Lara Croft is back at the peak of her powers: they’re just different powers, writes John Walshe.
Things have changed in the years since Lara Croft last strode loftily over the rest of the video games universe. Since her heady heyday back in the early console years, characters like Nathan Drake have stolen her archaeological thunder and let’s face it, 2008’s so-so Tomb Raider: Underworld would have been a sad end for the franchise. Thankfully, the good folks at Square Enix have taken the classic Tomb Raider ethos created by Eidos and re-booted it up the backside for the latest generation of gamers, the result being the best Lara Croft adventure in years.
The first thing that’s different is Lara herself. Our intrepid adventurer is not quite as impossibly proportioned as her older incarnations, and is far more realistically rendered (which will doubtless disappoint male gamers of a certain age, ahem). The character models throughout TR, however, are stunning, as are the tropical environments in which they operate, while the voice acting, right across the vast cast, is similarly impressive.
But what else is different? The answer: pretty much everything. Gone are the platforming elements that proved such a core ingredient in the original games, to be replaced by a more rounded action adventure that has more in common with the Uncharted series than the early TR adventures. Puzzle solving still plays a part in Lara’s explorations, but it’s not as frustrating, nor as rewarding as in the older games. Exploration remains high on the agenda, but aside from a few side-missions, finding hidden tombs and collecting bonus items, this Tomb Raider is a pretty linear experience. You might construe this as being a bad thing, and while some more open-world exploration could have been welcome, when the main story mode is this good, it would seem churlish to be overly critical.
When the ship they’re travelling on, The Endurance, gets destroyed off the coast of a mysterious Pacific island in the area known as the Dragon’s Triangle (where a host of ships and planes have gone missing – think Bermuda but more west coast), Lara and her shipmates find themselves up against an army of religious zealots, keen on resurrecting an ancient and powerful Japanese goddess known as the Sun Queen.
Our heroine begins the game as something of an innocent, but the actions of the island’s dastardly inhabitants soon open her eyes to the ways of the world and it isn’t long before she’s squatting, Rambo-like in the water, waiting for a deer to cross her path, so she can skewer Bambi’s cousin for dinner with her newly acquired bow and arrow set. As she progresses, she adds a wealth of firearms to her mini-arsenal, as well as an axe for climbing, opening supply crates and melee fighting: the good news is that both the weapons and Lara’s skill-set are fully upgradable as she gathers XP and salvage by completing missions. And there’s plenty of variety in the levels and the locations, including a couple of really gruesome scenes which see our gore-soaked heroine negotiating a charnel-house of ghastly guts and body parts, easily warranting the game’s 18's certificate.
Tomb Raider sucks you in from the off, revealing tantalising plot twists and turns, from the frightening Oni warriors to the mysterious island itself, as Lara morphs from wide-eyed explorer to hardened survivor and even heartless killer.
Platform: PS3, X360, PC
Publisher: Square Enix