The first Tomb Raider game was so revolutionary that changed the gaming world entirely. Many games have come after the first adventure of Lara Croft in 1996; oddly, for a game that inspired many aspects of the gaming scene, more often than not the series failed to improve and it used only its name to continue the saga.
So you could imagine the expectancy for Tomb Raider; a reboot with the aim to retake its place between those games Lara Croft has contributed to shape since her birth. Be reassured fellow adventurers, the final result is so good it hurts, quite literally for Lara, I fear.
Since the very beginning she finds herself in over the top situations, and the amount of troubles she faces is really overwhelming, always on the edge of unrealism, even for a videogame character. Stranded on the Yamatai Island after a storm wrecked their ship, Lara and her friends find themselves soon hunted by an unknown cult worshiping a forgotten goddess. The only way to save the others and find a way out is for Lara to always move forward and uncover the mystery of the Island in the process.
After the opening cinematic and a little QTEs intro the game starts presenting itself in the right way, introducing the exploration and camping mechanics, which allows you to upgrade your skills, your weapons and to fast travel between discovered locations. But there is no time to rest, soon Lara will be put against the most human side of the Island, facing her very limits. Even if the character is rightly so afraid of what she’s doing to survive, it’s not easy to not notice the piles of corpses left behind. Story wise her evolution into the future adventurer we know is well delivered, but sometimes some gameplay has to be made. And what an exciting and enjoyable it is.
This is the best third person combat I’ve experienced in the past year, using the bow for a silent takedown is always a pleasure and allows you to keep clearing the environment undetected. But if things should go south you can always rely on a handgun, an old submachine gun and a shotgun. For the closed range combat you can use the pickaxe or… an arrow in the knee, yep, you read that right, you can unlock this specific finishing move.
The cover system in action here is fluid and natural, with Lara automatically transitioning into a crouch position near enemies and cover walls. Combined with the dodge feature, it allows you to constantly move from cover to cover and in the environment, dodging molotovs, dynamite and enemies alike. A technique you should master if you want to survive the waves of foes whom are out to get you. Sometimes is a little difficult to perceive the exact position of the enemies around you but for the most part they try to bring you out with fire and surround you, revealing their position by shouting at you.
When you’re done shooting and fighting you’re free to explore the Yamatai Island. The main focus here is to search for documents and relics which give you XP and unveil the lore of the Island, with the inclusion of Lara’s and other survivors’ journals to further explain the relationships between the characters.
In every area of the map you’ll find hidden tombs to raid; in each of these you’ll find an environmental puzzle that will bring you to the map of the collectibles, some XP and salvage, the main currency of the island. There is a great focus on exploration, with well designed puzzles, challenging but never frustrating, and open areas basically being a huge puzzle themselves.
With salvage you can upgrade your gear at the base camps, modifying your weapons for increased damage, reduced reload times, more stability and alternate fire modes. For as long as the gear upgrade is satisfying, the skill trees leave a little to be desired. The system is simplistic and more often than not the same move occupies three slots, the only thing than changes is the fact that every time it becomes more powerful. Take the counter move (arrow in the knee), for example, with the first upgrade you can stun enemies, with the second you can kill lightly armored enemies, with the third you can kill almost everybody. One skill, three slots, three skill points. Even the weapons mastery brings little to the actual combat, they are always passive buffs that more often than not pass unnoticed and forgotten.
I guess this is it for… oh wait! There’s the multiplayer! Exactly, for the first time in a Tomb Raider title there’s the online mode to explore. This section was outsourced to Eidos Montreal; the single player didn’t suffer for the inclusion and so it’s a welcome addition, with a focus on verticality and zip-lines.
A classic third-person action, two teams of four face off in a variety of gameplay modes, one side made of Lara and her friends, the other made of cultists. Other than regular deathmatch, there are a few modes that give the survivors and the cultists different objectives. “Cry for Help” has survivors attempt to activate distress beacons by capturing and holding them, while the cultists have to shoot them down. In multiplayer the control scheme changes, with the possibility of sprinting, crouching at will, throwing grenades and charging for a melee finisher. There are plenty of playable characters to unlock and upgrades to buy.
Tomb Raider managed to bring new life to a beloved character and series, with great animations and a proper voice acting; though Lara is so well written, the secondary cast is more of a bunch of stereotypical characters, but as a result Lara stands out even more from the group. Even the QTEs of the beginning are well designed and enjoyable; and I hate quick time events. Besides you’ll never meet them again.
With a most enjoyable combat, a great level design that really pushes you to explore every single corner, leaving you still in a spot asking: “how do I get down there?”, this is the Tomb Raider game I’ve been waiting. The Queen is back, and you, adventurers of all games, bow before her.
+ Satisfying combat
+ Great level design
– Bland skill trees
– Flat support cast