Adventure games are my type of game, but for some reason the Tomb Raider series never was one I really enjoyed. I mostly remember the few times I’ve played earlier versions as being very frustrating.
The latest reboot of the series however did not disappoint. First of all, Lara Croft is more human than before. I’m not talking about her body proportions – even though the creators also gave that some more realism. The latest Tomb Raider is a ‘coming of age’ story; it focuses on a young Lara and how her early experiences shape her. We meet her as an explorer part of a team of adventurers, but doesn’t have the guts she will develop throughout the further series.
The game starts with Lara being stranded on an island, with it’s inhabitants being more dangerous than the wolves it hosts. Lara is fragile and afraid and struggles big time; there are a lot of shaky and whiny sequences in the beginning. She’s nothing like the heroine we’ve come to know throughout the previous episodes. The latest version of the franchise tells how Lara becomes one.
This development, accompanied by a challenging story where Lara wants to save her friends but at a few points is not able to, makes for a deeply engaging plot. Lara keeps encountering emotional challenges and faces philosophical questions; can you choose not to save someone’s life for example? Lara is convinced that it is not possible.
The biggest flaw there is that Lara is very emotional after her first kill – even if it’s a bad guy – but after that it suddenly goes a lot easier. Too easy actually; they should have made the process a bit slower.
Another missed opportunity is that these same concerned are not at all considered when it comes to the lives of the bad guys. Those die by the dozens (sometimes if very brutal and gory ways). This however seem to tie in with the survival mode Lara is building; it is her or them and she doesn’t have the time to give it a lot of consideration. Killing without consideration is quite typical for action games so this doesn’t surprise, but it would have been interesting to look closer at this from the perspective of Lara’s development.
A second strong feature is that, even though Lara’s development should have been a bit slower, the action is amazingly fast-paced. There is simply no time to get bored. The main plot is gripping and it is challenging to put the controller down.
And if your adrenaline needs a short break, there are several explorative side plots which are tons of fun as well. Here we encounter Lara’s primary passion of ancient relics and artefarcts. Even though they are mostly part of side plots it helps shape her character.
Intuitive Game Play
Finally, the makers finally made a nice gameplay. While the previous Tomb Raiders weren’t always smooth and it often was quite challenging to find your way, there are several ways Tomb Raider has made it more fun to play the game. Crystal Dynamics have clearly been inspired by the gameplay of titles like Assassin’s Creed wherein the eagle vision helps the player to find objects and detect guards.
Also the handling of tools and weapons feels intuitive making the experience very cool. You can focus on the content of the action instead of on struggling to handle the action well.
In sum, apart from great gameplay and action it is mostly the deep character development of Lara and her fragility that make Tomb Raider a reboot as they should be; better than anything the series has offered before.
Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics, 2013)