Hindsight is a terrifying thing…
Video games have made us somewhat disillusioned to the prospect of actual danger. Badasses aren’t grown, they just sort of happen. An ability to flex bullets out of the body and coat wounds with pixelated flesh in the blink of an eye is sub-standard stuff on any protagonist’s CV nowadays, and if you ever cry for help instead of chucking a witty one liner in the face of rockets, you’re as good as dead in the public conscious. The wisecracking protagonists need to be brought down a peg or two, not to demote awesomeness, but to make them feel somewhat more human that an impressive gathering of pixels, and whilst Lara Croft’s predicament in Tomb Raider doesn’t make her the luckiest guinea pig in this new process, she certainly pulls it off well.
Straight out of university with a thirst for adventure, talented unknown Lara Croft doesn’t aim to kick start her career like most graduates with a quick stint as a barista in Starbucks. Instead, she finds herself on the expedition of a lifetime in search for the lost Kingdom of Yamatai . In a bid to get there just a little bit quicker, she suggests to a somewhat unimpressed crew that they should set sail through the storm infested Dragon’s Triangle. Of course, with hindsight, we can all tell that this is going to be an exceptionally bad idea. What follows is the internship from hell, where if Lara doesn’t learn the hardcore methods and realities of survival quickly, she’ll soon end up as just another skeleton washed up on the shores in possibly one of the best Lost fan fictions I’ve seen in quite a while.
Upmarket quips and suave acrobatics are off the agenda when you dive into Tomb Raider. In fact there’s a lot more falling than there is actual graceful diving. When you’re finally put behind the barrel of a loaded gun, things play out just like any other third person shooter, but it takes a long time before you get any killing implements. That aura of comfort you get from being back in familiar territory is across a barrage of guilt, fear and utter powerlessness. The amount of dramatic hardships you have to tear through in the games’ opening segments, the familiarity of owning a pistol to fall back on standard gameplay tropes would feel slightly reassuring…if you weren’t left a little shaken over Lara’s first kill.
Wading through each army of psychopaths is split up with the occasional surprise QTE that slaps your senses in a bid to get its rocks off on terror. Each lurks around the most deceptively calm of corners, all willing to take you by surprise and most end with some utterly horrifying deaths. Many of them merge with some utterly insane set-pieces that nicely break up gameplay and spectacle, and each end with a satisfying sigh of relief or so much impalement that I’m sure Freud would have something to say about them…or me.
Whilst everything seems to get grimmer for Lara in terms of potential deaths for her or any one of the crew she lumped on the island, there always feels like you’re in a constant race with death, where the upper hand constantly switches positions. This is because the overall motif of growing stronger is hanging over Lara every time she sits down at a camp to reflect on the past half hour. There’s not much sweeter relief to escaping some imminent threat than to be rewarded with the chance to spice your bow up with some explosive arrows or learn some grisly finishers to prove a point to any assailant that dares stand in your way. Earning XP with almost every action you make boosts skill trees that you’re allowed to build upon to justify survivor status over the 10 hour campaign, and all build up Lara in relation to the narrative hardships rather nicely.
Everything from narrative to gameplay marries together nigh on perfectly It’s this constant ‘growing up’ that ends up being Tomb Raider’s most satisfying components, and it shines in pretty much every facet of design. When you’re fit enough to call yourself a survivor, armies of hoodlums will be unleashed to swarm you as you stand defiant with nothing but a bow in your arms. When you manage to plough through them with the aid of upgrades plus a little third person know-how, you feel you’ve earned your upgrades and deserve another snippet of island life.
The game divulges into more classic Tomb Raider gameplay should you divert off the spikey track. When chucked into an inferno infested building things take a linear approach, but even in the most enclosed areas, the island finds the space to add an extra hidden spot here and there. The singular path is masked by miniature playgrounds, almost tipping the entire island into sandbox mode. Nestled in the darkest alcoves lie tombs that hold maps that detail collectables littered all over the island, and whilst the helping hand sounds like a patronising deterrent, it’s actually a crafty encouragement to uncover just how many secrets lie in the island. Such an easily deceptively useful way of outlining collectables easily adds hours to your already rather satisfying single player experience.
…I know I used the T word earlier, but to call some of the optional missions ‘Tombs’ is somewhat optimistic. You’ll most likely be able to recreate exact replicas in your basement, and whilst each comes with its own unique puzzle, they can often be solved in a few minutes with a smidgen of intellect. Lara’s brawn might be going from strength to strength with each passing moments, but her brains will most likely be as dusty as the lairs she explores. The main game always overshadows this so this really feels like nit picking, it’s just would’ve been nice if these bells and whistles were slightly less rusty.
Visually, everything may look impressive, but nothing looks beautiful. The sunsets may glisten across the ocean, but will always be a constant reminder that danger is just around the corner. Highly detailed temples and environments loom over you, but always make you paranoid that they’ll eventually collapse at some point. Lara doesn’t end things brilliantly with scars and scratches offering up constant reminders of her exploits as she journeys through the floating death trap. Amongst the huge set pieces and glossy backdrops, Tomb Raider still hones in on the small details to hammer home just how the Dragon’s Triangle can spit someone out a little worse for wear.
Due to the all the terror and turmoil Lara undergoes throughout her time on the island, it’s understandable that the Lone Wolf would allow multiplayer into her fresh foray. However, things turn so tame that she ends up looking more like a socialite sheep. The joys of combat are marred through online matches with stilted framerates, unsurprising game modes and maps severely lacking in thrills, and the whole component justifies its place in proceedings as well as a finger in a Twix. One match in, I simply re-fired the campaign again for a second playthrough to make the game dodge the trade-in pile…and it worked.
With more adrenaline than the average action blockbuster, Tomb Raider is an exceptional demoralising punch in the face of one of the video game’s most iconic protagonists, making her all the more likable in the process. Paced superbly and filled to the brim with death, everything from narrative to gameplay marries together nigh on perfectly with a freshly portrayed Lara to present an experience that’s very difficult to tear away from. Many games toss around the term adventure loosely. Tomb Raider is as determined and frenzied as a bull in Communist Russia to jam as much quest as it possibly can in your adrenaline lobe, and it bloody well succeeds.
The Good: Increadibly well directed adventure, Merges gameplay and spectacle brilliantly, Upgrade system works well with the narrative, Deceptively large open world adds a satisfying amount of hours to the campaign
The Bad: Slightly slim on additional tombs, Multiplayer is nothing to shout about
Silver Y Award