A reboot of one of the most iconic gaming series of all time was always going to be a risky and challenging prospect, but with this action adventure romp, Crystal Dynamics really have nailed it. Tomb Raider is all that we’ve come to expect from this franchise, and so much more.

Story

The narrative revolves around the coming of age of a young Lara Croft, taking the player through the trials and tribulations on the island of Yamatai which defined the classic heroine that is the Tomb Raider. The story-line is deep and complex, mixing a series of strong cut scenes with optional diary entry collectibles to provide two levels to the storyline. Shipwrecked on the island of Yamatai and then kidnapped by unknown inhabitants you are thrown headlong into the story from the very first moment. If anything the first few sequences are very tightly scripted and can feel a bit restrictive  once the game open up though this is quickly forgotten and the real drama begins to unfold.

Lara is a really strongly written character superbly performed by Camilla Luddington helps to bring real depth to the narrative. The supporting cast unfortunately come across as a little flat as a result of the focus on Lara, but this is only a tiny blip on the overall experience of the story-line of this game.  Most notably the story-line manages to update and modernize the Tomb Raider series without negatively impacting on any of the previous games, a task not so easily accomplished. There is an added focus on Japanese folk lore and mysticism which again is linked to collectible items leaving the player in complete control as to how deep down the rabbit hole they want to go. Tomb Raider is an engrossing tail that will continually have you coming back to find out what happens next.

lara-croft-tomb-raider-2012-screenshot-cg

The all new Lara Croft

Presentation

Probably the biggest change in the series reboot was the focus on the detail and immersion of the environment of Tomb Raider. The game is far grittier and visceral than previous games in the franchise, but this gritty detail is beautifully offset against the stunning vistas of a lost island off the coast of Japan. The game uses a clever combination of (small) open world dynamics with interspersed guided paths to show off both the openness of a forested island and the dark light flickering closeness of underground tunnels, caves and tombs. All of these are rendered eye straining detail and artfully presented to draw the player in without losing the impact of the overarching storyline or the pleasure of the gameplay.

I was particularly impressed with the way the game seamlessly integrates the key components of the environment such as ledges and cliffs for Lara to leap across, historically these have stood out from the rest of the environment and at times didn’t seem to fit, no so with the new game. Add to that flammable objects and clever water dynamics, this  Tomb Raider really draws you in, and drags you along a roller coaster ride of action and excitement all the while taking your breath away in a way more often linked to blockbuster movies than games.

Gritty detail

Breathtaking environments

Gameplay

Without being a standout point of the game, the gameplay is fluid and manages to perform its role in this action epic surprisingly well. The controls whilst nothing new and exciting are simple and logical and allow you really get to grips with the game. Combat is frequent but is not the overbearing in the game, and whilst I had some issues aiming Lara’s hunting bow early in the game, I did not struggle with the combat mechanics and surprisingly the scrap looting and weapon upgrading system was satisfying and rewarding.

My biggest (and only) real issue with this game, and to be fair it is not just this game but something the industry needs to learn and fast, is the frequent use of quick time events (QTE’s) especially early in the game. QTEs add no value or experience to gameplay and only really serve to frustrate the player mid-story. My ability to hit the triangle key at the exact moment in a cut scene just to continue the story just seems pointless to me. With that out the way though I must say that the gameplay is solid and really helps to round off the overall experience that is Tomb Raider. Most importantly the game is fluid, the adventuring and puzzle engaging and the all round experience very satisfying.

Tomb Raider Running through fire

Grittier and harder

Tomb Raider
was developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. The game was released for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Our review is based on the PS3 version.