Rejoice for Tomb Raider Reboot

Whether you’ve played the original games or not, you’ve probably heard of the “Tomb Raider” franchise. Made from nine games, two movies, three novels, a number of comic books and an animated television series, this wildly successful venture has always revolved around the protagonist Lara Croft, a young, female, British archeologist.

However, all of these have had a very similar outlook on the leading lady. She’s purported as a fiercely independent, able-to-handle-anything woman who can be shot at, blown up and stranded in a hostile wasteland without breaking a sweat. To top it off, she’s known for her disproportionate frame (huge breasts and a disturbingly narrow waist), which is squeezed into a v-cut tank top and booty shorts.

The “Tomb Raider” reboot doesn’t have any of these features, and I couldn’t be happier.

Throwing the player into the perspective of 21-year-old Croft, the game begins with her aboard the Endurance, a ship exploring the Dragon’s Triangle, a place that “makes the Bermuda Triangle look like a picnic.” She is one member of a team looking for the lost Japanese Kingdom of Yamati, home to the mythical sun queen, Himiko. Minutes into the opening sequence, a storm rips the ship in half, casting Croft into the surging ocean.

She wakes on a foreign shore, only several hundred feet from the other survivors, but they can’t see her. Moving to call out, she’s struck across the face, once again getting knocked out.

You get to control Croft when she wakes, having been hung by her feet from the ceiling of an ancient cave in preparation for sacrifice. Though you manage to free her, she is impaled in the fall when a small spike rams through her side. Gasping for breath, you guide her through the cave, lighting material that blocks her path on fire.

This eventually creates an explosion that causes the cave to crumble. Fleeing for her life through falling rocks and collapsing floors, the game introduces a number of survival mechanics that you’ll use throughout. For instance, if you fail the first quick-time sequence, Croft is very graphically crushed by a boulder. If you don’t navigate the sliding sequence well, you’ll see her impaled.

After being shipwrecked, kidnapped, almost sacrificed, impaled, set on fire, blown up, cast down hundreds of feet of wet or crumbling rock and nearly killed half a dozen times, she emerges into sunlight on a cliff side bluff.

And all this happens within the first ten minutes of gameplay.

Published by Square Enix and developed by Crystal Dynamics, this wild reimagining of a formerly predictable franchise blew me away. The first, most easily noticeable aspects are the incredible graphics and sounds involved. You can see every streak of dirt and fleck of blood on Croft’s face. When a crow caws, you can not only hear exactly where it comes from, but you can turn and make out the individual feathers as it flies.

However, the truly remarkable aspect of this game is how you simultaneously gather that Croft is a very capable but also very vulnerable person. On one hand, she can scale cliffs and handle a wide variety of weapons with surprising efficiency. I was especially shocked when, halfway through the game, she jury-rigged a grenade launcher to her assault rifle. That ingenuity shines throughout in other moments, like when a creatively placed lighter allows her to shoot flaming arrows.

Yet, at the same time, you know she’s not an expert survivalist. She hasn’t had any training; she’s not used to combat and it shows. Without spoiling the scene, the first time she really kills someone is probably one of the most heart-breaking murder scenes I’ve seen in a game in years. When injured during a movie sequence, there’s no magical quick fix. There’s no first aid bandage lying around for her to patch herself up, and she still shows signs of the pain afterwards.

The plot of the game is that a group of stranded raiders have kidnapped Croft’s best friend, Sam, whose ancestors supposedly descended from Himiko, the sun goddess. Croft is left to round up the surviving members of the Endurance, enter the raider stronghold and free her companion. Though the plot can seem inconsequential, at times, due to the small number of scenes, the protagonist frequently gives herself pep-talks, reminding herself and the player that a very important life is going to end without your help.

A clever weapons-and-upgrades system, combined with a smooth combat dynamic and a variety of fighting styles makes this a very enjoyable game. You can be stealthy, creeping around with her bow to kill your enemies one by one, or you can charge in with a rifle and blow them apart. Certain skills allow for extremely dramatic finishing moves which not only give you extra experience, but can be a very satisfying way of taking out that last heavily-armored foe.

The only downside is that some of the side quests seem unnecessary and are often disappointing. I was really looking forward to the optional tomb exploration, not only to find that the raiders had, in every situation, beaten me there and fully explored it, but also that the tombs were small and easily navigated. One tomb, just involves placing metal cans on a fulcrum so that you can run across and jump to a nearby grappling point, allowing you to get the treasure. These simplistic “puzzles” could’ve been taken out without changing the game much.

Of course, you don’t just have to take my word that this is a great game. It won: Best Overall Game and People’s Choice from IGN; Most Valuable Game from Games Radar, the Official Xbox Magazine and the Official PlayStation Magazine; and Most Anticipated Game of 2013 from Digital Spy.

I give this game nine out of ten stars, with the only detriment coming from the poorly integrated side missions. Regardless, the amazing graphics, driving intensity and the delicate balance between Croft’s unstoppable determination and her vulnerability will have you playing it for hours. It’s definitely worth the money, so be sure to check it out.