I live in a household where the original Tomb Raider games are the benchmark that all other games are scored against. Much like I would compare any platform game to Super Mario Bros. 3 Lara and her adventures are held in such high regard by my wife that when this new Tomb Raider arrived in the post my request for her to take the review were met with cries of “I can’t, I’m not ready” and “I want to savor it in my own time”. So off I went. I threw myself into the reboot with vigor only stopping to ask the occasional spoiler-free question on details for the Tomb Raider universe that I have long since forgotten – usually something about Lara’s dad.
The opening hour of the game will put some people on edge. It sets the narrative scene well but it is very heavy on quick time events, and while these do continue throughout the game they are nowhere near as dense. What plays out from this initial setup is an experience steeped in tension. Lara’s quest very quickly changes from one of discovery into a need to survive and escape. The island you find yourself stranded on is not a friendly place, and while there is a generous amount of exploration to be done you are given clear and defined objectives throughout. The story on offer is compelling enough that you will find yourself completing these objectives because you want to survive and escape.
Make no mistake, it’s kill or be killed.
Getting to these objectives is where the game splits, requiring either environmental traversal or the killing of a lot of crazed humans. The game is far more combat-heavy than the original series, but once you’ve made some progress and unlocked a few neat tools of human destruction it is extremely satisfying. Make no mistake, it’s kill or be killed.
This game tells the story of how Lara came to be the character we all know. You will make her first human kill early on in the game, and while the ease at which she takes to the act of killing is addressed within her interactions with other characters it does still seem a little at odds with her initial reaction. All that said the combat is very satisfying, and retains an air of survival throughout the game requiring the player to actively seek out favorable positioning in longer battles.
Environmental traversal is also handled very well, and certainly retains some of the classic Tomb Raider feel. Things really start to click once your core weapon is upgraded in a way that opens up more traversal options. Once mastered, the combination of running, climbing, death sliding, and jumping seamlessly merge into some impressive action sequences while never impacting the player’s control over the situation- make a wrong move, and you’ll be falling to your death.
I found the the way your equipment serves multiple purposes to be very immersive, using your climbing axe to fight, and your bow for traversal seems very natural. As you unlock skills Lara will even use arrows as daggers. It all plays up to the survival aspect. My one complaint here is that you can’t swing your flaming torch about. I don’t really know what purpose it would serve, but my desire to do so was omnipresent. Equipment use also comes into play when solving puzzles. Most of the puzzles presented to you are physical in nature, so require more physical effort than mental.
Visually the game is quite beautiful. Some of the areas you are given to explore are huge, and with the the ability to fast travel you would do well to take few hours to just wonder about after a giant gunfight. Your friends will be fine – try and relax a little and go for a walk. Often the narrative leads you through long winding paths through caves that eventually open up into an area you’ve been before but from a different direction and the realisation that the island really is an open world is quite exciting. Lara herself is very believable, and therefore easy to connect and relate with. She never looks comfortable in her situation. At one point while I was playing my son began watching me play. I was idly wondering about looking for salvage, and he commented that “She doesn’t look very happy”. He was right.
You’ll be driven through the campaign with such a force that the urge to hunt for items, and solve the hidden tombs may be pushed to the back of your mind. Once you’re finished with the story you would do well to ignore the multiplayer, and instead jump back into the island to get some real raiding done, explore all those excellent hidden tombs you ignored, and perhaps even do some of that animal hunting that the story never really makes use of. I should clarify that, although offering little in the way of innovation, the multiplayer seems to offer plenty to keep you busy. In practice I found it to be an exercise in frustration with players vanishing when being shot at, and becoming stuck in various poses while sliding around the map. I didn’t give it much of my time, and I advise that you don’t either.