I’ll admit I was never a big fan of the original Tomb Raider. I enjoyed it when I was younger, but as the years progressed I realized how wonky the controls are and how truly bad the camera is. But one aspect of the game has withstood the test of time: the persona of Lara Croft. I never viewed Lara as a sex symbol. I’ve always thought of her as a cool lady who kicks a lot of ass (she is). She has always been, in my mind, one of gaming’s best protagonists.
That’s why, when I first saw the new Lara in the January 2011 issue of Game Informer, I was concerned. That isn’t Lara Croft, I thought to myself. I had no qualms about the new Dante in DmC: Devil May Cry (because, let’s face it, the old Dante is nothing special), but rewinding gaming’s leading lady and transforming her into a scared young woman seemed like a strange decision. I was, however, excited for the gameplay changes Crystal Dynamics promised.
My excitement has been proved well-founded. Ms. Croft controls better than she ever has. I played through Tomb Raider: Legend as I was working on this review. I missed several ledges in that game while jumping with Lara, and most of the time it wasn’t because of any fault of mine. The controls, while much improved over the older games, were still a little touchy. I hardly missed any jumps in the reboot, and the ones I did miss were wholly my fault.
Some may say the revamped controls are stolen from the Prince of Persia or Uncharted games. Their argument is probably a very valid one, but I love the change. These are the controls the Tomb Raider games have needed since their inception. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith; Lara can handle it this time. The tools Lara acquires as the game progresses, such as a pickaxe, make navigating the various environments all the more easy and fun.
Speaking of the environments, they are beautiful and a blast to explore. The game is kind of linear, yet kind of open world. It is what you make it. If you wish to explore, you’ll find a lot of ground to cover. If you simply want to complete the game, the game won’t prevent you from doing so. That’s the beauty of what’s available here.
Should you explore, you’ll find a plethora of collectibles to hunt down, challenges (which are really more collectibles) to complete and, oh yes, tombs to raid. It’s worth seeking out these things thanks to the deep upgrade system. The more XP Lara gains the deadlier she and her weapons become. It’s similar to what Far Cry 3 offers, and it’s just as awesome in Tomb Raider as it was in that game. I became obsessed with hunting down everything.
Then there’s the story. It’s exciting and interesting, and it made me realize I was wrong about the new Lara. She starts out as a girl who seems to be incapable of defending herself and quickly becomes a killing machine. It all happens quickly, but it serves the story. I haven’t played many games in which the gameplay effortlessly serves the narrative. Tomb Raider handles it with aplomb.
And don’t worry about rape scenes; none exist in the game. I don’t like spoiling story elements, but it’s impossible to spoil what isn’t there. What is there is far better than any scenes of sexual assault could ever be. The only thing I didn’t care for is the ending, which is really random and crazy. Then again, this is Tomb Raider we’re talking about here.
Tomb Raider doesn’t rest on its laurels. It takes the series in a bold new direction. The sloppy controls and poor camera that plagued the former games are gone. The old Lara Croft is gone, replaced by a human being with emotions and the like. I’m a fan of some of the other games, but I never considered any of them must-plays. I absolutely think Crystal Dynamic’s new vision is worth checking out. It’s my favorite Tomb Raider yet.
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The major misstep in Tomb Raider comes from its multiplayer offering. It’s annoying and boring. If the tagline for the campaign is “A survivor is born”, the tagline for the multiplayer should be “Leave no survivors”. Prepare to die a lot, and when that happens, prepare to stare at a lengthy respawn timer. The weapons feel bland and the environments are soulless. It is the very definition of “tacked on”. Stick to the campaign.