I remember gasping at the E3 2011 demo two years ago. It was a sign of a new beginning for our modern gaming icon. Boys (and men) around the world rejoiced as this polygon beauty promised a whole new direction for the Tomb Raider series. Gone are the fair-skin, plaited hair and big boobs that characterised the First Lady of gaming. In its place you have a younger, more rugged Lara that’s not scared to mix it up with anything Mother Nature can throw at her.
Things start off with Lara joining a film documentary crew on an adventure to find an island based on a myth. As they (unbeknownst to them) near the shores of Yamatai Island the ship gets struck by a sudden storm and splits into two. Lara and the crew are separated and washed to shore and before our heroine knows what’s happened she’s hanging upside-down in something that looks like a torture chamber. Adult Lara would be horrified. Crystal Dynamics did not fool around with the gruesome bits either.
Nathan Drake occasionally reaches out to touch a wall in passing. Batman’s suit gets more tattered the further into Arkham City you venture, but nowhere have I ever seen such reckless physicality as in this Tomb Raider reboot. Hearing Lara scream in agony each time she puts a foot wrong is a common occurrence. I’m a strong supporter of this new hard-hitting direction that Crystal Dynamics is taking with Lara. It’s not just her looks or the blood-splattered edge of her design that warrants attention. After being ship-wrecked on an island with psycho killers, Lara has to push deeper inland to find her friends. To keep the latest Ms. Croft outing relevant in the modern age Crystal has adopted an entirely fresh approach with a welcome emphasis on both physical ‘oomph’ and a more tactical use of surrounding environments.
Not long into your journey Lara will discover a bow. Your first victim? That would be a deer or rabbit. Press and hold the left trigger to ready your bow and press the right trigger to inject an arrow into anything that moves. Unlike Tomb Raider titles in the past you always feel in complete control with your weapons. Salvage the animal and you receive points for upgrading Lara’s survival abilities as well as weapons. No, you can’t just upgrade these as you please. To do that you have to find a Base Camp which consists of a bonfire. Here you can improve your damage stats of your shotgun, increase the magazine size of your handgun or attach a scope to your machine gun. Don’t sneeze at your bow. You can add napalm and explosive rounds to the tip for that ‘Rambo‘ effect. You can also use the opportunity to travel between various campsites, acting as waypoints to help you find all the notes left by other people who have since succumbed to the island’s mysterious happenings and relics. To help you locate these along with mission objectives you simply press the LB button to highlight everything of importance within your immediate surroundings.
Comparisons between Tomb Raider and Uncharted come naturally, given that both franchises are third person, action adventure titles with treasure hunting at their cores. In the mid stages you’ll encounter a good dose of bullet spraying (as seen in Uncharted) along with the odd quick time event. Other similarities come in the form of detail. Lara automatically ducks under anything that is waist-high. There is no need to press a button to crouch and it has to be said that the graphical detail matches most of what Uncharted could throw at the PS3. Forget for a minute that this is one island. The various scenes are vastly different in atmosphere and style. One moment Lara will be stealthily treading through the forest and in an hour or two she’ll be walking over a bridge towards a hidden temple. Other than using the waypoints there is no backtracking.
Ironically Tomb Raider falters in one aspect and that’s the tombs. There are only a few tombs scattered about the island and, unless you’re a very unobservant player, chances are good that you won’t miss it. These tombs act as mini puzzle chambers, with each one taking about five to ten minutes at most to complete. It’s a little disappointing as the game generally lacks in material that challenges the mind. It’s also best that you steer clear of the online multiplayer. It’s a bugfest that does not deserve to be on the same disc as the single player campaign.
Gamers that are craving for some adventure and platforming won’t be let down. If she’s not scaling mountainsides with relative ease using a climbing axe (which attaches to specified surfaces by pressing the X button) she’s shooting a rope arrow to make it from one side of a cliff to the next. Yes, expect different types of baddies and a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat for most of your journey. Yes, headshots and stealthy kills will reward you with more points to upgrade quicker. Yes, this is the best Rambo ‘movie’ since First Blood: Part 2. Yes, you really should stop reading this and go buy one of the best games of 2013… like now!