The Tomb Raider franchise has faced a tumultuous journey. It debuted to immense critical acclaim in 1996; however, its gazillion follow-ups were infamously criticized to varying degrees. Some condemned the monotonous platforming, others the uber-sexualiaztion of sex-bomb protagonist Lara Croft, and many ridiculed Angelina Jolie’s turn as the heroine (although I found both films quite entertaining in a brainless sort of way). But 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot has gained a tremendous amount of global praise, and it’s easy to see why: it’s a downright stunning achievement – one that should be experienced by gamers and non-gamers alike.
Controlling Lara is a downright breeze. Gone is the frustrating grid-based system of the old days; Lara can now move freely and dynamically, while reacting naturally to the environment around her. The game does a superb job of letting you feel like you’re in total control of the island Lara finds herself shipwrecked on. In addition, it’s an utter joy to navigate Croft as she hops across chasms or relentlessly climbs her way up a gargantuan radio tower. The island itself is staggering, and it’s packed with beautiful details that render it a living, breathing character in its own right.
Most impressively, Tomb Raider manages to create a wholly immersive movie-like experience. I know a lot of people aren’t fans of quick-time events, but paired with gorgeous graphics and impeccable sound-design, they’re incredibly realized. In fact, they manage to produce a number of thrilling set-pieces worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. The spectacle that comes with guiding Lara through an incoming plane crash is just astounding, and the game is filled with moments that are just as memorable and exhilarating.
If the game has any drawbacks, it would be the story. Lara’s personal journey into fully-fledged asskicker is fascinating to experience, but the antagonists she comes across (no spoilers here) aren’t really anything we haven’t seen before. The somewhat predictable narrative doesn’t spoil the adventure, but it does stop the game from being truly perfect.
Interestingly, the game opens up the entire island for you to explore once the narrative is complete. That’s a lot of replay value as you endeavor to max out Lara’s various abilities and gear, while discovering the various side-tombs and trophies. It truly feels like Lara becomes the master of her environment by the end of the game, as she transforms from a frightened little girl into a skilled and powerful warrior. Of the various weaponry she gets her hands on, nothing is as satisfying to use as the bow she acquires early in the game. Headshots are remarkably satisfying, and the controls are terrifically responsive. My only beef: you never get to really wield Lara’s iconic dual pistols. I guess they’re leaving that for the sequel.
17 years after its groundbreaking debut, Tomb Raider finally recaptures the magic with a brilliant entry in the iconic franchise. Welcome back Lara; we missed ya.