The Tomb Raider license has been trying to revive itself with a different feel for some time. A first attempt came through the spin off Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, which took the series back to older adventure genres. However, with the new Tomb Raider prequel, a link to the modern era of games has been set with a large picturesque game oozing with gripping scenes. With enough incentives scattered throughout its island, there is also ample exploration in which to get lost. These are all good signs.
From the starting off point, the visual splendor of cutscenes promises for a game with a dramatic tale. As the first seconds of gameplay begin with a young, frail Lara being trapped and determined to escape, the mood is set for a coming of age story; one with gusto. Camera angles make sure to lure players into the next locale of dark caves, green yet eerie forests or decayed structures and metal cemeteries. More so, these vivid environments get filled with finer details; some of which are quite jarring. Lara will need to pass through corpse-filled escape routes. Human skulls litter the island on which she’s marooned. There are even some downright gore moments and not those referring to the many injuries she’ll sustain throughout the story. This new Tomb Raider is dark; pitch black at times.
Furthermore, camera angles will try their best to push players towards their objectives with slightly suggestive turns and positions that offer a large scope. Both cutscenes and in-game sections will have a large cinematic feel as mountain tops are shot in ground perspectives, looking up at the searing winds and structures ahead. Climbing cliffs will gently sweep over to the next portion of the game, while retaining the vision of the dooming chasm underneath Lara’s feet. Periodic split-second action shots get slowed down for additional reaction time, but also for extra effect. Together with tense orchestras behind these dramatic shots, the presentation is tightly wound around keeping the player locked in and playing onwards to the next chapter.
While our girl starts off as a helpless creature, she’ll almost instantly break out of this mold and steadily grow more skillful, which gets built upon organically through an enhancement system. By gaining experience as a survival expert, she’ll unlock new skills that will help her carry more, get a better feel for her surroundings and so on. Additionally, she’ll be able to collect salvage scraps from many things in order to enhance her equipment. Padding the grip of her gun will help her get a steady aim, holding a lighter in front of her bow will turn her arrows to flaming shots that can burn faraway objects. This upgrade system gets quite creative as time moves on and the entire character enhancement is cleverly disguised at the few resting points scattered across the game, in the form of camp fires. Here, Lara sits down to warm up for a second as she recollects her adventures so far and thinks about where she’ll need to go from there.
Once rested, it will be time once more to continue her struggle of man versus the forces of nature. As she skulks around bushes, animals will flee, which she can take down for food. Rippled cliffs help her climb to out of reach places. Obstructed paths can be blasted open or even burned down through a fire element that spreads naturally through certain flammable surfaces. To get a clearer view of all these different options, Lara can trust on her natural instincts that light up an area and pinpoint interactive elements.
When not simply exploring, the raider-to-be will have to fend off predators to would do her harm. Most of these come in human form. Luckily, a resourceful adventurer will be able to use many tools. She’ll quickly get hands on a gun and later other more powerful arms to retaliate against deadly force. Additionally, she’ll use her stealthy ways to crouch behind cover, get behind enemies and even take them by surprise. Some of these firefights will result in exceptionally explosive combat, with Lara switching between cover as it gets blown up, tearing off entire parts from buildings or lighting up flammable objects to blow up platforms filled with bad people. The best part of this third person perspective is just how natural animations flow into each other. Hiding behind cover gets detected automatically, without button prompts, while scrambling retains a similar speed with no stunted animation cycles.
This is Tomb Raider’s largest selling point: strong, responsive controls. Every bit of action in the game follows a certain flow that never feels like a tacked on part onto another prompt. Lara runs towards cliffs and large leaps automatically detect when to grab ledges, while hopping from one to another goes fluently. Gone are the rigid animation cycles that allow players to jump off a cliff three steps after they’ve passed the edge or walk routines that feel like the character is skating. Lara moves and reacts in lifelike ways for the gross majority of the time, which sinks players even deeper into this already immersive story.
Add to that a ton of destructible objects in an already livid environment and there will be few moments where it will be apparent that this is a game and not a gloriously spectacular action feature. If that’s not enough, the streamlined story progression also allows for additional side exploration at most times, where players can search the environment for collectibles. Lara will examine ancient relics, read up on lost documents and so on. Challenges are hidden in most locales for additional experience or secret tombs have additional puzzles for greater rewards. This is sure to keep any excited adventurer going for quite some time.
Aside from the story campaign, Tomb Raider also tacks on a multiplayer component. It’s a bonus, more than anything, as this generic implementation of simple leveling systems and unlocking better equipment in a handful of game modes would otherwise not stand out at all. Still, it makes a decent attempt to adopt the singleplayer elements well, such as plenty of destructible environments and the use of survival instincts to detect enemies in a third person shooter platform. Matchmaking and team switches can sporadically mess things up, but viewed as an extra it is at least serviceable.
Lara is back and she’s more human than ever in this origin story that matches its cinematic atmosphere with intense action, great exploration features and even more fluid controls. This is how adventure games should be; engaging and immersive with plenty of side content that will keep players lost on an unfriendly plane of existence for some time to come.