In Crystal Dynamics’ new reboot of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is no longer the femme fatale we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. The new Lara is a bright-eyed archaeologist, learning the ropes of what it takes to be a Croft.
Tomb Raider starts out with trouble right off the bat with an intense shipwreck scene but no back story whatsoever. The next thing you know, Lara is hanging upside down in a cave full of skulls and eerily lit candles. After managing to get herself off the rope, she lands on a sharp metallic object through the side of her torso, which is the first of many brutal happenings that demonstrates Lara’s superhuman ability to withstand pain throughout her adventures.
I’d be lying if I were to say that I wouldn’t be scared out of my wits in fetal position, in such a situation. Luckily for us, we’re playing as Lara Croft, the adventuring archeologist. Now that she was back on her feet, it was time to find a way out.
So there I was, navigating my way out of a horrifying catacomb-like cave as a wounded Lara with fuzzy vision due to falling 10 feet from the ground and landing on a very well placed piece of metal. At this point, I was introduced to the ‘Survival Instinct’ feature. This feature changes the screen to a lighter tint for a few seconds while highlighting any items, key objects and destination. I found myself spamming that feature throughout my course of play so I could be sure to have picked up every item while keeping track of where to go and not as a way to cheat dark caves by any means. (Okay, maybe a little.)
It didn’t take long until I got a taste of my first QTE in Tomb Raider when a creepy old man appeared out of nowhere and grabbed Lara’s leg. This one wasn’t too hard to figure out, as I only had to mash left and right to free her. After doing so, as I continued along the path, I came across a simple puzzle that required some climbing and moving boxes. At this point I had a vague idea of what kind of puzzles I’d be solving in Tomb Raider, and I liked what I saw. It wasn’t because the puzzle gave me a feeling of satisfaction upon quickly figuring it out, but because the game didn’t hold my hand by showing me how to do it. The obstacles were placed in a simple manner by which I could understand what needed to be done, without it looking like an obvious puzzle. It still felt more like a survival game where I had to use my surroundings to find a way out, rather than a short puzzling interlude stage.
After a couple explosions which may have caused the cave to start collapsing, I had to find a way out and fast. While making a run to the exit, the old QTE guy from earlier made a reappearance and grabbed Lara’s leg, once again. It was the same thing as before except this time with an additional input. The command only appeared for a brief second and I read it too late in the heat of the moment. Needless to say, Lara was crushed by a huge boulder. On my second attempt, though, I managed to pull it off, and this time, he was the one under the boulder.
Finally, I was out of the cave and was greeted by a nice scenery of several wrecked ships and World War II remnants on the island. It felt nice to be out of the cave but it wasn’t long until my next adrenaline rush when I had to cross a cliff gap over a fallen tree in bird’s eye view. Keep in mind, I’m only mildly afraid of heights in real life. In games, usually not at all. That being said, Crystal Dynamics did their homework in studying movie-like camera angles. Whether you’re crossing narrow ledges or running from explosions, there’s always some sort of intense camera angle that makes it feel like you’re part of a Die Hard film.
The Hollywood camera angles can look nice but I found some parts to be confusing at times. You can get through most of these moments by holding the up directional to go forward no matter where Lara is facing. A memorable part for me was in a later part of the game, when Lara was running from an exploding bridge towards the screen. Naturally, I kept holding W so she’d keep running towards the direction she was facing. Instead, she did a U-turn and dove head first into the explosion. I got a good laugh out of it, but it definitely took away from the intense action.
I didn’t know much about the story or why Lara was on the island except for the fact that her ship wrecked, leaving Lara and the rest of the crew separated, but once I reached the game’s first camp area, the pieces started to come together. The campsites are used as a safe zone, where you can upgrade weapons and learn skills from points gained by leveling. The skills vary in survival, hunter and brawler upgrades, which can be used to make things easier along your journey. Certain key campsites have story parts, where Lara reads a part of her journal entry that gives you a little back story of what’s been going on. The story itself isn’t exactly too complicated, as it unfolds before your eyes, but if you want to know more about the background of other characters and their relationship with Lara, that’s a whole other thing.
You can find other journal entries scattered throughout the game and each one tells you a piece from a certain character’s background. The only problem is that they can easily be overlooked unless you search every nook and cranny of the island. During my first play through, I found somewhere close to 50% total, so I felt like I’ve missed out on quite a lot.
It wasn’t too long into the game until Lara showed her first sign of weakness, reminding me that she’s just an ordinary girl and not the Lara Croft from previous series. There was a memorable scene when Lara was heartbroken after having to kill a deer for food. She also experienced a similar feeling when she had to kill her first human target. Some would argue that she was quick to get over that, as she kills countless other animals and humans later with no emotion, but I think that the game would’ve felt a little dragged had she not accepted the fact that it was to eat or be eaten on the island.
In fact, Lara’s character changes throughout the game as she goes through numerous hardships, becoming stronger to face what’s ahead of her. The nice part is that this change is complemented by the game’s design, too.
Acquiring a weapon changes how you play, and one of Tomb Raider’s weapons is a bow. Having a weapon meant that I no longer had to hide my way around and could be on the offensive, which greatly changed my approach. In my first fight, I was on the floor against countless wolves appearing from behind bushes. At first it took a little getting used to without any sort of auto-aiming, as it requires actual aiming and precision to shoot efficiently. Several wolf bites later, I understood what needed to be done to fight properly while using the bow. As a player, I shared similar feelings to Lara, as the way I played the game slowly went from being scared out of my mind in dark caves to ploughing through enemy camps and destroying what got in the way.
You’re given several other weapons later in the game, too, such as pistols, rifles and shotguns. While during the early parts of the game, I was rather conservative with my ammo, but Tomb Raider is actually pretty generous with ammunition, as I had full ammo more often than not. There’s also a skill which allows you to scavenge extra ammo from fallen enemies, which made it feel as if I was playing with an infinite ammo cheat.
The important thing was that every time I played Tomb Raider, it was always very hard to put down. The overall game didn’t take too long to beat, but for those of you who like to 100% games, there are a lot of things to collect and discover, such as optional tombs found throughout the game. Each chapter or section never felt too long so the pace of the game was always flying. One moment I’d be killing wolves and deer for food and salvaging parts, the next I’d be in a “Metal Gear Raider” type situation, where I had to sneak my way around enemy camps without being caught. I wish Crystal could’ve prolonged the survival part of the game, as it was about only a quarter of it all, but I also enjoyed playing as the Lara Croft who isn’t afraid to shoot down endless enemies.
Food For Thought:
1. Tomb Raider definitely isn’t a game for the squeamish. There are numerous moments where you’re trapped in a room full of corpses, random limbs and rolling heads. One part that stood out to me was when Lara fell in a pool of blood. Afterwards she has to sneak her way around a dungeon full of naked cannibalistic people. If you’ve ever seen the move The Descent, it’s very similar to that.
2. The menu screen fantastic, especially the one which can be accessed at camp sites. It’s simple and there aren’t many options, any other traditional menu would’ve made it seem bland, but the way Crystal Dynamics presented it, made it look really nice. It’s not something that is often talked about, but I think it was a nice touch to visually enhance something we see numerous times during the game.
3. The only thing I kind of thought was rather pointless was the food system. At first Lara was hungry and needed food to go on, but there are no hunger meters, which made food gathering a non-factor after that part. You can gain extra XP by doing so, but that’s about it.