Matt Mobley reviews Crystal Dynamics’ new Tomb Raider reboot.

A long time ago, I wrote this article. In it I talked a little about how Lara Croft seemed to be sexualized in the E3 trailer for Tomb Raider, which led to me listing off gaming’s famous strong females who had no need to be sexualized in game. After playing Tomb Raider, I am prepared to add Lara Croft to that list.

Story

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Tomb Raider’s story wastes no time with build up and throws you right into the action. Lara Croft, in the middle of an expedition on the S.S. Endurance, wakes up as the ship is being tossed around by a terrible storm. After falling in the ocean, she wakes up on an island, only to be knocked out, dragged away, and hung upside down in a dark cave. After wiggling her way out, Lara must trust her instincts to guide her across an expansive island, filled with hostile locals and sprawling tombs. She quickly learns to adjust, hunting for food and killing her adversaries to survive. In short, she’s a total badass.

WARNING: This section of the review contains mild spoilers from the first hour of the game. If you want to go into Tomb Raider completely clean, it is advised you skip the next paragraph.

Remember in that trailer when there was a scene that implied Lara was about to get manhandled by a scumbag? People were angry, offended that it seemed Crystal Dynamics had resorted to cornering her with rape as a means of further developing her character and making players care for her more. It’s safe to say that that is not the case. That scene in particular is simply Lara trying to get away from hostiles as they’re distracted while taking her prisoner. Her arms tied, Lara has to try sneaking away undetected. As she hides in a nearby shack, we’re led into the controversial scene, where a man grabs her and puts a hand on her throat. It turns out this man is not trying to rape her; he’s trying to kill her. Before he can say a word, Lara knees him in the groin and gets the hell out of there.

Crystal Dynamics did a great job of keeping Lara from being overly-sexualized (thanks in part to ditching Lara’s classic booty shorts and opting for a more practical pair of pants) and stereotyped as either a helpless girl or an unbelievable badass. The game sets up Lara as a human being stuck in very real danger. She’s scared, but she swallows her fear and does what she needs to do to survive, albeit a bit clumsily because she’s inexperienced.

Presentation

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As you trek your way across the island, it feels alive, like it’s almost another character in the game. What’s also fun is that the climate changes throughout the game, so at one point the land will be drenched in rain, while at another, it’s blanketed in snow. The framerate is fantastic, and the game is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever played. My only complaint is that while it rains, the game has a “rain-on-camera” effect that can be a little distracting. The environment isn’t the only beautiful aspect of this game either, with special effects being especially captivating (check out how realistic the fire looks when you light your torch.)  The music and voice work is also amazing. The entire cast does an exceptional job, but a special nod must be given to Camilla Luddington for doing a fantastic job of bringing Lara to life.

Gameplay

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Tomb Raider plays like any standard third-person action game. The shooting is a little shaky, but after spending enough experience on buying upgrades, it’s not so bad. The platforming is a little like Uncharted, and it’s very easy to use. There is also a survival instinct feature you can view with the left trigger, which will highlight any clues if you get stuck. The game runs on an experience system, so you will constantly see updates on the screen about how much experience you’re gaining with a headshot, or a collectible, or a raided tomb. The messages are frequent, so they might take you out of the experience, but it’s worth it once you get skill points. At several base camps across the game, you can spend your skill points to upgrade Lara’s survival or fighting skills, as well as use the salvage you find to upgrade your weapons.

Overall

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Tomb Raider is a fantastic game that players will enjoy for hours on end. The story is engaging and the environment is robust. You will have fun searching for collectibles and solving challenging puzzles in the tombs you’ll find hidden away in the game. Some players may enjoy the multiplayer mode as well. It plays much like any other deathmatch game, and while it’s fun, it’s not as good as the others out there. Many will compare the game to Uncharted, that Lara Croft is basically a female Nathan Drake. Other than the platforming, I find the games very different. The easiest way to explain it is that Uncharted is about adventure, while Tomb Raider is about survival. Regardless, this game finally made me a Tomb Raider fan, and I can’t wait to see what Crystal Dynamics does next.

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