Like many long time fans of the series, the announcement of a Tomb Raider re-boot left me not only greatly excited but also full of questions. How would this new, younger Lara translate into the world of the modern gamer? What mysteries lie hidden within that hostile Island paradise? Would this game stay true to the Tomb Raider series, or would modernisation shape it into something else entirely? The good news is that many hours of gameplay later, I now finally have my questions answered. Join me today on a voyage of adventure as I take an in depth look at what this new fangled Tomb Raider has to offer.
Set as a prequel to the original Tomb Raider series we join a young Lara Croft on the SS Endurance as she sets out of her first archaeological adventure. The voyage is well underway when disaster strikes in the form of a devastating storm, wrecking the Endurance and stranding the crew on a mysterious Island. With the Island populated in large part by people who want nothing more than to kill the survivors, Lara must now draw on her Croft instincts to break the curse of the Island and escape. Ever seen the Tv show Lost? Well it’s kind of like that, only with a much much more satisfying conclusion.
Talking of endings, at the risk of spoilers I won’t go into much depth about the rest of story line. Overall though it’s a brutal militant struggle with a good dose Tomb Raider mystery thrown in.
Even after being battered, bruised and washed up on a beach, it’s hard not to notice that the Island setting is truly beautiful. The attention to detail makes the Island seem mouth wateringly real, and with cut scenes transitioning seamlessly into gameplay it is sometimes hard to see when the animation stops and the gameplay begins. Not only is the Island visually stunning, it is also an interactive environment with lots to explore. In this world there are mountains to scale, forests to roam, gaps to squeeze through and swamps to wade in. You can light fires, hunt animals, find cover, create your own zip lines and if you get bored even ride a makeshift industrial cable car around and around in the mountains. Despite the beauty of the Island setting however, this game is not one for the feint hearted. Mixed in with the forests, beaches and industrial wreckage there are darker areas of this world dedicated to ritual and sacrifice. These areas come with more than a touch of old school horror, and with corpses a plenty and rivers literally running with blood things are set to get messy.
Many of us know Lara Croft as confident explorer, taking everything in her stride. In this prequel however we are presented with a different kind of hero, moulded by her experiences and driven by her desperate need to survive. The opening scenes make it perfectly clear that on this Island its kill or be killed, and this forces Lara to do things previously unseen in a Tomb Raider game. Thankfully Lara may be younger and more brutal, but she is in no way soul-less or cruel. This game gives our classic heroine more dialogue than ever before, and despite her initial reluctance to kill, she soon realizes that in this world mercy a luxury that she cannot afford. Despite her remarkably natural killing skills, both gameplay and dialogue also show us a more vulnerable side to Lara. Though she can undeniably take a hell of a beating, there are times in the game when a particular event will leave her badly wounded. At these times dulled senses and restricted movement remind us that Lara is still human, and is in no way invincible.
So on to the most important bit, the gameplay. It’s only fitting that we run before we shoot and Lara navigates her Island paradise seamlessly. Though she still has the ability to run, jump and dodge on command, in this game there is no more awkward unwanted crouching or running into walls. You just point Lara where you want to go, and she will do the rest. That is not to say that this environment cannot be treacherous at times. Miss judge a jump or fail to grab with your axe and you will more than likely fall to a particularly grizzly death.
As far as combat goes, it is truly hard to find fault with. The aim is smooth and accurate and the limited ammo forces you to be creative with your choice of weapon keeping battles varied and interesting. There are usually multiple ways to approach combat situations. Depending on your style you can either go in all guns blazing, use the bow and arrow to distract enemies and perform stealth kills, or even use the environment around you to your advantage by exploding barrels and ripping down enemy platforms. A quick word of caution though. Despite picking up a bow and arrows fairly quickly, many of the melee moves require earning. Let an enemy get too close before you have upgraded your skill set, and you may find yourself in more trouble than you bargained for.
Though you start the game with only your bare hands to protect you, the Island contains a vast range of weaponry just waiting to be discovered. As well as your trusty bow and arrow, your core weaponry includes your axe, a pistol, automatic rifle and shotgun. Though these five weapons form the basis of your arsenal, as you explore the Island you will find that there are many exciting ways to upgrade them using found items. Some of these mods are pretty self-explanatory, for example a found lighter attached to your bow will allow you to make fire arrows. How Lara modded her rifle to fire that many grenades however, I will never know. When it comes to making the best of her resources Lara sure is one talented lady.
Another way to upgrade your weapons and skill set is by using the campfires, experience and salvage. The salvage system is refreshingly simple. You find random salvage around the Island, you use it to mod your gear. The more salvage points you have, the better upgrades you can afford. Though salvage leaves players free to upgrade the weapons they chose to, specific item upgrades can also be found amongst the Island temples and ruins. These specific item upgrades can only be used once you have found all of the missing parts, but once assembled will give you the ability to upgrade your weapons in new ways for extra fire power.
As well as upgrading her weapons Lara is also able to learn a range of new skills via experienced points you earn in game. XP can be used not only to learn vital survival skills, but new combat moves both melee and ranged. Though not all abilities are available to learn initially, there is quite a lot of freedom within the XP system. The better your puzzle solving, the more items you find and the more skilled your kills the more XP you will earn, so it pays to get practicing those head shots.
Throughout the game Lara is also encouraged to make use of her Croft instincts, drawing on the skills hidden in her DNA to get her out of trouble. These instincts play an active role in the gameplay in the form of Lara’s Survival Instinct mode. By using this mode we are able to sharpen our senses, highlighting things in our environment that we may have missed. This is particularly useful when hunting, collecting ammo and spotting ways to solve tricky puzzles. Survival Instinct mode will also point out other collectable items hidden around the Island. There are many hidden relics and documents to be found, and as a budding young archaeologist Lara is more than happy not only to seek them out, but also to give you a detailed description of the treasures you have found. Though the story line itself is relatively liner, the game does give you the option to fast travel to different areas of the Island. This provides a great chance to explore the Island as an open world, searching out hidden artefacts and areas which you may have missed the first time around.
With all of this third person shooting action you may be wondering where the actual tomb raiding has gone. Well, I am happy to say that there are still many mysterious crypts to be explored. Interestingly though these tombs are an optional extra giving players the choice as to whether to explore them or simply pass on by. It seems strange that in a series famed for its exploration these tombs should be optional, however at least they are well marked and so unlikely to be missed by fans. The secret tombs are a chance for players to flex their puzzle solving skills. The puzzles often make use of the Islands extreme elements such as fire and wind, and upon completion will reward Lara with lost treasures. It is worth noting that as these tombs are placed outside the main story line, they do not involve any combat elements. This leaves players free to focus all of their attention on solving the puzzles, which can provide a welcome change from the rest of the action.
Though this game has moved the series on a lot, the tombs are not the only reference to the original Tomb Raider series. The Island provides the perfect setting for some soul searching, with the characters giving us glimpses not only into Lara’s past, but also setting up events to come. Want to know how Lara came to first use her classic twin pistols? Play on and see.
So is this game a true Tomb Raider title, well I would say yes. It may have gained some elements more akin to a modern day merciless third person shooter, but despite this enough of the original elements remain to remind us that this is still Tomb Raider. Perhaps the only thing this game is really lacking is the sense of wonder that comes with discovering a hidden treasure. Gone are the days when Lara would stumble into a lost kingdom as a choir and chimes sang out the mystery and wonder around her. Thinking about though, it if you were being chased my militant thugs you probably wouldn’t want to stop and gaze around in wonder either. The game has grown up, and whether you agree with this change in direction or not it is hard not to be impressed with what has been achieved here.
+ Visually stunning and immersive Island to explore
+ Inventive weapons and mods
+ Enjoyable mix of action, puzzle solving and exploration
+ Game saves nice and regularly
- Melee attacks need to be earnt
- Could have been a bit longer, we wanted more!
Overall it seems that after several years on rocky ground the Tomb Raider series is finally back on the path to success. True it may be a path that is leading to a very different place than where we started all of those years ago, but it is paved with adventure nonetheless.
Until next time,
Tomb Raider is out now for PS3, XBox 360 and PC
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At Plus XP we like to review games a little differently. Instead of giving the usual score out of 10 like most review site do, all games we review are scored out of 100 (or in Plus XP terms 100XP). Each review will feature a XP bar at the bottom of the page representing the score given to a game.