Crystal Dynamic's reboot is a promising new start for the series
Lara Croft is no longer the cocky, cold-blooded killer she once was. After she’s forced to make her first kill in the new reboot of the Tomb Raider series, she doesn’t spout a cheeky one-liner, instead she trembles falls to her knees, sobbing in horror at what she has done. Moments like this lend a humanity to a character whose personality, in the past, has been mostly one-dimensional. It also sums up the new direction for the franchise, aiming for a more realistic, gritty approach, as opposed to the bombastic, Indiana Jones-esque adventures seen in the older games.
The new Tomb Raider resets the story for the series. At the beginning of the game Lara is an archaeology graduate on board the ship Endurance on an expedition to find the lost kingdom of Yamatai. Naturally, things don't go to plan and the ship is hit by a violent storm, leaving the shipwreck survivors stranded on a mysterious island. From here Lara has to learn how to hunt and defend herself in order to survive. However, it’s not too long before Lara gets into the swing of things and the body count is up into triple-digits, which feels like a missed opportunity to develop Lara as a character and to separate Tomb Raider from every other third-person-shooter on the market.
Gameplay has also been given a face-lift in previous Tomb Raider games navigating an environment was a very deliberate and precise process, while combat was automated using a lock-on system which required almost no skill whatsoever. Things are pretty much the opposite in the latest game - jumping and climbing have been streamlined while the combat has been improved by losing the lock-on system in favour of cover-based shooting and a weapon upgrade system. Lara’s arsenal (oo err) includes the usual - pistol, assault rifle and shotgun - but the real stand-out is the bow. The bow is the first weapon that Lara finds and also the most fun to use, it is also the most useful, with fire arrows later being used in the game to burn objects and rope arrows to create makeshift zip-wires.
Puzzles were also a large aspect of previous Tomb Raider games, but this time the puzzles are almost entirely optional, they are also considerably easier than in previous titles. The elaborate puzzles of old have been replaced by a focus on exploration: Yamatai is a dark and dangerous island filled with plenty of hidden secrets, trinkets and messages to find which help to extend the game’s length.
Tomb Raider is not a difficult game, and most players will be able to get through the campaign in 12-15 hours depending on how much of the side content they choose to complete. As a first for the series, multiplayer is included in the latest game, but it mostly feels rushed and unnecessary, suffering from performance issues and a shortage of maps. Overall, Tomb Raider feels like a promising new start for the series: most of the changes that have been made are smart and shouldn't disappoint die-hard fans, while also improving enough aspects to make the game fun for players who didn’t necessarily enjoy Lara’s past adventures.