There aren’t many games I’ve played where I have to pause and remember to breathe, yet on the other hand I have also experienced some gaming shocks that have reduced me to tears or fits of anger. The latest Tomb Raider has managed to do both to me on several occasions, which in my mind elevates this game to something that everyone should experience.
1996 was an odd year. Rapper Tupac Shakur was shot four times in Las Vegas and later died in hospital, the IRA set off a bomb in my hometown of Manchester, Trainspotting had hit the cinemas and parents were going crazy for Woody and Buzz Lightyear dolls. The love and hate relationship that has lasted for 17 years began. This was the year I met Miss Lara Croft.
Equipped with a big arsenal and bigger breasts, Lara Croft rocked every gamer’s world. She appeared in music videos, Lucozade adverts, got two movies, featured in many non gaming magazines and even in a ad for Gordonstoun boarding school! Miss Croft has been everywhere and back again. Her popularity has stayed high and thankfully she has adapted a more realistic body figure. Triangle breasts are not the best.
Tomb Raider has become one of the most talked about games in the last three months. It has risen issues on rape, women’s views, and how women are portrayed in the media today. Lara has given a voice to so many since her latest game release and I honestly don’t think Square Enix was expecting that to happen.
Lara returns to us not as a tomb raider, but as a young university graduate searching for adventure. Due to a bad storm, Lara finds herself shipwrecked on an island called Yamatai, off the coast of Japan in the Dragon’s Triangle. Determined to find the surviving crew members, Lara must learn to adapt, survive and fight her way through the horrors that await her.
Rhianna Pratchett (the game’s writer) did a great job of creating a gripping storyline that isn’t complicated and can be followed easily. Lara is the main heroine, so naturally she is going to be the one who grows and develops more. The other characters don’t seem to do this and are more background than foreground. This is forgivable though, since after all, this is Lara Croft’s origins story.
As you discover throughout your journey, Yamatai island itself is a character, with ships and crashed planes showcasing how much destruction the island has suffered. Great and terrible things have happened here amongst the old war bunkers and statues. The island is not only home to shipwrecked, occult maniacs, but also food sources such as deer and rabbit. Early on you have to kill a deer in order to feed Lara, and you do feel her remorse after the kill. Lara of course can’t starve, but killing animals not only earns you experience, but also unlocks achievements/trophies.
But this isn’t the Lara whom we first met back in 1996; that Lara was a tomb expert and seemed to be scared of nothing. This Lara, however, is terrified of wolves, has never shot anyone before and hates tombs. When once she would happily shoot away at any creature or person that posed a threat to her, this young woman is vulnerable and terrified.
Poor Lara is punished from the start, setting herself on fire in order to escape an upside down cage, only to land on a broken piece of bone surrounded by a pile of skeletons. To add to the new horrors, Lara then encounters a dead woman who has been crucified. By now, the player starts to think; “What the hell has Lara gotten into?”
Once Lara makes her first human kill, this is when you feel so much emotion for her as a player. You helped her take that life, but it was in self defense. You shake, pause the game and have to catch your breath. You helped murder someone, you killed a man; good! This is now kill or be killed. There is adrenaline pounding through you right now, you can only go forward. Lara Croft is now evolving into the bad-ass heroine we all know and love. And she is taking no prisoners. She even goes as far as to taunt the men who have set out to hurt her and her companions.
You want to help Lara escape this horrible place in one piece, but first you have to witness the mental breakdown of a vulnerable young woman put in a life or death situation, and then help build her back up again to become a fighter and a survivor. There are no archetypal big strong men to come along and beat the bad guys into the ground for her. Lara needs to do this herself and shows us that a woman can overcome impossible odds.
When Lara is first stranded on the island her only weapons are a bow and arrow and a pick axe. Roughly an hour into the game you acquire your first gun, which is a handgun. Ammo can be found by savaging bodies or by exploring the area. Later on you discover a a World War Two assault rifle and a trench shotgun, which can be upgraded at campsites. To do this you once again salvage from bodies and grates.
Combat flows beautifully in Tomb Raider. For example, Lara will be climbing up a cliff face and will be met with enemy gun fire. As soon as you reach the top, Lara automatically pulls herself into cover and gives the player a chance to assist the situation. The cover mechanics in Tomb Raider have to be the best I’ve seen so far in a game. No longer do you have to panic and remember which button to push, Lara will dive for cover regardless. This is helpful in a big fire fight. However looting bodies amidst a heavy gun battle is difficult because bodies tend to disappear before you can risk a rummage.
There is a good balance between shooting and stealth. Quick Time Events play a big part and I think they work well. Some gamers were frustrated over this claiming it took the challenge away from the gameplay, specifically killing a wolf in five QTE steps. You need to work harder and be faster with QTEs to kill enemies and to avoid certain death. Some sequences use QTEs well to increase tension, such as Lara scrambling quickly up through a cave and dodging falling rocks in the process.
Of course tombs are to be found and explored on this island. However, puzzles are not your typical Tomb Raider. This time round you are not an experienced tomb raider, so puzzles have been simplified more than the previous ones. You don’t get that clever-clogs feeling like before or a sense of achievement when a new puzzle has been solved. Tombs are basically a single room and can be solved with ease. Experience is given from tomb exploration, so it’s not all bad.
Camilla Luddington did a fantastic job of voicing young Lara. She showed real emotion and gave depth to the well loved heroine. Each voice actress was suited for the role of Lara and it was nice to hear a fresh voice for her, a new beginning for the character. The soundtrack has been composed perfectly by Jason Graves, who also scored Dead Space. Tension is raised by the music, making the hairs on your arms stand on end. You dread to think what is just round the corner, ready to strike.
Moments of calm are helped by the piano and violin, giving you hope and encouragement. Those hopes are suddenly dashed by dramatic drum beats and sinister violin shrieks. You experience quiet moments of discovery that jump to intense action sequences. This is a movie soundtrack created for a video game and Graves pulls you into the drama with each musical piece.
The replay value for Tomb Raider is great. No pressure from the storyline, you can just explore all those nooks and crannies that weren’t possible to reach before with the new skills you unlock via the many campsites throughout the game. These campsites are also used as fast travel should you wish to return to any previous locations, which is a nice little feature which saves time and frustration.
You can’t help but be in awe at the beauty in this game. Even after the title sequence, I was still gazing at the beautiful sky and choppy waters below Lara. Even hanging from a cliff top, you can’t help but stop and admire the view. Even the hidden tombs are unique in style and deserve to be found and explored.
What stands out for me is how much Lara’s outfit deteriorates over time. The classic blue vest becomes caked in mud and dried blood over the course of her perilous journey and yet Lara’s makeup manages to stay intact! Not a smudge on that pretty face.
The only let down is the multi-player. It gets boring and dull really fast and it will be surprising to find anyone playing it in a few month’s time. It does nothing to boost the storyline in games such as Mass Effect, and looks like it has been added because other games are including it. Pointless.
Square Enix can’t seem to do any wrong lately with Edios games. They released a beautiful Deus Ex and Hitman back into the gaming industry and will hopefully do wonderful things with the next Thief game. Tomb Raider is another jewel in their gaming crown, they can’t do any wrong.
Yes, I have been a fan of Tomb Raider from the start, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed all the games *coughAngelofDarknesscough* With all franchises, there are going to be some that aren’t going to please all fans. But this is a reboot, a completely different Lara to the one we knew. Some have compared this reboot to adventure games such as Uncharted. But Tomb Raider was originally released before the Uncharted series. So really Lara Croft taught Nathan Drake all he knows.
This game is hands down the best looking Tomb Raider of the series and deserves the high rating and praise it’s received. I urge people to experience it, even if you have never played a Tomb Raider game before and only thought Tomb Raider was a random Angelina Jolie film. Go and play the game with fresh eyes and forget everything you once knew about the British female explorer. Because only when you do that can you see a brand new heroine standing before you.