Tomb Raider is an exhilarating orchestra of bombastic setpieces, flashy explosions and gruesome head-shots and despite its clichés and contrived story, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every single moment of this game.
The original Tomb Raider came out almost two decades ago (in 1996, to be more precise) and while I can think of a couple of properties that desperately need a reboot, I wouldn’t oppose to a Tomb Raider one. The new version of this action adventure game combines the best parts about Uncharted with the sense of dread of horror films like The Descent and while it’s been done before, Tomb Raider is an emotional thrill-ride that will keep you entertained from beginning to end.
In Tomb Raider, you assume the role of young archaeologist Lara Croft as she travels in an expedition near Japan. Suddenly, the ship has an accident in the dangerous region known as the Dragon’s Triangle and when Lara comes to, she finds herself in a remote island called Yamatai. The natives don’t exactly welcome her with open arms which is why she needs to explore her surroundings, find some new weapons and try to locate her friends so that they can escape the hostile island.
For all intents and purposes, you are Lara Craft in this game. One of the first things you’ll notice is that controlling Lara Croft feels fluid and natural. There’s certain heft to the character which makes the experience more immersive and reliable when it comes to the controls. When the main character falls, you’ll feel like you’re falling, when she runs, you’ll feel the breeze running through your hair and so on. Nevertheless, some moments feel too contrived for their own good. The first time Lara kills a deer, she apologizes, but soon enough, she start killing the entire island’s wildlife without remorse and the same goes for your human enemies.
The structure of the game’s fairly simple. As you progress through the game, you explore different settings. Most of them are quite linear, but to make up for this, the game offers a handful of hidden collectibles, including pages of journals, Lara’s soliloquies, items and so on. Most of these items serve as experience, allowing you to unlock skill points (to improve your skills) and currency (to improve your equipment.) Additionally, there are animals to hunt and human opponents to defeat. To do so, you have several upgradable weapons at your disposal, including pistols, machine guns, rifles, axes and bows.
The combat is one of the best parts about Tomb Raider. Every enemy encounter is a carefully laid out playground that you can approach however you want. You can take fights gun blazing or you can take cover and attack enemies in a stealthy way and while the latter is much more satisfying, both approaches are possible. Luckily, the game fights are few and far between and the rest of your time will be spent exploring your surroundings and tomb raiding.
As its name suggests, you do a lot of tomb raiding in this game, but interestingly, most of it takes place in the form of optional side-quests. Whenever there’s a secret tomb nearby, the game will alert you about it and if you deviate a little from your path, you’ll find a tomb where you’ll be able to solve some simple environmental puzzles. Most of the times, finding those tombs is worth the hassle, not only because you get more XP, but because they reveals some compelling details about the story.
But for all its strengths, Tomb Raider isn’t without some problems. For starters, the game takes control of the protagonist too often though. This usually comes in the form of a quick time event or cutscenes that adds to the cinematic experience, but they also hide loading times. Apart from some graphical glitches here and there, Tomb Raider is a fantastic-looking action game, so I didn’t mind interruptions that much. But take into account that they do happen often and they disrupt the otherwise terrific pace.
Although the game looks absolutely stunning, there are some contrived-looking animations here and there. There were definitely instances where Lara’s weapons disappeared out of nowhere or when a jumping animation was triggered, even though Lara was standing on solid ground. Instances like these were quite rare, but when they happen, they take you out of the experience. Again, this feels artificial because the rest of the game looks terrific.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that apart from the single-player component, the Tomb Raider reboot also has some multiplayer options. Modern standards suggest that AAA games need some sort of multiplayer mode and Tomb Raider has one and while certain parts feel artificial (after all, the Tomb Raider series has always been about playing a bombastic campaign,) there’s nothing outright offensive about the multiplayer. As in most games of this kind, this part of the game’s serviceable and little else and the closest thing to compare it to is Uncharted, so if you played that title, you know what to expect.
How do you make the protagonist of a power fantasy feel vulnerable and human? I think this is the main flaw with Tomb Raider reboot, since the game constantly struggles when it comes to showing Lara as the ordinary archaeologist that she’s supposed to be. But despite some problems, this is an action game that pretty much anyone can enjoy, regardless of their relationship with the series and that’s how every modern reboot should work.