Tomb Raider review

Young Lara is one tough cookie. The 21-year-old heroine is reborn as a survivor covered in horrifying scars and missing several pints of blood after a disastrous voyage goes horribly wrong. Shipwrecked on a forsaken island, lacking the confidence of a seasoned hero and pushed to her limits to survive, Lara Croft emerges as we’ve never seen her before.

Meet the real Lara Croft.

Camilla Luddington  —  of Californication and True Blood fame  —  does a fantastic job portraying a raw, emotional Lara honing the same intelligence and ambition that has always made her such a strong character. She binds together an engaging origins story that has you relate to Lara and her perilous ordeal. You know that she’s going to make it (or reset from the last checkpoint if she doesn’t), but Luddington’s performance, in collaboration with some fantastic art design, is one fraught with genuine uncertainty.

It’s a narrative full of twists and turns, worthy of Hollywood acclaim. It would actually have made a great film, and yet doesn’t comprise the gameplay. It takes a dash of the Tomb Raider of old, infuses it with Uncharted, adds a hint of Assassin’s Creed and borrows some insanity from Far Cry 3.

Tomb Raider evolves into an emotionally rich adrenaline-fuelled quest for survival.

The only blight on an otherwise fantastic story is the lack of developed supporting characters. Lara’s mentor Roth is the only co-star to get some genuine face-time, while her bestie Sam assumes the role of damsel in distress. The remaining allies fill the background void. There’s the angry black chick, the calm fat (New Zealand?) dude and the nerd nobody believes is actually capable of achieving anything.

There’s only one megalomaniac baddie to speak of and he commands an army of faceless men  —  there’s also a serious lack of women living in the bizarre island society (it’s not a complaint, it’s an observation).

Tomb Raider opens slowly through a very set course. The first 90 minutes overuse quicktime events something painful, but thankfully it’s more of a tutorial in disguise. The linear beginnings teach you how to execute on-screen commands  —  later used in combat  —  and walk you through hunting and earning XP. Yes, there is experience. Lara’s survival skills are bought with points earned by mercilessly killing and scavenging for supplies, which proves to be a notably gratifying experience.

A word of warning: Lara is a screamer, especially during the opening hour or two. When you’re not pressing ‘Y’ as it moves between two circles, Lara is being beaten up, tied up and felt up. Kids, best turn the sound down or Mum might get the wrong idea and think you’re into a particularly violent kind of adult film.

Once we move past that, Tomb Raider evolves into an emotionally rich adrenaline-fuelled quest for survival. It borrows a lot from Uncharted, including a high body count, but unlike Drake’s Deception, there’s never too much combat. It all feels relevant to story (keeping in mind the fun of an action game) and is matched with some mind-tingling puzzles. The main quest won’t put your raiding abilities to the test, but optional “secret tombs” throw up some real doozies.

Armed with a stealthy bow, rifle, shotgun and handgun, Lara borders on becoming overpowered but developer Crystal Dynamics manages to keep the balance in-check. She doesn’t pull out a gun for a long while, and by the time you fire off your first grenade, it’s already become a necessity.

Climbing is Lara’s forte. Through some elegant motion capture, Croft moves naturally and flirts with danger. She manoeuvres swiftly and confidently, but falling to a grim death is always an all too real possibility. Her wall-scaling shines after acquiring the mountain axe, and places an added onus on the player. You have to remember to cling to some surfaces and grab ledges on others. If it all becomes too much, Lara’s intrinsic Survival Instinct vision will push you in the right direction.

Tomb Raider has always taken Lara to exotic locations full of hidden undertones and crevasses to explore. The gritty reboot is no different. The island projects an eerie atmosphere of imminent failure with its dark and murky connotations and constant hounding thunderstorms. The sun occasionally breaks through to present stunning scenery full of mysterious island dwellings and spectacular mountain ridges.

Much, much more can be explored if you venture off the beaten path. Optional tombs hold unexpected secrets and often depict an otherwise unseen side of the island. You’ll also need to become a bona fide explorer if you want to increase your Gamerscore or trophy collection  —  there are no story based achievements, and the relics and hidden documents are widely scattered across the surprisingly expansive landscape.

There’s a fully-fledged multiplayer component, but it’s always a challenge to put it to the test when there are almost no players online. We mustered up a small group of four last night and had some fun, but the hectic battlefield of free-for-all or team-based multiplayer loses much of the appeal of Croft’s carefully formed combat. It would be entertaining for a few hours, but initial impressions suggest it isn’t something that will keep you engaged long term, and nor should it  —  Tomb Raider is, and always will be, a single-player experience.