Think about all the things that the Tomb Raider series has meant to you. Backflips, twin Uzis, shooting tigers, searching the large mansion, huge breasts, the short shorts, solving elaborate puzzles, surviving traps, and perhaps most importantly, raiding tombs.
Most of that has no place in this new Tomb Raider, and that’s okay. Developer Crystal Dynamics has taken yet another shot at the franchise, but this time opting for a complete reboot to focus more on the development of the protagonist, Lara Croft, rather than just tacking on another adventure to list on her resume.
This is Lara’s first true expedition. Lara and company set sail on their ship, the Endurance, with the goal of finding the lost island of Yamatai. No one knows its exact location, or even if it exists, but this young Croft is determined to discover it. And that she does, as a violent storm literally rips the ship apart and the crew washes ashore. The situation escalates quickly from there, as Lara is almost immediately captured before gathering her bearings and is tasked with escaping her captors and saving her friends.
The entire opening sequence through Lara’s escape is a highly cinematic affair with little interaction; move forward here, a quick-time event there, all to establish the setting and unveil the emotional and psychological impact on Lara. Many of the hints to create this type of setting are very subtle – while wading through high water or traversing dark areas, you may catch Lara looking back over her shoulder to see if anyone is following her. There are many of these moments, all of which are thoroughly believable, thanks to the expertly-done character animations.
Lara moves well and despite a grungy appearance, she looks great doing it. Crystal Dynamics also went out of their way to score Camilla Luddington (of True Blood and Grey’s Anatomy fame) as the voice actor for Lara, and she reprises the role perfectly. Occasionally, Lara will sit down at a campfire (save points) and give a brief monologue on her thoughts and condition, and these were a joy to listen to, both for narrative reasons and because the voice acting was so good.
The overarching story is about in line with what you’d expect, which is to say, not that much. You find that all the inhabitants of Yamatai are violent cultists that are looking to revive the Sun Queen and unlock her supernatural power. Literally every other human you meet that wasn’t on the Endurance is looking to capture or kill you, and you learn this very quickly. The real story is about Lara’s evolution from a bright-eyed explorer to a battle-hardened, full-fledged adventurer. Most of this change is very gradual and nuanced – at no point does she instantly flip a switch and say “okay, I’m going to act this way now”.
Her changes are out of necessity. She’s on a strange island and everyone and everything is trying to kill her. No, really, everything is trying to kill her. From islanders (known as the Solari) to wolves to any random cliff she’s near, death wants to claim her. The amount of times random falls and tumbles happen to Lara borders on a Looney Tunes level of ridiculousness. Did you know the average female has about 10 pints of blood in their body? I estimate that Lara should have lost somewhere around 35 pints throughout her adventure. The developers said they wanted you to care about Lara, and they decided they were going to beat her up until you do.
Lara is given a fair amount of options to defend herself. She starts with a bow, and eventually gets a pistol, shotgun, and even a grenade launcher. There is an upgrade system that allows for weapon mods to increase their effectiveness and she learns skills to assist both in combat and in traversal of the island. Of note, she’ll learn how to counterattack using some pretty gruesome sequences to fell her foes. Upon sensing there are enemies in the area, Lara will crouch instinctively to avoid detection. There is no “cover system” – Lara is smart enough to duck down when necessary. The combat is satisfying enough, but at times (particularly toward the endgame) the game leans on it a bit too much. And for once in a video game, the shotgun feels underpowered.
Yamatai is home to environments both lush and dangerous. Traveling across the island will take you to a wide variety of locations, ranging from a exotic forests with bustling wildlife to damp, dark caverns to underground bunkers with potentially deadly and free flowing natural gas. The transition between areas feels pretty seamless (for the player, at least; Lara might beg to differ). The island is broken into multiple hubs where you can quick travel between campfires once you’ve reached them. Most hubs are relatively small, but there are two or three massive ones that can make it feel like an open world game. Most areas also have a sense of verticality, and almost all of them are littered with collectibles. What’s nice is upon pickup, collectibles feature a description that is actually narrated to you by various characters and the island map will tell you how many of them you’re still missing, making them more rewarding to find.
Once you’ve completed the story and found all the collectibles, there’s very little else to do. You can run around and enjoy the gorgeous scenery and clear areas of enemies a second time, but they won’t respawn for a third go-round. There’s a couple optional tombs to find, but they house some fairly simple puzzles and are about as shallow as a puddle.
This Tomb Raider brings you something you’ve never seen in the series before: multiplayer. When I first heard that a multiplayer component was being added, I was just as skeptical as you probably are. I thought that it didn’t need multiplayer, that it didn’t belong. And boy, was I right.
Online play in Tomb Raider is about as exciting as reading the bullet points about its features. Here, let me show you:
With the new Tomb Raider multiplayer, you get
- Five gameplay modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Free For All, Rescue, and Cry for Help!
- Five great maps with vertical gameplay!
- Gain XP to gain levels up to 60, then Prestige and start over!
- Find Salvage to unlock new weapons and skills!
- DLC coming soon!
See how riveting that was? That’s about the extent of actual fun you’ll have with the online modes. Most likely, you’ll give it a whirl and never touch that part of the game again.
Tomb Raider succeeds in being a great game despite its multiplayer missteps. Crystal Dynamics has taken an iconic character with a previously established identity and crafted the foundation to build her back up to it. By the end, Lara is once again strong and courageous, ready to take an another adventure and the ending implies as much. Thanks to this strong showing, I’ll be ready for it and you should be, too.
Full disclosure: I purchased this game for review. I spent approximately 30 hours with it, completing the game and spending several hours with the multiplayer.