I was a young’un when the original Tomb Raider released, and even back then I could see that Lara was a blatant sex symbol. Subsequent games didn’t help my image of her at all; the Action Dress Rip in Tomb Raider: Legend comes to mind. This reboot, however, helped put Lara in a whole new light for me. As far as origin stories go, Tomb Raider puts on a great show, backed up with some enjoyable action and solid gunplay.
Right from the start, we’re treated to the Sweet-And-Inexperienced-Yet-Determined-Lara, and the game is intent on making her adventure as painful as possible. In the first few minutes, she gets suspended, impaled, and almost crushed under rocks. Mistime some quicktime events, and she might end up with a spike through the jaw, or a wolf’s jaws on her throat. A little intense, perhaps, but I suppose it raises the stakes somewhat.
For all the hard knocks that she endures, she still does manage to soldier on remarkably well. Lara can scale cliff faces, climb buildings, and spelunk with all the confidence of Nathan Drake. Her first time killing animals and brainwashed pirates is a slightly different story: the cutscenes for each event are made to exhibit a response, and some subtle touches (such as a trembling crosshair on the next group of mercs that she comes across) highlight her inexperience. However, it’s us that are controlling Lara in the end, and it feels somewhat disjointed to suddenly see this young twenty-something unload buckshot into someone’s gut and choke out grown men with a bow an hour later.
Combat overall is a pleasing experience: enemies go down after a reasonable number of hits, and they’ll make dogged attempts to flush you out of cover and stay hidden behind theirs. Gunplay and cover work fairly well, but certain instakill abilities later on the game can feel overpowered.
Being stranded on an island filled with crazies necessitates some survival skills by using whatever comes to hand, and in Tomb Raider this takes the form of collecting salvage, which acts as the game’s currency. Scrounge up enough salvage by breaking boxes, prying open chests, and looting corpses (both animal and human), and you’ll be able to upgrade your gear with parts that reduce recoil, increase fire rate, and boost damage. Little touches like actually seeing the upgrades on your weapons, even during cutscenes, is a nice detail.
Salvage is not unreasonably hard to come by, as long as you venture off the path to meet the hefty price tags. It’s no sandbox, but there are plenty of sections hidden away to discover. Certain sections are locked off until you can unlock the gear necessary to access them, Metroid-style, and you can fast-travel back to those areas. Hidden sections contain puzzle areas that reward you with additional parts and salvage, although I found the puzzle sections not so challenging.
It’s interesting that we had to see Lara in her younger days for the series to finally grow up. Tomb Raider is refined, well executed, and a welcome change of scene.