Face it, Tomb Raider fans, this franchise lived a little bit longer than it really should have. Lara Croft became a walking joke instead of an intrepid adventurer, and each entry in the series managed to get further and further away from what made the originals so strong.
Crystal Dynamics, the developer of this game, has been around for a long time. They're responsible for games like Soul Reaver and Gex (yes, Gex!). They took over work on the Tomb Raider brand back in 2006 with Tomb Raider: Legend.
Now, Crystal Dynamics, with the publishing help of Square Enix, has released a brand new take on Lara Croft with Tomb Raider.
Prepare yourselves, because this is one of the best games of this console generation.
A Better Lara Croft
Gone is the Croft that was based primarily on sex appeal and a misinformed sense of who plays video games. This new Lara Croft is more realistic, smarter and more personable than the one who graced tombs way back when.
Crystal Dynamics' vision is a reinvention of Lara Croft. Lara is a young, frightened archeologist at the onset of this adventure. She struggles with the notion of survival, and the game's creators were dead set on making sure players sensed that struggle throughout the game. She seems emotionally taxed when hunting and making her first kill.
It's quite deceptive, but the Lara at the beginning of the game is several shades weaker than the Lara waiting for players at the end of the game. That Lara has killed, she's climbed, she's fought and she's survived.
Even the enemies sense her swelling strength. At the beginning, they're a gropey bunch who refer to Lara as a little girl. By the end, Lara stalks her enemies and hears them chattering about a woman who single handedly took down hordes of their strongest men.
She even got the Russians, one of them astoundingly explains at one point.
Lara Croft needed a drastic tune up. She needed to be more modern, more accessible and more realistic. Crystal Dynamics succeeded with this reboot, and I cared more about this Lara Croft in one game than I ever did the Lara Croft that launched in the 90s.
Simple Mechanics Make for Great Play
Everything in the game is exceptionally straightforward. Lara moves from point to point on a strange island as she slowly unravels the mystery of a violent and desperate cult. In doing so, she has a bow, a handgun, a shotgun and an assault rifle at her disposal.
Each weapon is upgradeable, several times over. Upgrades are earned through scrap, and scrap is found on the bodies of enemies and scattered around the aging locale.
Lara is also upgradeable on a personal level. Kills and exploration earn Lara experience, experience earns levels and levels earn skill points. This basic take on an RPG system works really well with driving players forward, and encourages exploration.
The result is a campaign that constantly evolves. The simple mechanics and RPG stylings add up to an experience that layers exceptionally well over itself. Enemies evolve, puzzles evolve and the player evolves with them.
Things start to slow down as the story draws to a close, however. It becomes a series of heavy battles and quick time events. I'm personally not a fan of boss fights that rely entirely on reacting to button prompts, and this one left a bad taste in my mouth.
Had Crystal Dynamics found a way to keep Tomb Raider's engine roaring until the finish, I would have been quite satisfied.
The Lonely Island
What's probably most surprising about Tomb Raider is the fact that the game turns a whole different shade of good after the credits roll.
When the villains are dead and the island has been conquered, Lara heads back. Players are free to fast travel wherever they want, and that means all the scrap and tombs left uncovered are ripe for the picking.
It's really strange to consider that somehow Croft's immediate future is tied to an island that's almost entirely devoid of survivors. I loved what little of the game I played after the campaign closed. There was something incredibly awesome about taking in all of Crystal Dynamics' effort without tons of dudes shooting at me.
So much so that I'd recommend sticking with this lonely play over diving into the multiplayer element of this game. It's completely forgettable, and a portion that would have been better left out of the picture entirely.
…the game turns a whole different shade of good after the credits roll.
Stop Stalling and Get It
As I mentioned at the start of this review, Tomb Raider is probably one of the best games to launch during this console generation. I take no issue with hoisting up against the best single player efforts ever released.
If this is the start of a brand new Lara Croft, then I'm completely on board. Crystal Dynamics managed to reinvigorate a franchise and the love of a gaming icon in one single move, and I truly hope they continue to drive this series well into the next generation of gaming systems over the coming years.
Just, listen, ditch the multiplayer arm. Tomb Raider makes for incredible single player fodder. Keep Lara on that path and this franchise is in wonderful shape.
We purchased Tomb Raider for the Xbox 360 with company funds. We completed the game's campaign, played for several hours after and dove into the multiplayer before starting this review.