It’s been a long time since a new Tomb Raider has been an exciting proposition. While the series has few duds, most of it can’t muster a better descriptive adjective than “good”; an almost-guaranteed enjoyable experience, but nothing that’s going to revolutionize the genre. Almost seventeen years after its debut, however, it seems impossible to look at this reboot objectively and argue it won’t do just that. Crystal Dynamics has taken all of the elements that have long been proved solid by fans of the series and stuffed them in an package impressive enough to be sold a ticket to at the box office — unlike that ill-fated Angelina Jolie thing. Tomb Raider looks to usher in a more daunting, melancholy experience fitting of its heroine and environment — and one without a single slice of cheesecake.
Like any good adventure tale, Tomb Raider starts with disaster. After setting out on a large ship fittingly named “Endurance”, it’s soon met with a large storm and promptly destroyed. Shipwrecked and stranded on a mysterious isolated island, Lara soon discovers the captain injured and surviving crew scattered about the island. Unfortunately, Fiji this isn’t. The island is infested with dangerous animals, obstacles and mercenaries looking to kill Lara; who’s certainly not the heroine we’ve grown accustomed to in previous games. While Lara is smart and resourceful, she’s also alone, scared and far from a trained killer. She has to use whatever she can scavenge to survive and fend off her predators while also simply trying to survive the elements. This isn’t a game where you can run around in freezing weather in shorts and not be at risk — if Lara is cold, she shivers.
As there’s not an abundance of huts to set up shop in, à la Far Cry 3, Lara will have to make her camp under rock formations with no solace but the warmth and light of a fire. Luckily, these base camps offer respite in the form of customization, serving as a hub to support the three dynamics of the game: combat, exploration and resourcefulness. Skills, new combat abilities and weapon and gear upgrades can be unlocked here from XP earned from Lara’s adventures in the form of exploring, completing missions and succeeding in combat. To assist with this is “Survival Instinct”, which can be activated at any time to reveal hidden environmental elements and rewards.
Much like the aforementioned Far Cry 3 (the comparisons stop here, we promise), the environment plays a large role in the game. In typical Tomb Raider fashion, much of the game is spent spelunking through caves, climbing over ancient structures and balancing on top of derelict relics of the past. The elements of the world — water, wind, fire and earth — react realistically and have an effect on how puzzles are solved. Some areas will be blocked by obstacles that must be burned with a torch to clear. Of course, combat is an ever-present factor, enriched here by the addition of a bow and arrow. While it’s certainly the “hot” weapon of the moment (Hawkeye, The Hunger Games, Assassin’s Creed III, etc), it seems like a natural fit for Lara and will frequently come in handy to hunt animals for subsistence and dispose of her pursuers in stealth.
We’ve seen Tomb Raider in action multiple times now and each time exposes a new, exhilarating aspect of this cinematic world. This isn’t a reboot — it’s a revelation for a series long relegated to the nostalgic corner of gaming history. Set for release only three months into 2013, Tomb Raider looks to rival many of last year’s best games. While only time will tell how this raw Lara Croft adventure will play, we can’t wait to step into the shoes of the adventurer yet again and venture once more into the fray.