Tomb Raider | Gaming reviews, news & interviews
A triumphant reboot for the original queen of action-adventure
Like a faded star, wearing the moth eaten dresses of her past, still stalking a shuttered Hollywood set, Lara Croft has seen better days. Ah, the old days – she made or broke consoles, appeared on fashion magazine covers, had Angelina Jolie play her in the movies.
Lara Croft was the originator and undisputed queen of action-adventure. That was the old days. Her star has long faded, her crown snatched by the cheeky new tomb raider on the old block – Nathan Drake of the Uncharted series. But wait, what's this? A new, younger Lara? Could it possibly work? Thankfully, this audacious reboot doesn't just work – it delves deeper and goes further than rival Uncharted in several key areas. Given the series was languishing, a relic of old gaming, Tomb Raider is a triumph.
This origin story sees a teenage Lara off on her maiden voyage, trying to track down a mythical island queen. Unfortunately for her, the island turns out to be encircled by storms and stuffed full of shipwrecked psychopaths. In short order, Lara's forced to learn to climb, hide and, crucially, kill.
Compared to Uncharted's Drake, and every other action-adventure hero or heroine, the Lara Croft we see here is vulnerable – the scene showing the first time she fights back is brilliantly handled. And throughout the game there are regular reminders that this isn't the hardened adventuress of old, but a terrified teenage girl stuck in a genuinely grisly and grim situation. This makes her adventures more dramatic, our immersion in the story far more complete than her wisecracking, gun-toting rivals.
The initial stages lead you gently into the game. In fact there's too much leading in the first hour, but this gradually eases up, with the game increasingly letting you explore more and watch cut-scenes less. While the plot is a bit too intrusive throughout, there are still often times when you're left in a massive, open and complex area with lots of ways to get around it. Climbing, jumping, puzzling is all handled assuredly – particularly if you spend the time to hunt down the optional tombs and relics, or re-explore areas after the main plot.
This Tomb Raider also finally nails combat – gleefully stealing Uncharted's duck-and-cover action, but adding in a brilliant bow (seen to similar effect in Crysis 3). As well as cracking combat and jump puzzles, there's a lot of the extras seen in modern games – some more successful than others. The constant drip-feed of ability, weapon and item upgrades feels fairly tacked on, as do the multi-player modes and hunting animals and foraging plants. But even these point out ways the next Tomb Raider could be deeper, better.
For a reboot, this Tomb Raider is phenomenally successful – it offers a new, more human heroine and shows new directions forward for the series, all while, crucially, being great fun to play.
- Tomb Raider is out now. Developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Read other gaming reviews on theartsdesk
- Simon Munk on Twitter
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