Admittedly, I’ve not been a huge fan of the Tomb Raider series. I’ve played a few of the older titles, and I have the collection on Steam, but it’s never been much more than a filler in my gaming library; a series that ‘I’ll play through one day‘.
That being said, I was immediately intrigued at the early mentions of a TR reboot, one that would show us the origin story of our historically disproportionate heroine and give her more of a gritty, vulnerable feel. The final product, simply called Tomb Raider, is not only a staggeringly beautiful action adventure game, but its combination of visuals, stealth/action gameplay and story also serves to reinvigorate a series and a character that were becoming stale.
One of the obvious strengths of this game is the character development of Lara Croft herself. This game starts out with Lara – voiced wonderfully by Camilla Luddington – as an inexperienced adventure seeker, a far cry from the over-powered, gun-toting Lara from iterations past. She’s introduced as a timid but intuitive, the proverbial runt of a ship full of weathered travelers, TV personalities and adventurers. The relationships she’s built with these characters are the inspiration for the story in TR, and they are well explained through a series of diaries you find on the island. Lara interacts with each of these characters in different ways, and as the story progresses, we’re taken through the gamut of emotions as bonds are tested, enemies are revealed and friends are lost. Lara’s personal transformation however, is the center of the game. But as she progresses from weak to powerful in a very short time, you’ll find one of TR’s very few story flaws: Lara transforms from ‘sad to kill a deer’ Lara to ‘chain headshots together’ Lara in practically seconds. It’s understandable, as that rapid transformation needed to take place in order to get the game moving, but the transition is a little rushed in the context of the story. But the transformation is really incredible, from the outset of the game to when (SPOILERS!) she dual wields the iconic matching handguns for the intense final battle.
But aside from that, what a story it is. It’s part LOST, part murder mystery, part ghost story, you name it. Obvious early spoilers to follow: After being shipwrecked on an island that supposedly houses a mysterious sun goddess, Lara and team are meticulously hunted by the islands inhabitants. They must find out the reason these people are here, and why no one seems to be able to leave. It’s a gripping, exhilarating story that kept me glued to the screen from start to end. The gameplay mechanics are great, and even after playing AC4 immediately before this, I still found the climbing to be spot on, and using the climbing axe was a real treat. Jumping off a cliff only to dig that axe in at the last second to keep yourself from falling to your death is really fun.
The combat is a real stand-out here as well. The aiming and shooting mechanics are top-notch, and I found myself switching through all the weapons with ease. Headshots feel great and the rag doll physics after you put an arrow through someones head from 50 feet are great to watch. Upgrades are found throughout the island, and can be assembled at campfires – which also serve as save points. By the end of the game your arsenal is quite impressive.
Lastly, and I can’t stress this enough, this game is beautiful. I played it on PC with maxed out settings, and I often found myself calling my girlfriend over to look at a sunset, or check out the view from the top of a cliff. It’s breathtaking at times, and the island really feels alive and vibrant. Exploring is made that much more fun by the high quality visuals. Even the flame from the torch was impressive in the way it bounced off the rocks when it got too close.
Overall, Tomb Raider is an absolutely gorgeous, well-written game that – had I played it while I was writing my GOTY article for Splitkick.com – would have easily made it into that list. It’s exciting, well paced and the story is great. It’s easily one of my favourite games of the year. Do yourself a favor and give it a try!