Lara Croft is back in prequel to a classic series

by Sergio Lopez

03_26_13_Entertainment_TombRaider_cred_SquareEnixThe “Tomb Raider” franchise has a history of allowing players to explore tombs, fight dinosaurs and battle supernatural entities. This is all led by the iconic and hyper-sexualized Lara Croft. However, developer Crystal Dynamics attempts to reboot the series with its latest entry, simply titled “Tomb Raider.” Taking place just after Lara graduated from a university, Crystal Dynamics explores Lara’s origins and how she evolved into a memorably tough and strong woman.

Like many other recent reboots, “Tomb Raider” is a much grittier take on the series. Violence is prevalent throughout the game, but, unlike its predecessors, this game takes it to a much more graphic level. If you fail one of the many quick time events, a “Dead Space”-like cinematic shows Lara suffering a gruesome death. Unlike “Dead Space,” though, gamers can actually see her face, which means the impact is amplified, motivating players to help her survive. She’s not some faceless character; she is Lara and when she dies, we feel it.

While many will go on to dismiss this as this an “Uncharted” clone, I can safely say “Tomb Raider” feels distinctly different. The graphic violence is obviously a major variance, but the tone is significantly more serious while remaining relatable. Lara’s triumphs and failures mean so much more to the player as she encounters each obstacle and, at the same time, players watch her grow stronger.

The gameplay also supports this by way of its upgrade system. When Lara first gets her hands on a weapon, the aiming seems to be a little floaty. However, by upgrading Lara through skill points, the controls become much tighter and her weapons even more deadly. With each skill point, players can upgrade a particular weapon, survival skill or combat efficiency. These, in combination with found items, will allow her to survive on the mysterious island she’s shipwrecked on.

While the story is told linearly, there’s a fair amount of exploration available. When Lara reaches a new campground, players are able to return to that location via fast travel. This allows for more time to explore past locations and find hidden items. Another perk of the game’s exploration is how, as players progress, new items are unlocked that afford access to previously unreachable places. With the help of an arrow tied to a rope, Lara can climb up to and explore new areas which hold previously-hidden tombs.

These tombs are found throughout the island and are short, isolated puzzles that can be skipped at any time. I still recommend making the time to find them because these environmental puzzles are what really conjure up memories of the original games. These puzzles were never too hard, nor particularly difficult, but solving them rewards players with an adrenaline rush. Beyond these tombs, hidden relics and journals are also found scattered throughout that reveal more about the island’s mysterious past.

While Lara’s personal journey is interesting and well done, there are certain aspects of the narrative that just don’t hold up. Side characters are never fully developed and I found myself never really caring about whether any of them were in danger or if they died. It’s a shame because I wanted to know these characters and how they impacted Lara. The story would have benefited if the game had slowed down at certain points to allow characters to portray their relationships with each other. Instead, “Tomb Raider” begins with a sprint and never lets up. This is especially displayed during an intense scene when Lara makes her first kill. While she’s visibly distraught about being forced to take a life, the impact of it was taken away when, two minutes later, I was killing 20 enemies with my arrow and pistol. This moment would have been much more significant if only the progression of her becoming a gun-wielding badass would have been slower.

“Tomb Raider” is a fun and intense adventure that clearly defines the direction the franchise is now headed. I can’t wait to see what other adventures Lara finds herself in and I certainly hope there are many more.