Since Tomb Raider’s initial conception in 1996, it might be fair to say that the main protagonist Lara Croft has had a fairly rough time of it. Most of the games released have been fairly well received, perhaps with the exception of Tomb Raider: The angel of darkness which was criticised for having awkward controls and for being buggy. During the lifetime of the series, the franchise has also undergone several reimaginings as well as spawning two films starring Angelina Jolie. The release of the newest game, titled simply Tomb Raider marks the latest reboot.
The opening moments of the game are some of the most effective of any game I have played. They show how Lara Croft came to be shipwrecked on an archaeology expedition to find the kingdom of Yamatai, after venturing into the Dragon’s triangle off the coast of Japan. The emotional intensity of the opening scenes ensure you begin to invest in the character of Lara Croft and therefore keep your interest, not just in the main storyline of the game, but also in her character development over its course. Although it may seem that the game’s opening is over-reliant on cinematic scenes where the player has no control of the gameplay, this is essential for the development of the game’s plot. The cinematic scenes do however decline in quantity as you progress through the game and more of the impetus is placed on discovery.
This leads on to the game’s general setting and graphics. This is the most graphically impressive Tomb Raider game yet, as should be expected as we are reaching the end of this console cycle where developers are really pushing the systems to their maximum. The game begins at night and there are frequent rainstorms, creating an eerie atmosphere. Special effects even extend to drops of water falling down the screen, as though Lara is being filmed by some other person, and this helps further the gritty realism that I felt the game strives to achieve and ultimately succeeds. The world in which Lara explores is quite an open environment and therefore although in order to progress through the story it becomes more linear, there is also the opportunity to explore and find all the artefacts and hidden Easter eggs around the island. For the first time, tombs become an optional experience for the player to explore if they wish. Although the rewards for the tombs are great and enable players to upgrade weapons much more easily, the tombs in themselves are relatively small and the puzzles fairly simple (although I confess to looking up solutions a few times!). Players of past Tomb Raider games will recall vast tombs with quite complicated puzzles that were quite daunting. This is missing in this game and I feel it is slightly detrimental to the overall gameplay, as it appears the developers have focussed more on the overhauled combat system and creating a new-look Lara.
The story is, as many players would expect, very impressive with all the classic elements of Tomb Raider thrown in such as curses and ancient myths. Although there are a few side tasks throughout the game, these are always done with a clear objective in mind and so these do not appear as game filler. As expected, Lara spends much of the time scavenging by herself, although her fellow archaeologists seem to always be just around the corner most of the time. This imposes a sense of isolation on Lara when exploring and indeed much of the beginning of the game is focussed on her acclimatising to her new surroundings and to her new-found need to hunt and kill. The main antagonist is formidable but it is difficult to explain much about the story without giving away spoilers. Suffice to say the ending of the game is spectacular.
Enemies are frequent and numerous, satisfying fans of shoot and run style games. The combat system is also excellent, and the A.I. for the most part intelligent. This also applies to the game’s new multiplayer mode, which extends the games replayability and is fun to play casually. This is by far the best Tomb Raider game I have played. Fans of the series will not be disappointed.