I dread the word reboot. To me, reboot has become a swearword used to make more money by telling the exact same story again, but with new shiny bits and explosions. Then you get those shining examples, things I like to refer to as a ‘reimagining’ rather than a reboot. A recent example that springs to mind is DmC, where Ninja Theory gave a new story and new purpose to a franchise. Tomb Raider is one such reimagining.
A new Lara Croft
Lara has tossed out the shorts and the acrobatics in favour of a personality and emotion. The hardened killer of the past is gone, replaced with a naive young archaeologist. She feels pain, fear and guilt. The game plays out an emotional journey, showing Lara’s first ever kill and how she grows through the hardships she faces. This level of emotion is brought out by Camilla Luddington, who not only voices Lara, but also did the motion capture for the game. Her performance is genuine and Camilla gives Lara a less haughty clipped accent, again adding to the believability of Lara and her plight. Nearly drowning, almost set on fire and impaled, narrowly escaping death several times… This is just in first few minutes. This new vulnerable Lara gets dirty (no), bruised, battered and grimy. Her journey is spellbinding and takes you with her into the pit of despair, a feat I think that composer Jason Graves plays no small part in. You feel for her, absorbed in the grisly, dark direction that the franchise has taken. If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Lara is going to be herculean.
Tools of the trade and survival
Alone, tired, sore, cold and hungry, Lara comes across a bow and hunts a deer for some much-needed food. The animals of the island are skittish, so Lara has to use stealth, height and patience to be successful. Cut off from her friends and her mentor, she breaks down into soliloquy, allowing us to see into her troubled mind, a mind wracked with pain. She is unable to comprehend the madness gripping this island, nor can she explain the seemingly supernatural storm that marooned her here. The only thing keeping her going is the voice on the other side of her two-way radio. Sadly for her, things are going to get a lot worse and she is going to need every advantage she can scrounge and salvage on the island. While in camp, Lara can modify her weapons and gear using the bits and bobs she collects from chests, enemies and uh, animals. While most modifications to the firearms really push the system to becoming ridiculous, there is something rewarding about being able to upgrade your favourite gun after exploring an area completely. When I first saw Lara with a bow, I was worried that other weapons in the game would be pointless. While the bow is really powerful and is a great tool for a stealthy approach, you aren’t always offered the luxury of pretending to be Sam Fisher. Sometimes you land in the thick of it and there are too many enemies to take on with your bow. Every weapon fulfils a need in Lara’s arsenal, allowing you to adapt to the challenges on the battlefield.
And there are many battlefields. Fans may be perturbed by the sheer number of enemies that Lara has to mow down to continue. Thankfully, the gunplay is so well done and fluid that I never noticed. Rather, I pushed myself to excel, netting extra XP off headshots and finishers. Lara has tossed the health packs away, as has every other game that makes use of a cover system. Lara can scramble for cover, dodging enemy fire and melee attacks. Later on, Lara learns how to counterattack after a dodge, and how to use her climbing pick as a pretty mean weapon.
Less locations but so much more exploration
Exploration has always been a core feature of Tomb Raider, and Crystal Dynamics don’t disappoint with level design. Things go wrong in Tomb Raider. Often. Handholds disintegrate, rotting scaffolding gives under Lara’s feet and she ends up far off the beaten track. It is up to you to use your wits, your tools and reflexes to traverse the amazing island that lies at your feet. I wish this game had a timer for those moments when I stopped moving to just enjoy the scenery. Craggy mountainsides slope into forested valleys. The beach is littered with shipwrecks and detritus, the sun reflects off the ocean, which seems to stretch off forever. An old WWII bunker looms on top of a cliff, the main cannon rusted and shattered. Then you start to notice that there are platforms, rough rock faces and zip lines connecting from the beach all the way up to the bunker. The island invites exploration and pretty much everything you can see can be reached, once you have the right gear.
If you are battling to explore, Lara can use her instincts to point out most points of interest in her environs, similar to Assassin Creed’s eagle vision, important objects glow gold and enemies glow red, with colour draining from everything else. From objects that can be burnt to climbable objects, this improved sight can help you to find that elusive enemy or that hidden collectable. Besides collecting salvage, most collectables offer up a small amount of XP, with a substantial bonus once a set or area has been completed. Lara can then go back to a campsite and unlock skills as a survivor, a hunter or a brawler, allowing you a modicum of customisation, based on your preference and play style.
Challenge yourself, but don’t get puzzled
Some camps allow you to fast travel to other parts of the island if you want to take a break from the story and do a bit of exploring. If you want an XP boost or a few extra weapon parts, the game is littered with challenges. From hunting a certain number of X animal to lighting every shrine’s fire, these add something extra for those wanting an edge in combat or for those OCD individuals that want to do absolutely everything in the game. Mixed in with this are a few optional tombs for Lara to raid. However, these tombs are not labyrinthine sprawls, most of them are merely a room or two in size. The most disappointing fact is that the puzzles are insultingly simple. The kids of today, sigh…
Killing with friends
Over in multiplayer land, the game has four modes, most of which involve pitting survivors versus Solarii in round based modes. Multiplayer has added two new actions, a powerful charge attack and the ability to sprint for a short period of time.
Rescue has the survivors trying to collect large medikits and transport them back to a safe zone to score points. The Solarii score points for melee kills of the survivors. To aid this, survivors drop into a downed state if shot to death, making it easier to get in close and destroy them. In the next round survivors become Solarii and vice versa. First to win two rounds wins.
Team Deathmatch is pretty self explanatory, as is Free for All.
The final mode, Cry for Help, has survivors activating radio beacons, while the Solarii attempt to steal the batteries of the survivors.
All of these modes can be played in ranked or casual mode and show a lot more depth than I was expecting. Multiplayer characters can also loot salvage crates and can modify their weapons, pick two skills and get better weapons or a play as a cooler character. Add to this myriad challenges for extra XP and a few buffs which improve accuracy for a while, or make you take less explosive damage make for some pretty unpredictable fun.
Many years ago, I remember Uncharted being called a Male Tomb raider. Borrowing from each other, both franchises have evolved, learning from the mistakes of both. Tomb Raider has lots of shooting and action and escaping burning, falling and crumbling environments, almost like a Female Uncharted. Not that this is a bad thing at all. A more… human Lara has breathed more life into this game than any other change could possibly achieve. This shows how much both games have evolved and changed. Personally, as long as this continues to make the games better, I couldn’t care less about who did it first or does it better, because the games are still distinct enough to keep everyone happy. Ms Croft has come a long way, and her story was, to put it lightly, muddled. This clear break into a smaller bra and a proper origin story is exactly what Tomb Raider needed to move forward.