Tomb Raider certainly takes the series in a bold, new direction. The more narrative-driven story coupled with the tweaked mechanics and emphasis on survival helps the series reinvent itself for the modern era.
Back in 1996 a little game called Tomb Raider dropped on the original Playstation and PC. Unknown to Eidos Entertainment at the time, the game would go on to be a huge success, spanning countless sequels across the years and essentially reinventing the adventure genre with its mix of shooting, puzzles and elaborately-designed tombs. With a lack of innovation and updates with the game engine over the years, Tomb Raider slowly faded from the forefront of the adventure genre, leapfrogged by the Uncharted series which rejuvenated and updated the mechanics, forever raising the bar.
Step forward to 2013 and as an attempt to renew Tomb Raider and regain its crown as the definitive adventure game, a brand new planned trilogy of prequels dropped on console. With impressive graphics, tweaked mechanics and a narrative-driven story at its heart, Tomb Raider is a step in the right direction for the series and a much-needed refreshment Lara Croft was in desperate need of, despite its distinct similarities to the Uncharted series.
The story begins with Lara (voiced by Camilla Luddington) as a young woman, before her battle-hardened persona in previous entries, aboard an expedition to the Dragon’s Circle. After crash landing on a nearby island, Lara finds herself separated from the group, forced to learn to survive in the wilderness while dealing with a menacing mercenary called Mathias. The story, for the most part, evolves nicely, although Lara’s progression from rookie to expert survivor occurs far too quickly, undoing some of the work done with the rest of the story which generally flows well throughout the 12-hour journey.
Those familiar with Tomb Raider games of old will instantly be impressed with some of the updated mechanics here that have clearly taken a lot of inspiration from the Uncharted series. No longer do jumps need to be meticulously timed to hit the right ledge; shooting has evolved from bursts of fragmented light to include guns with a general weight and kick to them when firing, and there’s a well-designed bow and arrow mechanic that feels like a natural fit with this version of Lara Croft. Those going into this expecting an action-packed extravaganza complete with explosions, gunfire and a quick pace may be left wanting, at least with the first half of the game, which takes on a much slower pace to really settle into the narrative groove.
The survival mechanics are admittedly basic but the interesting inclusion of campfires used as save files are well implemented and a natural fit for the game. There are numerous skill trees and upgrades to unlock during these moments including better survival gear, refined gun fighting and general stat buffs to help in tough situations. These can all be collected through skinning animals, looting corpses and general exploration of the world. It’s a small touch but something that adds an extra element of progression to the game.
Although Lara’s character boasts some nicely written dialogue and a really interesting character arc, the rest of the characters fall by the wayside, slipping into the realm of forgettable, accentuated by the constant radio chatter that dominates large stretches of the narrative. This lack of charisma and believable chemistry between the various characters is one of Tomb Raider’s weakest parts and something that’s easily outshined by Uncharted, which nails this blend of narrative and action perfectly.
Despite Tomb Raider’s impressively rendered island location and nicely worked mechanics, the main drive of the series, the tombs themselves, are sadly few and far between. It’s a shame too, as the game does a great job establishing its mood and tone but the lack of puzzles and tombs to explore is a bit of a shame, especially since the ones that are here are nicely designed and make the most of the skills and abilities you learn in the game.
Tomb Raider’s reboot is one that certainly takes the series in a bold, new direction. The more narrative-driven story coupled with the tweaked mechanics and emphasis on survival helps the series reinvent itself for the modern era. Although the game ripples echoes of the Uncharted series formula with its blend of running, jumping and shooting mechanics, there’s enough here to help set the game apart from its rivals in this genre. A lacklustre supporting cast and a few pacing issues do hold the game back from being as good as it could be, but compared to the more recent entries, Tomb Raider is a step in the right direction and an intriguing proposition going forward with its sequels.