Crystal Dynamics went back to the beginning for Tomb Raider (2013) and Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. Is Lara Croft’s origin story a good reboot for the series?
Lara Croft has been one of the most recognizable faces in gaming history since the first game in the Tomb Raider series debuted 20 years ago in 1996. Lara was a completely new type of character in video games. She had attitude, she was strong-willed, and she was a woman. Before Tomb Raider, women weren’t really seen as main characters in many games. It was a complete change of direction for the better in gaming.
In recent years, the Tomb Raider series somewhat lost its way. It’s not that the Tomb Raider games were all that bad, they just simply weren’t up to par with games like Uncharted which really redefined the genre. After the release of Tomb Raider: Underworld, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix decided to completely reboot the series and go back to the origins of Lara Croft. This resulted in Tomb Raider (2013).
If you’ve played Tomb Raider games before, you pretty much know what to expect from them. It’s part adventure, part action, part puzzle. It’s a good formula that gives a lot of variety to a game that would get stale if it was all just action. This one starts off with a bunch of set pieces and QTE events to develop the new Lara that we’re just meeting for the first time. This Lara is on her first expedition and the first 60 minutes are as important as any in the entire series.
We’ve yet to see Lara like this. She’s stranded on a remote island alone and she must use her instincts to survive. Camilla Luddington did a great job portraying Lara and she really pulls you into the story and makes you feel for this woman. As terrified as Lara is throughout the adventure, she also begins to show the signs of the Lara we’ve come to know over all these years. It’s very much an evolutionary tale for one of gaming’s most iconic faces.
As great as Lara is as a character, the supporting cast is not nearly as realized. We never really get much background on the rest of the crew that accompanied Lara to this island. That makes it difficult to care if anything bad happens to them. Lara has a lot of guilt over bringing them along on her adventure and that emotional journey forms the basis of the game’s story.
The transition from a petrified survivor to a skilled hunter happens over the course of the game’s first hour. Lara doesn’t really even touch a gun for quite a while and when she does, the moment really makes an impact. Of course, Lara goes on to start killing everything in sight and your feelings start to change, much like hers.
The combat in Tomb Raider is pretty well constructed. There’s a salvaging system where you find different parts to upgrade your weapons to better ones. The bow is easily the most enjoyable weapon. Every headshot makes you feel like a true marksman. Rifles, pistols, shotguns, and melee attacks are equally as gratifying. Even more so when you start to add things like flaming arrows and other cool upgrades to the mix. You can choose to be a silent killer or go in guns blazing, but the game somewhat necessitates different approaches for different situations.
The annoying things about the survival element is that, although hunting is introduced very early on in the game, there is literally no point in hunting a single animal for the rest of the game. Lara also starts to become incredibly powerful through upgrades as the game goes and there doesn’t seem to be much issue with enemies after about the mid-way point in the game. I would have liked to see some expansion upon the mechanics introduced at the start of the game, but it doesn’t take away from the fun factor.
The climbing is some of the best that I’ve utilized in a game. It just works. Lara does exactly what you tell her to do. I can’t remember too many times where I had difficulty. Part way through the game, a pickaxe is introduced and things get even better. Lara gets to traverse some really scenic places along cliffsides. If that’t not enough, Lara is able to make her own ziplines later on to travel across different places with ease. As you start to gain these different abilities, the world starts to open up even more and makes you feel like the adventurer that Lara truly is.
Lara does have Survival Instincts which highlight important things in her line of sight like collectibles and enemies. I utilized it a lot to see enemies since a lot of the game takes places at night. It’s completely optional and not everyone will use it, but it’s pretty useful. This is one of the many skills that Lara can upgrade in the game. There’s a plethora to upgrade and I won’t go through them all. There’s everything from more ammo to pain tolerance to dodging enemies. If you want to make Lara reach her full potential, you’ll want to upgrade as much as possible.
It wouldn’t be Tomb Raider without tombs to raid and there are plenty in this one. These tombs take a backseat to the actual storyline in the game and involve solving puzzles to gain valuable loot. It’s a cool diversion and a great way to pull the whole game together while breaking away from the action. By the end of the story, it’s actually fun to go back and grab everything you might have missed and finish those tombs. There aren’t any enemies to distract you from exploring every nook and cranny.
There is a multiplayer mode that I didn’t spend much time with. Tomb Raider was never a multiplayer game and it really shows. The combat system isn’t flexible enough to make a compelling multiplayer mode. It’s one of those games where I’d rather they stick to single player or develop a co-op adventure for multiplayer.
Tomb Raider (2013) is a great re-introduction to a character that we’ve all known and loved for years. Lara has been given a new lease on life and is far more fleshed out than ever before. It was a great first step for the new direction of the Tomb Raider franchise and I can’t wait to see where the series ends up 10 years from now. I’d recommend this game to everyone, just try not to let Lara die one of the many horrifying deaths she can experience!