented that well. It's real shame given the nature of the experience. If you sneak up on opponents you're able to perform "stealth kills", but they quite often turn out to be the complete opposite. If you want to perform an actual stealth kill, your bow is your friend. Numerous times, the supposed melee stealth kill will lead to the enemy screaming out in pain - alerting his buddies. And yes, even though this is the case, you'll still gain additional experience for performing a stealth kill.
Other frustrations come in with the AI. If there are two guards, and one of them gets whacked by an arrow to the face, it's very frustration when the remaining guard knows exactly where the arrow came from. It's even worse when a guard stumbles upon a dead body by accident and still knows exactly where you are. It means that conflict more often than not just results in a full-on affair, where Lara has to fight off a mass of enemies - it's not very strategic.
When it comes to the visuals, Tomb Raider is on the positive end of the spectrum. There are still other games that look better though. Where the game excels, is with the fact that areas are self contained. It means that you're able to scale heights and look around and there are some fantastic vistas. It also means that many of the areas have distinct personalities.
Some credit should also be given to the game's animators, but it does feel as though more could have been achieved. There are instances where Lara is hurt or cold, but they are over all too quickly. Often these instances don't hamper gameplay, but if Lara injures her arm slightly, it would have been nice to see her seem affected by it for more than a few seconds.
Outside of the single player campaign, there's also a semi-extensive multiplayer experience. However, it just doesn't feel as though the same amount of care was poured into it. There are some good modes to play through, such as Rescue, but the gameplay feels poor in comparison to the main experience. The mechanics just don't translate that well and often the levels can just feel confusing due to the graphical style that's been employed.
In short, the multiplayer will probably be good for a short period of time, but it's difficult to see why, outside of the trophies/achievements, people would be drawn to it as a permanent fixture. People are more likely to spend time playing through the single player, as they attempt to find all of the collectable items in order to 100 percent the game.
As far as reboots go, Tomb Raider does a fantastic job. With this game, Crystal Dynamics have put their leading lady back in the spotlight for all the right reasons. Sure, there are things that could have been improved upon, such as consistency with the game's direction and the multiplayer, but overall Lara comes across as a strong, confident protagonist who is supported by a good cast in a decent story. There's also some very solid platforming in here too and plenty of collectables.
|The platforming is well implemented.|
|Usage of the bow is inventive and feels natural.|
|The cast have very important roles to play, even if they aren't featured a great deal.|
|The AI can be rather annoying.|
|Lara's character transformation feels a little bit abrupt sometimes.|
|Multiplayer really isn't the best around.|