“A famous explorer once said, that the extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are. I’d finally set out to make my mark; to find adventure. But instead adventure found me. In our darkest moments, when life flashes before us, we find something; Something that keeps us going. Something that pushes us.”
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Tomb Raider and that Lara Croft is my favourite character ever. I remember starting to play Tomb Raider: Atlantean Scion (1996) on my godfather’s PlayStation when I was just 6 years old. If I have to thank someone for it, it’s to him, because he changed the course of my life from that moment on. I got obsessed with History, Mythology and Archaeology and today I am proud to say that I am an Archaeologist, and not one that destroys everything he finds (you heard me, Indiana Jones) but one that wants to write new pages in history books and travel around the world.
Now back to the game…
So, the quote that I started this review with is one of the most iconic quotes from the 2013 reboot Tomb Raider game and is also one of my favourites from the entire game. After that cut scene Lara’s life is changed forever.
Since 1996, the Tomb Raider franchise has had a long and proud history of critically acclaimed and massively popular games. Lara is one of the most iconic heroines ever and has led players through numerous adventures across the world, while raiding tombs and discovering ancient treasures. We’ve seen her in many forms over the years, but we’ve never seen her like this before. Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics’ new Tomb Raider game, shows us a younger and less experienced Lara on her first expedition, right after graduating on Archaeology from the University College of London. It shows us how she grows from a frightened young woman to a hardened survivor.
The game’s storyline begins as Lara sets out onto her first adventure to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai aboard the research vessel Endurance. Inside the dangerous area of sea known as the Dragon’s Triangle, a huge storms strikes the ship and the crew ends up on a mysterious island. Surrounded by the harsh environment and hidden dangers, even if she manages to uncover the island’s dark history and escape its relentless hold, Lara will never be the same person again.
Over the course of the game, we see this brilliant, resourceful young woman become something closer to the Miss Croft we all know: fearless in the face of danger and always ready to face anything that crosses her path.
This is a really successful series reboot that, in my opinion, feels unique and incredibly exciting. It always makes you want to hold onto your controller for a few more minutes of fun.
Lara gets shipwrecked alongside a few friends and, obviously, she feels guilty over bringing them along on this expedition. This guilt provides much of the plot’s emotional thrust, but it’s difficult to feel as much for them as you do for Lara. In my opinion, this happens because of the amazing performance of Camilla Luddington as Lara.
She is incredibly convincing and during this adventure you’ll really feel everything that Lara is struggling through. We see Lara’s vulnerability and she is never completely disempowered or less capable when faced with danger.
There are some breathtaking moments in this game and the way it develops quickly from survival-struggle into an action epic game contributes to its appeal.
The ancient structures of Yamatai now coexist alongside buildings constructed during World War II, the wreckage of planes and ships brought down by the strong storms that surround the island, and the slums of the island’s current inhabitants. The buildings are perfectly placed in their rough natural surroundings and appear appropriately damaged, rusty and affected by the weather. Yamatai really feels like a place where people have lived and where a lot of terrible things have happened during that time. Lara Croft has been to some really impressive places during the years and, to me, Yamatai is among them. It is stunningly beautiful and the game gives you plenty of opportunities to admire it from the most diverse places – cliff-sides, precarious climbing ropes and others. Throughout the game, we literally go from claustrophobic subterranean areas to magnificent mountain tops. In terms of weather we feel a bit of everything; sunny days, snowfalls, torrential downpours, and fierce, howling winds that make it seem either like a tranquil place or a brutal one.
One thing is clear right from the start: the island is not safe, so it is a good thing that Lara gets her hands on a makeshift longbow. You familiarize yourself with it when using to hunt animals; Lara doesn’t have hunger levels that you need to manage, but wolves, deer, rabbits, chickens and other animals make the island feel much more alive; you can hunt all kinds of animals to gain experience and level up your skill points.
The cult that currently lives in the island doesn’t exactly welcome you with open arms, so it doesn’t take long until you need to turn that bow (and other weapons) towards humans. Lara’s first kill is the game’s first dramatic break point; it’s a moment of genuine emotional impact on her character. After that moment, the game quickly changes from a terrified survivor forced to take a life, to a professional killing machine, and this is the narrative’s only significant weakness, on my point of view. However, I understand that Lara has the need to get used to killing quickly in order to survive, and so does the player.
Lara periodically discovers new weapons, making the combat mechanics fresh every few hours into the game. I absolutely love bows and arrows and this was my favourite weapon throughout the entire game. You can choose to be a hidden assassin and headshot enemies with different kind of arrows, leap into the fight with a shotgun or hide behind a wall with an assault rifle. This game needs all of these different approaches (and more) in different situations, so it’s always good to know how to use them properly.
“There are no heroes here, only survivors!” – Mathias
Building Lara’s skills tree and upgrading her weapons with salvage gathered from enemies and animals proves to be extremely satisfying. By the later stages of Tomb Raider’s story, her rivals become more and more deadly but don’t worry, she’s equally lethal in terms of hand-to-hand combat and the power of her weapons. Lara moves confidently through the environment, but it still feels extremely dangerous leaping across cliff sides with a climbing axe or face dozens of enemies all by yourself. As Lara masters the skills of survival and picks up new tools along the way, you can risk further into the hidden places of the island. It makes you feel like a real explorer.
The Tomb Raider heritage shows itself in the game’s secret tombs, which are hidden around the island for you to discover. Each one of this tombs as some sort of puzzle for you to crack that leads the way to a treasure, and they are challenging enough to make you feel proud of yourself when you find the solution. This traditional Tomb Raider exploration takes a back seat to the storyline in the main campaign, so it’s great to see it shine in the secret tombs. Lara’s love for archaeology and the history behind ancient civilizations shows through when she’s poring over relics and ancient structures, despite all the hardship she has to endure.
“You’ve got great instincts, girl. You just have to trust them.” – Roth
Even if you don’t get all the relics, documents or other trinkets the first time you pass through the map, once the story is complete you can come back and gather everything in other to get that sweet 100% on your save file.
There is only one aspect of Tomb Raider that disappointed me and that’s the multiplayer. It just isn’t a lot of fun. Two of the four game modes feel significantly favouring one team over the other, and though Tomb Raider’s combat is really good in the context of the single-player, it’s just not flexible enough to support a multiplayer mode for long.
Tomb Raider is well-written, well-made, extremely exciting and incredibly addictive. The single-player campaign rarely makes any mistake, and although Lara’s quick transformation from an innocent young woman to a hardened killer and survivor seems at odds with the narrative at first, the game quickly evolves and moves past it. It is a brilliant action/adventure game that brings a new and bright future to one of Gaming’s most charismatic and popular characters of all time.
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