- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Crystal Dynamics
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Action Adventure
- Pros: Gorgeous Graphics, Perfectly Balanced Gameplay, Intense Action, Notable Length/Depth
- Cons: Lackluster Multiplayer
To reboot "Tomb Raider," a franchise that fell victim to poor writing, awkward camera angles, and repetitive action, the team at Crystal Dynamics went back to the beginning -- an origin story for the legendary Lara Croft. The game features a blend of stealth, third-person shooter action, and exploration across hours of gameplay set on a mysterious island with violent secrets. After Lara and her team shipwrecks on the island, she goes from a young explorer to a killing machine as she tries to save her colleagues and discover the numerous hidden treasures of her remote location.
After the most riveting introduction I've played in years, "Tomb Raider' begins slowly enough. You're hurt and poorly equipped for what's to come. You fashion a bow and remember the advice of your father, heading out to try and find food and shelter from the driving rain. Before you're done asking yourself why the heck developers are so obsessed with hunting in such modern times (it plays a major role in "Crysis 3," "AC3," and "Far Cry 3" as well as here), the game shifts gears when Lara is forced to kill or be killed. That first encounter in which she takes another life is beautifully handled not only because it is so brutally violent but because it sets a tone for what's to come. I wouldn't go as far as to say that "Tomb Raider" takes violence as seriously as, say, "Spec Ops: The Line," but it does not shy away from the ugliness of much of its action, giving it a more visceral, intense aesthetic than gamers would expect from a franchise that had become pretty cartoony. Lara is dirty, bloody, and battered for much of "Tomb Raider" and it makes her quest feel more urgent.
How could a game that features such exploration (it's right there in the title) maintain that urgency? What I find most remarkable about "Tomb Raider" is the tonal balance, the way the game goes up and down the rollercoaster, allowing time for both peaks and valleys. Some of the chapters (although the game is wonderfully fluid, never feeling divided into missions or chapters like so many less cinematic titles) are built around the most intense action scenes you'll play all year. Running from a burning building, leaping across a falling bridge, escaping the most intense plane crash in video game history -- these are set-pieces that really work like the "big action scenes" in a Marvel movie. However, the game also allows for calmer, exploratory moments, especially in a series of optional tombs to raid, all of which are hidden (but usually easily found) and feature physical puzzles to be solved to gain treasure and salvage. It is the alternating tones of "Tomb Raider" from amazing firefights to exploration that keeps it from never becoming repetitive.
Much of what you find in the world of "Tomb Raider" is purely collectible -- treasure pieces, relics, lost journals, etc. -- and designed around the gamer looking for that elusive 100% completion (which will take players of this game weeks to pull off but I eagerly anticipate jumping back in to already-explored areas to try and pull it off) but you will also find salvage to upgrade your increasing arsenal of weapons. At first, you're just improving the pick you use to pry open rusty doors or the intensity of your bow but you'll eventualy be upgrading rifles, shotguns, and grenade launchers.
Yes, I said bow. "Tomb Raider" is also a stealth game. Using your archery skills and a well-timed headshot, you can often pick off your enemies without that attention-grabbing sound of gunfire. Or you can unload a clip or twenty-two. The fluid and variable approach to action is wildly entertaining. I found myself seamlessly flipping back and forth between styles mid-combat -- shoot an arrow, get discovered, roll to cover, pull out a shotgun, take out the guy on the right, swing around and use my pick axe on the guy trying to sneak up behind me. The combat/action is some of the most purely enjoyable in years. In fact, while this game is so undeniably inspired by Naughty Dog's "Uncharted" series, it blows those award-winning games away in terms of raw shooter action.
The only audience that may not fall instantly in love with this new and redefining adventure of Lara Croft is the one who needs a robust, deep multiplayer mode to warrant such adoration. There is a multiplayer offering but it feels perfunctory as if the developers tacked it on at the last minute to appease a wider demographic. Four on four objective-based action is nice but "Tomb Raider" didn't need it to stand out. I hope inevitable DLC is mission-based and not multiplayer.