The credits roll and I am greeted with a thank you message for playing and completing the reimagining of Lara Croft. Black and white photos show members of the development team beaming with pride. Another thank you message, this time for ‘all the Tomb Raider fan pages and forums that have shown support since 1996’ (each one is listed and there are a lot of them!) It all shows that this is not just another reboot. This is a labour of love, care, attention, perception and self-awareness of what it means to get this right.
Back to the beginning and this new Tomb Raider does not waste any time at all as we immediately witness the shipwreck of the ship Endurance, the chaos that follows and the task of our hero that lies ahead. The storyline for this origin story is simple, typical and yet highly appropriate. There’s a strange island, dangerous inhabitants and mystic powers at work. It’s no secret that the emphasis is on survival and how that creates a hero we already love and will love all over again. There’s not much of an understanding of why she is our hero as that part is largely unoriginal but there is possibly the most interesting point made about the difference between loss and sacrifice. 21 year old Lara Croft is on an expedition along with ego centric academic Dr Whitman, a sea crew including Grim who is partial to giving a ‘Glasgow kiss’ when needed (that’s a head butt) and best friend, filmmaker Sam. Lara believes she has found the location of the lost place of Yamatai, housing secrets of an ancient Sun Queen, which can only be reached by traveling through a dangerous and mysterious storm.
This place is not just another semi-open world map that’s been slapped down with an expectation of an audience to admire it for size or bright colours alone. Instead it’s a space that’s been crafted with clear ideas of how you will move around it both while following the main game and your own exploits. I’ve never been more eager to revisit a game’s environment so soon after finishing the main campaign with certain areas needing you to return once you have the appropriate equipment. Forests, monasteries, mountain sides, war time bunkers, shantytowns and dangerous coastlines; Lara needs a wide array of wondrous terrain to explore and she has plenty here. Each area offers something distinctive and somehow fits together seamlessly it becomes a perfect balance of a large scale world without becoming overwhelming. Jumping, climbing and zip lining from A to B is a joy.
Like a lot of reboots this is a darker, grittier version of what has been before. Lara like most beginnings of a hero, falls harder, cuts deeper, gets beaten, bleeds for her friends and suggests a sense of emotional trauma to equal the physical. She is portrayed as somewhat green; young and inexperienced but she is thrown in the thick of it always telling herself “I can do this” and this so too is the player’s mantra. She is yet to find her feet as an adventurer, somewhat literally, so she must learn by doing and we must learn alongside her.
Without question the Tomb Raider games and Lara Croft as a character have helped to inspire some of the great action adventure games and characters. The teacher has become the most attentive student as Tomb Raider has taken what improvements other games have made to the formula and used it to better itself. Not wanting to be outdone and claiming its torch was only passed on temporarily. There are action set pieces yes but these flow supremely better than in most film scenes, with exploration and intense actions linking together flawlessly. Buildings and pathways falling apart as you travel across them seem like it’s an idea created by this game rather than something you’ve seen several times over it’s done with such stylish finesse.
Collectibles are actually fun to find and collect, including relics and several document pages from diary pages of Lara’s crew mates to ancient letters. They add a more deep meaning to the storyline and often give interesting insight or revelations regarding the characters or plot. Some areas also hold one or two separate challenges which offer bonus XP upon completion. Figuring what these involve can also be a challenge in itself It’s not Tomb Raider without tombs to raid no matter what they may have tried in previous titles and there are a few here that present you with a simple puzzle to solve in exchange for items such as weapon parts. The puzzles themselves at times seem basic but for the most part they are clever and rewarding. All this collecting, along with scavenging, works towards a hassle free upgrade system. All XP goes towards unlocking new skills to improve weapon and survival abilities. Scavenging parts are then spent on weapon modifications. It’s so incredibly simple proving that it doesn’t actually need to be any more complicated.
The multiplayer element seems somewhat a formality as every modern game is near expected to have some kind of online play. The usual team death match and free for all are on offer as well as survivor vs. murdering islander themed rounds such as ‘Call for Help’ and ‘Rescue’ which see survivors attempt retrieve supplies or turn on radios while the local cult stops them, so basically capture the flag. It’s perhaps a quiet distraction in the corner to what is the main attraction and reason to play of the single player game. More maps are already on the way and no doubt there’ll soon be more and more in DLC packs. They may need to offer a little more to keep players interested though. There are copious amounts of upgrades for you to earn and elements which is overwhelming and complex loadouts directly contradict the ease of the main game mechanics. The game mode is largely overshadowed by the single player experience but it poses a mild distracting addition to the overall package. I just hope there’s Lara story-based DLC content to come.
The ambition of Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix for a new era of Tomb Raider was clear from the start and it has resulted in a must have title that brings a fantastic and rewarding gaming experience. Lara Croft is once again an iconic name, leading the action adventure genre. It may feel a longer wait for the next title as generation shifts take effect over the next year or two but Lara isn’t going home and she deserves to carry on adventuring for yet more years to come.