The return of Lara Croft has been anything but subtle. Available at retail stores now, the reboot of her championed franchise has been a headline title in videogames specialist publications for over a year, and in the last few weeks has garnered column inches from lifestyle magazines, newspapers and even appearances on national television. Tomb Raider isn’t just a reboot of the videogame series; it’s a reboot of the public perception of the franchise.
This couldn’t be any clearer than it is in the structure of the videogame. An entirely linear romp where each turn results in a new game-changing event, Tomb Raider begins with our hero becoming stranded on the island she was hoping to explore. Explore she does, of course, but not in the way she’s hoped. The plan to slowly move across the island as a team, filming their journey as they aim to trace the roots of one of their number back to a mythical sun goddess, has suddenly gone out of the window. Instead, it’s the need to survive that drives Lara, able bodied and quick of mind, the obstacles she faces in the first hour alone would be enough to spell the end for most people, but Ms. Croft is one of strong determination.
The character development is a core part of the Tomb Raider experience, contrary to that of previous videogame titles offered by the franchise. Instances grow in personal challenge as Lara grows in determination: the need to cross a ravine via a crashed, unsteady aeroplane is a starting point, your first it’s-him-or-me kill is a showcase of survival skills, cauterising your own wounds is a brutish feat of strength.
Punctuating these plot points are moments of platform gameplay and combat. The former is remarkably flexible, offering players as much of a reward as the effort they put into traversing the wide open spaces and the frequent rush segments that see Lara sprinting away from or towards a great evil or her salvation. The combat does well to sustain interest with an automatic cover system that shouldn’t work half as well as it does in practice, and given how natural it becomes to use will likely become seen as an innovation akin to that of Gears of War’s snap-to system.
In addition to the collectables and audio diaries deemed necessary by a modern market, Tomb Raider offers another optional series of tasks that provide genuine replay value. There are many objects that can be interacted with and some will lead to unlocking a new Challenge. Therein lies the beauty of these short term distractions: the first part of each Challenge is to find it. From then on it’s a case of repeating the same action – breaking lanterns or burning posters – but unlike the many collectibles the Challenges often require you to complete small puzzles simply to access the next item on your list. It’s not always a simple case of just wandering around until you find, especially later in the campaign.
The Achievements featured in the videogame are odd, to say the least. The single-player Gamerscore is dolled out slowly across the course of the campaign and it’s very unlikely that you won’t unlock the majority on the single runthrough. Multiplayer however, has a continuous string of Achievements that come regularly over the first few matches, and then slowly widen the gap between unlocks, as the best arrangements do. There’s no subtlety in this delivery however, with the design clearly intended to encourage players to invest their time into the multiplayer modes, however this does feel as if you’re being forced into the weaker part of the experience as the online gameplay is so bland that you would be unlikely to entertain it for too long without some kind of a reward.
It’s been many years since Tomb Raider was recognised as a powerful franchise in videogames and even more so in wider society. This brand new videogame is the perfect starting point from which Lara Croft can be reborn; with genuinely absorbing storylines coupled with high quality gameplay design, Tomb Raider fulfils its requirement of being a videogame that can satisfy the most ardent fans while welcoming back those that have become dismayed. It’s a videogame that’s likely to benefit from word of mouth just as much as any big budget marketing campaign and that in itself is telling of Tomb Raider’s quality.