It’s good to have Lara Croft back.
After a brief hiatus, one of the first ladies of gaming is back in a new adventure, simply titled Tomb Raider. Starting from the very beginning, Tomb Raider shows us the start of Lara’s days of exploring and some of the formative events that make her into the Indiana Jones style bad-ass we all know and love. Crystal Dynamics has taken a page from recent movies like Abrams’ Star Trek and games like Ninja Theory’s DmC and given the player a prequel/reboot of the entire franchise; and like those endeavors, it succeeds wonderfully.
Lara has had her shares of ups and downs throughout her career. Her initial outings garnered her much acclaim, and the subsequent movies that followed only grew the legend of Lara Croft. Yet, Angel of Darkness, released in 2003, almost killed the franchise with its poor controls, narrative, and design. Yet, Lara would not be put down so easily. Crystal Dynamics took the reigns from Core Design and brought Lara back in Tomb Raider: Legend. The game was received well enough, and spawned two sequels. Yet, those games were in the shadow of a new up and coming adventurer; Nathan Drake. The Uncharted series had taken the crown from Lara while she was away and getting her feet back under her. Lara couldn’t get by doing the same old things anymore; because Drake and the team at Naughty Dog were doing it better. Crystal Dynamics had to make a distinct change in the way Lara played and the way they told their stories, and with this new game, they did just that.
Tomb Raider is a blast. It breathes fresh air into the series, while keeping it true to its core. The Lara you start with isn’t the Lara of series fame, but rather a grad student reluctantly living in her father’s shadow, on an expedition for a reality television series. She has skills, but they are untested; and she is thrown into an impossible situation. What’s most interesting in these beginning sections is that for the first hour or two, Tomb Raider gives the impression that it is going to be simply another Uncharted clone. There are scripted events, quick-time sequences, and the player does not have much control over the situation at hand. Yet, after that initial rush; the player is given open play on the island. At this point it becomes less Uncharted and more Arkham Asylum. There are multiple points were you will areas unreachable or tombs that you cannot access until you come back later in the game with the proper tool set. It creates a natural feeling of progression (on top of the skill tree they have in-game) to all that you do. There’s also a fair share of collectibles throughout the story. Most are throw-away at best, but some of the character journals are worth reading, if only because they add depth to the paper thin secondary cast. The island is huge, with some optional tombs to raid, and it is these moments of exploration that the game seems to shine. Sadly, it falls back on many of the tropes of the third person shooter in its final hour or so; but frankly that’s forgivable in the light of its narrative
If there is to be any complaint leveled at the game, its the narrative dissonance that becomes quite evident to the player early on. The game’s narrative hinges on the Lara’s innocence being lost as she traverses and deals with what the island throws at her. Her first kill affects her, and she is astounded by the situation she finds herself in. Yet, the moment that the player gains a weapon, bow, gun, or otherwise; that Lara disappears and she becomes a killing machine. Its easy to write off that this is a video game, and the most common way for a player to interact with a game is through shooting, but this seemingly goes against the grain of the story that they are trying to convey. Nonetheless, most players won’t be bothered by this, or even notice it.
Tomb Raider is worth playing. It has its faults, but they are outweighed by its strong narrative and interesting backdrop. It going to be fun to see where Crystal Dynamics takes the series; especially if the next iteration is planned to be on the next generation of consoles. Lara has regained her good name in this new take on the series. Let’s hope that those in charge of her fate don’t waste this chance; because I don’t think she can survive another trip down the water fall…