Lara Croft is back, and this time she’s younger.
Yes, in an attempt to try and get some semblance of continuity into Crystal Dynamics series we’re back to basics, the past stripped away and the player starts straight off with a new origin. A story that takes Lara from innocent archaeologist and starts to throw her into desperate situations from which only a true Tomb Raider is going to emerge.
Unlike games such as Spec Ops: The Line and Far Cry 3, this is not a descent into the deeper psyche of mankind, but more a consideration of how desperate measures are needed in desperate times. Lara feels vulnerable, but a well written back story shows that behind this vulnerability there is an inner strength, drive and determination about the woman; allowing her development to make a certain degree of sense. By doing this the player associates with the character more, feeling her pain and anguish and becoming immersed in the game and situation.
“This immersion is developed further through a well designed set of game mechanics which use a lot of the best things from previous games. Resident Evil 4’s washed out bleak style and storytelling coupled with a solid understanding of what makes Zelda games great. “
So Lara develops slowly, picking up more and more scars, her clothes covered in the grime, sweat and blood of her own, and others she has encountered. Exploration of the environment reaps rewards as well, adding upgrades to both her and her steadily increasing set of equipment, so that those impossible to reach places become a possibility later.
Combining this with an open world element means that you can fast travel from one base camp to another, to gain that 100% completion of regions, and this in itself is so wonderfully balanced that you want to take part. None of the areas are impossible to clear, some demand some careful searching whilst for others, completion is easily achieved simply by passing through with the store. It actively promotes exploration, one of the core features of the character and game, and when controls work so freely you feel remiss not to do it.
This ease of control continues into the fighting. The weapon upgrades give you variety and each weapon is better utilised for different situations and enemies. Players who tend to stick to what they like will find the variety engaging, and the bow is simply a dream. Interchanging weapons constantly throughout the game is exciting: shotgun to blast through armour at close range, mountain hammer to finish them off, bow to set them on fire… the list goes on and also transfers well into the multiplayer action too.
With all this and more is there any significant problem to the game? A well developed plot and story surrounds it, controls are balanced, but gameplay might come as a little too easy to some, and the challenges are reduced to support the story. The game also descends into large periods of cover based combat, which detract from the innocence and vulnerability when Lara has just killed forty people, and you do wonder why she shivers at the fireplaces when all the people she has eliminated have far thicker clothing. What really galls at times is the voice acting simply taking you out of the immersive experience and particularly bad with the main characters of Roth and Whitman, with the former’s “Northern” accent and the latter’s lack of sounding anything but creepy, at all times.