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Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have done it. They have made a game that not only gives us a legitimate origin story of the Tomb Raider Lara Croft but have also given an intense action-packed thriller that makes us come back for more.
The game begins with twenty-one year old Lara Croft, just graduated from college and on a search for the island of Yamatai, which may or may not exist. Her college friend Sam, who is recording their journey for a reality show, the lead archaeologist, Whitman, who is funding the expedition, Roth, the Captain of the Endurance, an old friend of Lara’s father and a father figure to Lara, and the rest of the Endurance crew (Reyes, Alex, Jonah and Grim) all accompany her. Lara believes Yamatai is located in the Dragon’s Triangle near Japan, but the crew is uneasy because of the storms that surround that area. Roth believes in Lara’s instincts and the ship enters the Dragon’s Triangle. The Endurance becomes engulfed in the storm and sinks, leaving Lara and the crew of the Endurance stranded on an unknown island.
The game that follows is nothing short of intense, as Lara must not only survive on the island but also try to save her fellow shipmates and fight against enemies driven by an unknown force. All of this makes Lara realize that she must grow up fast if she is to save herself and protect the ones she loves.
From the start, “Tomb Raider” creates a very real survival atmosphere, sucking you into Lara’s emotions. Lara’s very first kill is traumatic for her and you feels her sorrow and fear. Voice actress Camilla Luddington brings a sensitive and raw side to Lara Croft that lends well to the new experience the character is going through.
Gameplay wise, “Tomb Raider” has third person combat mixed with quick time reaction (QTR) ques. During melee combat the QTR ques can be daunting to press perfectly each time, especially during a thrilling fight. Once mastered, however, they aren’t much of a bother. The QTR ques add extra adrenaline for you in life or death situations, such as Lara dangling from a cliff after thrashing through rapids. Lara’s deaths are ghastly to see but are intriguing nonetheless. The game designers wanted you to believe that this environment has no mercy and careless mistakes have consequences. If you jump at the wrong time, Lara will fall and be impaled through the neck by a sharpened tree branch. If you lose a fight with a wolf, it will rip your jugular out. If you do not guide Lara out of a rock slide fast enough, the rock will chop her in half and you will watch helplessly as her head explodes and blood spurts out.
At first, Lara only has the bow and arrow as a weapon. However, as the game progresses, she gains advanced weaponry and can upgrade her weapons through collecting salvage or raiding tombs. Lara’s skills can also be upgraded from defeating humans/animals and looting their bodies. However, the main focus of the game is not the actual raiding of tombs, as it was in Lara Croft’s past games. They are optional and not all that dangerous. The tombs serve as mini puzzles which, after solved, treasure is rewarded. The gameplay is focused squarely on survival through combat but also by traversing the island. Lara can rock climb, crawl through caves, zip line, and most obstacles are removed by burning them with any fire you can find.
When thinking back to the past games in the “Tomb Raider” franchise, it is astonishing to see how far the franchise has come. The improvements to the game mechanics such as running, jumping, and climbing are so vastly improved and are obviously much more natural. In previous games developed by Core Design, you would have to aim the camera angle in a specific way to accurately injure an enemy, which was a frustrating endeavor. As the games matured under the development of Crystal Dynamics, Lara’s movements became more weighted, more natural and nimbler.
Lara’s image, needless to say, is much less pornographic now than it was in her earlier games. By focusing on Lara’s mental state in her given situation, Crystal Dynamics has let the character carry the game rather than relying on body image. Overall, the “Tomb Raider” franchise recycled the old running, jumping, climbing, stealth and weapon animations so often that it is very refreshing to see new animations and ways to solve environmental puzzles. In Crystal Dynamics’ hands, Tomb Raider could reclaim the glory it once had when it premiered in 1996.
The score for “Tomb Raider” is brilliantly composed by Jason Graves. At times it is reminiscent of the game “Arkham City.” It gives Lara Croft the theme music that not only defines her as a video game icon but as a human character who feels fear and loss throughout her experience on the island.
The only negative aspects to “Tomb Raider” are the cut scenes, which are not lip synced well, and the multiplayer component. The multiplayer features the survivors verses the inhabitants of the island in several game modes such as team death match or free for all. Although entertaining, multiplayer was not needed for this game to boast replay value. The single player mode is more than enough to warrant more than one play through. But these are trivial complaints for what the gamer receives in this action packed, emotionally driven survival narrative.
Rating 5/5- Tomb Raider has not only earned but deserves a perfect score. From the visuals, musical score, explosions, enemies both animal and human, the loss and the nostalgia of raiding tombs, “Tomb Raider” has it all for either those new to the franchise or for long time fans. Not only have Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix redeemed an icon but they have crafted an origin story that gives the “Tomb Raider” franchise the credibility it had lost long ago.