Review: Tomb Raider
Back in 1996, Lara Croft made her debut in the original Tomb Raider – the game quickly achieved a huge fan base with no less that eight titles following in it’s wake as well as a couple of films. A game can only go for so long and the interest in Lara and her series soon dwindled. The series needed a shake-up, something that appeals to the older fans as well as attract the new generation of gamers. Enter young Lara, the protagonist of the new Tomb Raider, as a prequel of the 1996 title the series has been given a reboot, which is a gamble but fortunately it’s a gamble that’s paid off.
Lara has headed out on her first expedition with some travel buddies, they’re looking for a lost island off the coast of Japan. As they near the island a freak storm hits and their boat ends up crashing on the island, however, they aren’t alone. Lara quickly gets taken hostage and your first mission is to escape and attempt to find her friends.
This is Lara’s first adventure so there’s no backflips and no double pistols, just an adventuring amateur who’s main goal is to survive. The game leads you through the mechanics fairly well, within the first hour or so you’ll have participated in a series of quick time events, found a bow, killed your first animal and even experienced Lara’s turmoil as she takes her first human life.
Once you’ve finished the tutorial section you’re let free to explore the island and find out what’s really going on. The island is a fantastic mix of wide open areas, large climbing sections and dark, damp tunnels. It’s a far cry from the original title and it’s love of similar looking caves. Soon Lara adapts to the challenges of the island and slowly turns into a seasoned explorer.
As you play the game you’ll be treated to experience points, you’ll get these for killing enemies, finding hidden objects, completing objectives and so on. These points can then be used to teach Lara new skills and abilities, such as the ability to throw dirt into enemies faces as well as many, many more. Although, that’s not all you can upgrade, as you acquire new weapons – there’s four in total – you can find salvage dotted around the map which can be used to give your weapons bigger ammo clips, faster firing rate and so on.
The combat has been overhauled completely from what you are used to, there’s no lock on any more, so you can’t simply hold down fire and jump around until every one is dead. Tomb Raider has a more familiar third person free aim with a much larger emphasis on stealth. The first weapon you find is a bow which is incredibly satisfying to use and great at taking out enemies silently – you can also sneak up on foes for a silent melee kill if you prefer. To help with the stealth Lara has a very clever cover system, so clever that you don’t need to do anything. As you approach a group of enemies Lara will draw her weapon and start sneaking behind any cover you walk towards, no input is needed by the player to do this.
From here you can try and take the foes out silently or switch to your shotgun and get in their faces, either works and both are fairly effective. Although, if you alert the enemies then one of them may fire a flare or call out for help, which means you’ll have reinforcements arriving soon. The enemies are no dummies either, they’ll duck behind cover, try to flush you out with grenades and try to flank you.
Whilst the combat is great you’ll be spending a lot of time on your own. There may be times where you’ll be left alone to your own devices with the only challenge being how to traverse the landscape. Fortunately, Lara is equally capable at climbing as she is shooting. As you progress you’ll unlock some extra tools to help you out, a climbing axe to help climb rock faces and a rope arrow to pull down structures and create rope bridges. Occasionally you’ll come across camps, these are where you can upgrade your tools and skills, you can also fast travel to camps you’ve stopped at before. This allows you to go back through the game and use your new climbing tools to access new areas and find more of the seemingly thousands of collectibles.
The game has a brilliant atmosphere, the island looks and feels fantastic and the game can be incredibly tense at times. One moment you may be trying to escape a lair without being seen and the next you’ll be trying to outrun an exploding plane. Which leads me to the game’s set-pieces, these are the moments where you have minimal control, such as pressing left and right, and all hell is breaking loose. These include, trying to escape a burning building, teetering along a narrow edge and running along an exploding bridge. These can be a bit of trial and error sometimes, you may have to learn where the ground is going to fall away and when to hit the jump button but all in all they’ll get your heart racing.
There’s also a multiplayer mode if you fancy it. It’s a perfectly capable addition, there’s multiple characters, upgrades, weapon unlocks and everything else you’d expect to see in a modern multiplayer game. All the modes you’d expect to see are here with variations of the standard team deathmatch and capture the flag modes. The main difference here is that the game makes full use of the vertical plane as well as the horizontal one, this gives the gameplay a unique feel but it’s still not enough to drag you away from your favourite online shooter.
However, don’t let that take away from the game’s single player which is fantastic. It’s gritty, brutal and at times feels a little too realistic, especially when it comes to some of Lara’s death scenes. The island looks fantastic, the combat is refined and satisfying and the whole atmosphere of the game is dark and intense. I was never a huge fan of the Tomb Raider games but this reboot has won me over, sure, there’s no escaping from a T-Rex and there’s no butlers to lock in fridges, but you can’t have everything, right?