Take it from somebody who has never taken Lara Croft or the Tomb Raider series seriously. Say what you will about Lara Croft, the character has never appealed to me personally and I found her games to be clunky platformers with too simplistic puzzles and sloppy combat and her adventures to be trite ripoffs of the adventures of her iconic film counterpart. Lara herself came off to me as a shallow, ridiculous exaggeration that didn't set herself apart from her male counterparts in terms of sophistication. Just because she had ***, and boy did she have ***, does not mean she was video games shining example of a female protagonist to me. She was just another shallow superficial video game action hero that had none of the character depth or nuance that makes fictional characters seem so human.


I didn't even pay close attention to the hype leading up to Tomb Raider's release, even though the sad circumstantial controversy surrounding it did not escape my attention. But notice it I did and I played it regardless hoping that Crystal Dynamics efforts to recreate a more human Croft in a more dramatic adventure would be a success. And it is a resounding success. Gone are all the ridiculous aspects of Lady Croft and the elements of the series that stood as an embarrassment to video game entertainment and the portrayal of women in interactive fiction. Everything from Lara's infamously ridiculous cup size and proportions to her shallow borderline psychotic action-hero persona has been tossed out the door while retaining all of Lara's lauded fierce independence and superior athleticism and drive to survive against hostile forces and against all odds that made her such a spectacular action-adventure hero. Here we have a much more modest, vulnerable and lovable Lara who is just as much the determined and stone cold killer as her predecessor. Lara fights hard in her adventure and accumulates the scars, both physical and emotional, to prove it. And yet she endures. While saving lives may have been incidental to her pursuit of yet another shiny trinket to grace her elaborate mantlepiece back at Croft Manor before, now Lara's main objective is safeguarding the lives of those she feels responsible for and her passionate hunt for historical artifacts is now more academically motivated rather than superficial. Lara is now human, with real human vulnerabilities and real human spirit.


Lara's adventure sees her expedition shipwrecked on an island off the coast of Japan and face to face with a cult of psychotic mad men desperate to escape the supernatural forces that won't let anyone leave the island alive. Players guide Lara along a breathtaking cinematic adventure with stunning visuals and top-notch production values and some of the most spectacular and elaborate action set pieces in a video game. Comparisons to the Uncharted series notwithstanding, although the features Tomb Raider borrows from that series are for better or for worse, except the quick-time events which are the work of evil in any case. Outstanding cinematography showcases breathtaking vistas and stunning action sequences to remarkable effect. Even the interface is elegant and non-intrusive in its presentation. The immersion level is high in this adventure, so cozy up and let yourself get sucked right on in. The island is full of varied environments seeped in layers of history both ancient and modern. The effect is a remarkably surreal and unsettling presentation that showcases the islands violent past, and the graphics rival the best to be seen on current gen systems. Animations are fluid and nuanced and there is heavy polygonal and textural detail in the environments and character models.


The narrative is rounded out by an effective cast of supporting characters. Cultural cliches notwithstanding the presentation and portrayal of Lara's friends is top notch and engaging and helps to cement a deep chemistry with their plight. Lara's antagonist is particularly poignant as a man as violent and as desperate for survival as Lara, blurring the line between acceptable standards of behavior in a hostile environment that demands a persons vary soul in exchange for the slightest promise of life on safer shores.


The various set piece stages throughout the island on which Lara's adventure takes place are tightly designed with countless nooks and crannies where hidden treasures can be found. Players can spend hours guiding Lara towards the discovery of ancient relics and journal documents left behind by inhabitants of the island since ancient times all the way up to modern day. The area of combat is where Tomb Raider's gameplay shines brightest with a variety of weapon types to upgrade throughout the game and tight controls for shooting and maneuvering. Despite the games emphasis on stealth action, opportunities for stealth are practically scripted and stealth opportunities are largely limited in favor of the eventual gun fight. Controls for jumping and climbing are also responsive and precise, but much of Tomb Raider's wide open wall crawling has been downplayed in this one. Lara still gets to put her jumping and climbing to the test in more scripted Uncharted-esque action set pieces that are as exciting as they are thrilling and highly cinematic, and Lara will still use plenty of her trademark jumping and climbing skills to scourer every inch of the island in search of long lost treasures.



At the end of the adventure Lara is the star who shines the brightest, finally realizing her potential as video games shining example of admirable feminine portrayal in interactive entertainment and players will be left reeling from a thrilling adventure that will be played many more times for the sake of good old fashioned enjoyment! Tomb Raider is near top on my list of favorite video game experiences this generation in a generation of video game adventures that already rivals the excitement of the most riveting summer blockbusters and best selling novels with a protagonist to stand alongside some of literature's most admirable women.