Tomb Raider review
As one of the most recognisable game characters of all time, it must be a pretty tough job creating a new Lara Croft game. Tomb Raider was an absolute staple of the original PlayStation, but disappointing PS2 sequels and a reboot that struggled to generate new interest in the series meant developer Crystal Dynamics were really up against it. The answer was lifted straight from the Hollywood playbook - with a moody reboot based around an origin story.
Tomb Raider shows how Lara became the globe-trotting adventurer we know and, despite it not being the most original concept, this new game is arguably the best of the lot.
As part of a crew of inexperienced archaeologists filming a documentary, Lara is shipwrecked on a South Pacific island when their boat encounters a freak storm. Separated from her group and forced to fight crazed natives and wild animals to survive, Lara is put through hell, all within the opening hour. Make a wrong move, mistime a jump or fail to match an on-screen prompt and you’ll usually see a grizzly death animation – the developers don’t pull any punches with the violence.
It might look bleak, but Lara soon fights back
Fresh out of university, Lara isn’t prepared for the trials and dangers ahead of her; you have to scavenge for parts, equipment and weapons to defend yourself. At the start of the game she balks at hunting a deer for food, but as she learns to fight back you’ll be zip-lining through tree-top forts, climbing mountains and exploring wrecked ships. It’s once you uncover the island’s other occupants that things take a turn for the worse. A tribe of shipwrecked soldiers are hell-bent on using your friends for some kind of ritual; one that’s tied to the bizarre weather preventing your rescue. It gets surprisingly dark in places, which is a new direction for the series, but one that works incredibly well at cranking up the tension.
The plot might be linear, but the gameplay is anything but; it switches seamlessly between exploration, combat and puzzle-solving, with massive levels that can be approached in multiple ways. Certain areas are off-limits until you unlock new equipment, but for the most part you can take your time to survey the environment, avoid enemies and hunt down the numerous collectibles strewn throughout each level. Base camps let you travel between areas you’ve already cleared, so you don’t have to worry if you can’t find that last GPS cache or hidden relic before moving on with the story.
Once armed, Lara becomes a force to be reckoned with
By completing the optional 'puzzle tombs' you'll unlock weapon upgrade parts and earn experience that can be used to upgrade Lara’s skills. At the start of the game she isn’t able to use hand-to-hand combat or spot hidden items using the Survival Instincts mode, which highlights your current objective and any patrolling enemies when you tap the corresponding key. With dense jungle obscuring many of the game’s collectibles, you’ll be using it a great deal.
The developers have done an outstanding job creating a realistic tropical island that’s fraught with danger but also incredibly beautiful. The environments are lush and expansive, with at times photo-realistic vistas that stretch out through forests, over cliffs and out into the ocean. Indoor locations are equally impressive, with dimly lit caverns and unexplored bunkers creating plenty of atmosphere.