My Tomb Raider obsession started back in 1996 when I was 11 years old and my friend’s brother was playing it on their family PC. The fact that he was fighting the T Rex I found really cool and decided I wanted a bit of this. Being a complete tom boy at the time and obsessed with dinosaurs, this game seemed perfect to me!
So for Christmas, I was given a PlayStation and the game and I have never looked back. From playing the first in the series, my obsession with the franchise grew and grew, and my love of Lara grew with it. Finally there was a woman I could relate to, admire and look up to, even if she wasn’t real! It meant I got teased at school because of it, but I didn’t care, it was something I loved and was my own thing and that was all that mattered.
I loved how independent Lara was, how her parents had disowned her for the rebel that she was and she didn’t give a toss about it, as she was doing what she wanted to do. She was a loner, didn’t need friends, didn’t need family, she just did what she wanted, and I loved that! I decided by about Tomb Raider 3’s release, that no matter what, I would become as much like Lara as any woman could!
Well, 15 years down the line, and with a degree in archaeology that I have no use for, I sit at my desk at the office I work in realising how life hardly ever works out how you planned in that rose tinted view of the future you have as a youngster.
One thing that never changed for me in all those years though, was my love for Lara and her tomb raiding escapades; if anything I needed that escapism even more. I had enjoyed the movies when they had come out- after the initial horror on what they had done to Lara’s character, but then realising the game and the movie were two different concepts- and had really enjoyed Angel of Darkness as a game, although I know a lot of classic fans think it was a disaster.
My love for the franchise however, did get tested with the release of Legend which had completely changed what for me Tomb Raider and Lara Croft was. Lara was no longer this strong independent woman, but an emotionally scarred girl on a mission to find her mum! I was mortified! The locations were beautiful, but there really wasn’t much to them and I remember completing Legend so quickly and feeling nothing afterwards. It had been a fun game, but not a real Tomb Raider for me.
Anniversary I was really psyched about, as it would mean my favourite game would be updated to a more modern gaming design and couldn’t wait to see what would be unveiled. I was disappointed to find that, although it was closer to the Classics than Legend had been, there was still this new bio and annoying moves (don’t get me started on the wall run!) that I just could not get used to. I never did finish this game because I just could not get on with it.
Underworld was another game that had so much promise, and yet was unable to deliver, giving the conclusion to the finding her mum storyline, there was no other reason for Lara to keep raiding tombs.
I realised then that my Lara that I grew up admiring was long gone…
Soon enough, this reboot gets announced, and like a lot of classic Tomb Raider fans, I was a tad cynical about Crystal’s next attempt at making a Tomb Raider game. But after seeing a few screenshots of the new, young Lara and the concept art for the environment she would be placed in, my spirits were lifted somewhat. Here was a chance to start again with a clean slate. Like James Bond, I understood Lara needed to be updated, but the changes that were made in the LAU trilogy had been hard to swallow.
Soon, we found out that this new Lara did indeed have her independent streak, had gone to a university chosen by herself, not her parents and she had worked several jobs in order to pay for her education rather than rely on her parent’s money. Now we’re getting somewhere! There was the small matter of the fact her parents hadn’t disowned her though, and that they were missing, but I was willing to overlook that, if it’s not brought to the floor too much! I thought it was a realistic idea of fleshing Lara out with an origins story (don’t know why, but a lot of fans hate the word origins!) of her first adventure, but instead of a plane crash in the Himalayas, it was a ship wreck in the Dragon’s Triangle. A lot of people, I don’t think liked the idea (and probably still don’t) of the fact that we get to see Lara as a sweet innocent little girl who has to go through all this trauma in order to become the bad ass that she was famous for being! I don’t personally see the problem, as long as she comes out as Lara at the end, what does it matter how she started, especially when her original bio had something equally traumatic as her turning point.
Now I was happy with what they had done to Lara, all that I needed to worry about was could they deliver a Tomb Raider game, that was a nod to the classics but also keeping up with games of today.
Only time would tell when I could eventually get my hands on the game itself, as no matter how many play-throughs of the first twenty minutes at expo’s and community events I could get, it would never be able to give me a broad enough view of where this game would go.
That’s why I know how lucky I was to be given a promo copy of the game over a week before its worldwide release, and I am very thankful to the staff at Square Enix for giving me the opportunity that most fans could only dream of without breaking the law!
So anyway, here’s my review, I’ve tried to keep it as spoiler free as possible!
Anyone who has been to an expo or event in the last year or so and played the Tomb Raider demo there will know the beginning of the game. It is pretty linear with a puzzle thrown in there to give a taster of what’s to come. This is obviously a way of getting people used to controlling Lara and a nice way to introduce the fact that she’s not in the most comfortable of situations. From the beginning, Lara looks amazing, she handles brilliantly and her surroundings look great!
The first open part of the game where you get to try out the bow for the first time and make your first kill, gives back a feeling of the openness of the old games and gives an introduction into the bonus of picking things up along the way (seeing as in the old games it was all about picking up medipacks, with Lara’s regenerating health, medipacks don’t exist in this world!)
You also get the introduction into the upgrade system and fast travel at the camps dotted around the island.
I have to say, I haven’t had much experience with the fast travel so far, but the skills and salvage sections I absolutely loved! The skills almost feel like a nod back to the days of AOD, with their “I feel stronger now” feature, but this one actually works. You can customise your skills to whatever you feel you need, whether it’s close combat and killing skills, to being better at finding more salvage.
The salvage section is also a great idea as a more realistic way in the game of upgrading weapons as you work your way through, it also is a great encouragement to new players to the Tomb Raider series in getting them to explore the environment and look for hidden treasures.
The relics and the journals that are added pickups are a great bonus I think in the exploration element of the game. The relics can range from anything to archaeological finds that are thousands of years old to small more modern personal things such as a WW2 photo or a little girl’s teddy. It gives a more human side I think to the place. The journals add to the personal stories as well as you go along, hearing all the different stories and thoughts of the survivors and also of other people who have been trapped on the island. The further you get into the game and the more you pick up, the darker and sinister the stories get. It’s a simple but effective way of getting more information from the story across and I liked it! It also means that you find out more information about the other characters in the story without Lara having to interact with them, so for the majority of the game, other than a handful of cut scenes, she is completely on her own. Another positive mark!
It’s not too long before the infamous scene of Lara’s first human kill comes up, and personally I don’t see the controversy around it, I only find it annoying for being a Quick Time Event, as I’ve never been a fan of those from the start when they were in Legend.
It’s still a great scene and shows just how new Lara is to everything she is experiencing. Some fans would probably find it annoying, but as I’ve said beforehand, I like the idea of showing her before she was bad ass and seeing that learning curve that she goes through. And it’s not long before Lara has no problem killing everyone she comes across.
Combat has always been a bit of a grey point with Tomb Raider as all it was in the beginning was drawing your guns, waiting for Lara to point at the target and then jump around shooting them till they died. Not exactly complicated or intricate! How things have changed! Using the skills scheme which I mentioned earlier, Lara can build up her combat skills, from becoming a steadier shot with her bow, to being able to use the climbing axe as a weapon (a personal favourite of mine!). The combat suddenly in a Tomb Raider game has actually become the highlight as the diversity of not only her weapons but her moves has increased massively and clearly work has gone into making them as flawless as possible. For someone who isn’t a fan of combat, I grew to love it and became a bit bloodthirsty towards the end of the game! The combat and the AI of the enemies work well together in that you have a choice a lot of the time about how to take on a group of enemies; do you prefer to go in all guns blazing, or would you rather try to pick them out stealthily one by one? It’s entirely up to you, although sometimes a stealthy approach can fail miserably and you can end up paying for it!
It is from here on in that the game really opens up and you can see how vast and huge the place really is!
A lot of the time, you will be running around and seeing parts to a puzzle or levels that can’t be reached as you do not have the skills or accessories to get there, but there’s still plenty to see and do in each part.
As the game opens up, so does the opportunity to have more side challenges and activities. The best ones being in my opinion the side tombs, which can either stick out like sore thumbs, or be a bit of a mission to find, unless you stumble upon them by chance.
The side tombs usually involve a physics puzzle, in order for you to get to the level with the treasure chest, which should maybe have had a special relic in it, rather than just salvage and XP, but it’s all in general quite a nice touch. These tombs do tend to get bigger and have more complicated puzzles as they go along. One in particular I loved later on in the game which really reminded me of a Tomb Raider 2 type of puzzle as it was in a more modern setting like the Offshore Rig! Therefore I didn’t mind the fact that it killed me on the first few attempts as I loved the nostalgia that oozed from this room! It’s these tombs that I think help to make this game spot on for a Tomb Raider game.
I’ve mentioned the game opening up significantly towards the middle with the side tombs and extra levels to it, however, there are still linear sections to this game that pop up here and there, but this is mainly to keep the story rolling along, so it’s a bearable feature in the game. Another outrage amongst fans are the white ledges to show that they are climbable, and if I’m honest, I didn’t even notice them half of the time as I think the game does a pretty good job of hiding them anyway. And the symbols that show up when you’re near a fire or a relic can help them stick out a lot better as they may be hidden in foliage or in the shadows, so if anything, these little touches can help, rather than being an annoyance.
The atmosphere in this game tends to have different elements to it; from being all action when Lara comes across a group of enemies, to downright creepy when she heads into the bowels of some caves where bodies are hanging from the ceiling and you don’t know what’s waiting round the corner. The music helps with this and I especially love the little chimes that play when a tomb has been found, very reminiscent of the original Tomb Raider secrets! Sometimes you don’t even need the music to add to the ambience of the moment, as just like in the classics, you only needed certain noises to be heard in order to give the place you are in a claustrophobic, edgy feel.
There were moments I found myself being so on edge and expecting something to happen that the slightest noise or something hitting the floor would make me jump out of my skin. I haven’t had that with a Tomb Raider game for a long time!
As you can probably see from above, I have found enough elements in this game for me to be really positive about, and feeling like this is a Tomb Raider worth getting excited about again.
I have yet to talk about the ending however…
For how epic this game feels pretty much all the way through, the last section just seems to me to be so rushed, as if they couldn’t agree on how, or who they wanted to end it with.
It felt like a pretty huge anti climax to a game that had been so huge in its build up for what was to come. I actually felt bitterly disappointed and underwhelmed when the credit started to roll I am afraid to say. I can’t really say much else without feeling I’m going into too much detail, but the conclusion I get from the ending in this game and Crystal’s previous Tomb Raiders is that Crystal still really need to work on the final fights of their games.
Overall, I think this game is absolutely amazing, and I’m proud to say that I count it towards a positive addition to the Tomb Raider series, even if the ending lets it down the way it does. I’m also in love with this new Lara, I love her independence and her doubt in herself at the beginning and the way she is shaped into the Lara that we are all more familiar with. However, the Oedipus complex that she seems to have kept really needs to be toned down, Lara can be a great and well fleshed out character without the need of her parents being a constant motivational presence.
To end on a positive note, I am already playing through it again, which I have never said about any of the other Crystal games, that’s got to be saying something right?!
Laurie’s Tomb Raider Review by Laurie Anne Scudder-Walker / Survivor Reborn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.