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A stunning example in a reboot getting it right

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Back in 1996, the original Tomb Raider was released for the Sega Saturn and introduced the world to a game it had never seen before.  It showed us a 3D world filled with dangers and traps around every corner where we could pull off acrobatic maneuvers and stylish gunplay.  But best of all, it starred a women named Lara Croft; a modern-day, beautiful, established explorer, confident and prepared for any situation she found herself in.  Over the years, Lara became one of the most recognizable characters in gaming and the Tomb Raider series evolved with the consoles it was played on, but its basic gameplay formula of treasure hunting never really strayed from its roots.  After nine core titles, a few spin-offs, and some movies, publisher Square-Enix decided it was time to re-invent the series, starting with Lara herself.  As if to signal the start of something new for the series, the developers at Crystal Dynamics titled her new adventure as simply Tomb Raider.

Lara starts the game as an assistant on an archeologist’s TV crew.  Young and inexperienced, it’s immediately clear she’s nothing like the Lara we’ve come to know and it helps make her a more realistic and relatable character.  The crew’s out at sea trying to find the remains of an ancient Japanese empire, but a mysterious storm capsizes their ship and washes the separated crew ashore a nearby island.  From here, Lara encounters conniving enemies and exhilarating set pieces as she sets out to find her friends and uncover the island’s mysteries.

                And what an absolutely gorgeous island it is.  This game has that rare quality where some of the screenshots could easily be mistaken for concept art.  From the jungles to the abandoned villages to the World War 2 bunkers, everything you see will grab your attention.  The character models are great as well, especially Lara’s.  Much like Batman in the Arkham games, you’ll permanently see all of the burns, scars, and ripped clothing Lara sustains on her adventure, along with any new guns or pieces of equipment she acquires.

                Speaking of equipment, you’ll be picking a new item up in almost every area of the game and they all have their uses both in and out of battle.  For example, you can use rope that you find to pull enemies off of ledges or create zip lines to travel to areas that were previously inaccessible.  Once you find those new areas, you’ll be able to look for collectible items such as GPS caches, treasures, and documents that reveal more of the island and its inhabitants’ history.  And you’ll want to collect these items as doing so will reward you with weapon upgrades and new abilities.

                In my playtime with the game, controls were almost always a non-issue as they were well explained in-game, smooth and uncomplicated.  Lara also utilizes one of the best cover mechanics I’ve ever seen. Instead of pressing a button to transition into cover, Lara will automatically do so as she approaches it, allowing the player to focus more on shooting enemies instead of protecting her.  You also eventually gain the ability to use melee combat, but the game makes gunplay such a focus early on that you typically never want to resort to it.  There are also a few moments involving quick-time events, but these are mostly contained to the earlier cut-scenes and when you dodge and counterattack an enemy.

                Multiplayer has been added for the first time in the Tomb Raider Series, where you’ll play on a team of either the survivors of the crashed ship or the inhabitants of the island.  You have your basic “Deathmatch” and “Team Deathmatch” modes, but they also have modes that provide different objectives for each team, such as one side trying to capture key points on the map while the other has to collect batteries that drop off of enemies they kill.  The multiplayer offers a progression system similar to Call of Duty or Halo, but unlike those games where the new weapons you unlock have different benefits but aren’t necessarily better in order to keep matches balanced, the newer weapons and abilities you unlock in Tomb Raider are clearly better than the older ones.  So if you end up fighting someone who’s 20 levels higher, you stand almost no chance of winning simply because of the vastly superior weapons they have.  Had they implemented matchmaking features pitting only players at similar levels against each other it would be much more fun, but instead it punishes newer players so they may end up steering away from the multiplayer.

That may not be a bad thing, as the multiplayer ends up being a very mixed bag.  The maps offer traps that players can set and a few offer environmental effects, but the overall gameplay feels sluggish and unrefined.  It’s a decent first attempt at multiplayer for the series, but feels as if it was added at the last second and fails to impress in the way the single-player does.

                Crystal Dynamics has achieved with Tomb Raider what every attempted reboot should strive for.  It maintains the characters and essence of what the series is about while reinventing its gameplay to make it more accessible for the newer, more modern player.  There are a few questionable design choices, but when the game hits its highpoints it becomes an unforgettable experience.  Crystal Dynamics’ risk and vision has paid off, and the result becomes arguably the best game in the series and a standard for all other adventures to meet.

 

Final Score: 9.5/10

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