Since the reveal that the Tomb Raider series was getting a complete overhaul many fans have been left with equal measures of extreme anticipation and scepticism. Tomb Raider underworld, on the whole, managed to disappoint. While the game stayed loyal to the character and the fundamentals of the series it failed to catch up with the quality of 3rd person gaming that the Uncharted series had set the standard for. As a result of Underworlds mediocre reception, it was the perfect time for the Tomb Raider series to be re-imagined.
The story starts with Lara and her pals on a sinking ship that washes up on an island, Lara is naïve at this point. She questions her abilities and doubts her survival skills. Lara is the same character we all know and love however she is unaffected at this point, she hasn’t seen horrors and she hasn’t fulfilled her potential. There in lies the premise of the game, you play as Lara Croft trying to survive on a hostile island run by an ancient religious cult and host to a dark secret. You are constantly attempting to rescue or help your friends, who are about the least interesting secondary characters in gaming history. However they were never meant to be the star of the show, it was always going to be Lara and the island itself. Lara gets hurt a lot, like really a lot, it is a surprise that she can still walk by the middle of the game because every cut scene sees her get crushed, burnt, gassed, impaled or dropped from a height. It has to be assumed that she simply endures so much pain to show that she can survive and to build character, though it can be quite uncomfortable to watch with how much misfortune she has to take.
The Island is the biggest marvel in this game, whether the game bears the name Tomb Raider or not, the way in which you traverse the island in both a linear and open world format is remarkable. You can go through the game like you would in an uncharted series, however camp sites used like checkpoints allow you to upgrade your skills and weapons and allow you to fast travel and revisit previous areas. This is a revolutionary new concept for the series, it allows you to go back to past areas to complete hidden sections and collect items,without the need for a set open world format like Far Cry 3 or Assassins Creed which at times can become tedious.
The new combat system is far from original as it borrows a lot of key aspects from the Uncharted series, however what it does is simply work and it works very well. You are given only 4 weapons which you acquire over time and can upgrade at the aforementioned camp sites, you unlock the upgrades by picking up relevant items on your way through the game. The items aren’t hard to miss and you should be able to near enough max out your weapons by the end of the game. The most original and exciting addition to the combat is the longbow which you start the game with, the bow allows you to pick off enemies while remaining in stealth mode, while the satisfaction of getting a one shot kill head shot with the bow is unrivalled. The stealth is very much optional, if you fail to keep quiet then a gunfight will ensue which you will more likely be able to come out of unscathed.
The climbing aspects of the game are again quite similar to that of the Uncharted series, yet they seem somewhat more refreshing. You have the usual cliffs and mountains to traverse, as well as the occasional crashed vehicle hanging from a ledge. However you also get some other new methods, you are given a rope eventually which attaches to your bow. This ingenious addition to game play allows you to create a path from one ledge to another and also helps with many of the games puzzles. Tomb raider doesn’t really come up with that many challenging puzzles, you wont be staring at the screen blankly wondering what to do like the original games, and you won’t get so bored of what to do next that you see how high a ledge you can swan dive from without Lara dying which is probably a good thing. Some of the more challenging puzzles usually come down to how you are going to use your bows rope feature to get to the next room, which at times becomes a bit predictable and unimaginative, yet when these work well they are rewarding to have solved.
Then there’s the multiplayer, what can I say about games forcing in some multiplayer that hasn’t already been said. Action and Adventure games often feel like they need to tack on an online experience based around their combat, Uncharted tried to pull it off and failed and now Tomb Raider has had a go. It is unfortunately exactly the same as Uncharted, there is nothing original and the general gameplay seems weak and hollow. With the unsurpassed gameplay which the story mode has to offer I genuinely believed that Tomb Raider could have implemented a multiplayer which would have been at least slightly enjoyable, instead it seems theyhave added one which is there just as an excuse to release some DLC. However I argue that if there was simply no multiplayer included it would not change my overall verdict on the game.
The game on the whole is actually pretty fantastic, on completion my first instinct was to carry on and explore the hidden side quests which allow you to solve a puzzle in unexplored tombs. The up to date version of combat and gun fighting makes this a worthy action game as well as an adventure game. The climbing, puzzles, and fighting are very carefully weighted and occur at the perfect times. When you are in combat you will be looking forward to some platforming and when you are trying to solve a puzzle you will miss being able to use your longbow. Tomb Raider will give you hours of exciting gameplay, the new Lara is extremely likeable and the story line is somewhat gripping. Despite a weak multiplayer, some embarrassingly unnecessary QTE’s (including a disappointing final boss fight), Tomb Raider is overwhelmingly impressive. It seems as though a series which has taken more than a few years off from success is ready to find its place amongst gamings elite once again.
Overall Verdict: 9/10