After a few entries that paled in the face of the similarly Indiana Jones-inspired Uncharted series, this is Tomb Raider’s inevitable gritty reboot.
Unlike the original Lara Croft, who looked like she might’ve been created by a committee of shamed Seventies TV presenters whilst lighting up cigars, chuckling filthily and burping pie onto piles of rude magazines, the Lara depicted here is very much the strong female protagonist reborn in the fire of her horrific experiences.
She’s presented as a Katniss-style heroine – relatable and of course, carrying a bow as her weapon of choice. This is her Lost-inspired origin story, a survival tale on the shores of a mystical island, and it’s so refreshingly different from the other Tomb Raider games that it could’ve been the start of a completely new series and gotten away with it.
After washing up in this strange place, you soon learn it’s not just the passengers who are tottering around this mysterious landmass, as a group of gun-wielding nutjobs start opening fire on your civilian pals for the sake of it. Lara picks up a bow and gradually learns to defend herself, murdering hundreds of men in her bid to find a couple of her uninteresting mates in this tropical locale.
The adventure is slickly paced, playing out much like the cinematic Uncharted games it once inspired, only with its own smattering of RPG and hunting elements to make the new Tomb Raider feel somewhat complex. The set pieces are fantastic, the visuals are extraordinary (particularly the rich lighting effects) and there’s usually more to explore if you fancy revisiting places you’ve already plodded through, Zelda-style. The combat is familiar yet satisfying – and unlike the rest of Lara’s pedestrian arsenal, firing the bow never really gets old.
Yet, while the premise admittedly isn’t too interesting as a movie/TV pastiche, it’s actually the depiction of Lara Croft herself that makes this new paradigm for the series function so well.
The influence of stronger pop culture figures has helped forge a more believable character than you’d otherwise see in derpy mainstream videogames. Lara picks up new skills to survive as part of the story; therefore there is a certain logic to the way the game brings in new weapons and ideas. Admittedly, there are certain incongruities within this survival theme, such as Lara’s sorrowful regret for killing a deer in a cutscene early on, while eight hours later she’s racked up 20 brutal human headshots on the trot, but hey – the narrative effort is welcome, at least.
There’s something oddly likeable about Lara’s voice actress, too, who delivers an atypically organic performance that enhances the reality of the character, and the scriptwriting to go with it isn’t awful, either.
We had little beyond nostalgic respect for the Lara Croft of yesteryear – she was very much the product of her Nineties, Lucozade-guzzling time. But there’s a very precise angle to the heroine presented here that dovetails nicely with the development of your abilities – better bows, fighting moves, filters to help you better navigate the world and a load of other stuff. It’s not an overbearing amount of progression, yet it helps distinguish Tomb Raider from other more straightforward cover shooters.
The Lost-style vibe proves a natural fit for Tomb Raider, then, and mimicking the mentality behind Batman Begins and Casino Royale in rejuvenating wayward franchises has paid off for the series. This is a surprisingly consistent and complex adventure that leaves us with considerable optimism about a franchise we’ve never had a lot of love for.