Assassin’s Creed meets Lost in Square Enix’s latest reboot of the Tomb Raider action-adventure video game franchise. “We’re not getting off this island,” Lara Croft says after surviving a crash from a rescue helicopter. Waves of nostalgia from ABC’s Lost swept through me as I remembered a certain Jack Shepard insist on staying on a similar island with magical properties. Don’t worry, though, you don’t encounter the smoke monster or find yourself in the middle of battle between Heaven and Hell. Instead, you are able to experience the progression of Lara Croft from innocent academic explorer to fearless heroine in this gripping origin story as she uncovers the mysteries of the lost Japanese civilization of the Yamatai.
After being shipwrecked and immediately separated from her archaeological crew, Lara has little choice but to learn to survive on this unforgiving island. The game spends the first hour on a series of cinematic sequences and quick-time events with limited gameplay that immerses players into Lara’s character. I felt the fear and adrenaline as Lara escapes from her captors on two different occasions while surviving a series of tumbles and falls that would make John McLane proud. It was riveting for me to watch Lara turn from an innocent researcher to a hardened survivor as she takes her first life in an emotional kill-or-be-killed situation. Soon afterwards, the narrative is rightfully desensitized and any worries about killing disappeared as Lara encounters a large guerilla army of enemy fanatics. With the lives of herself and her friends in the balance, she now has no qualms with killing anymore.
But Tomb Raider takes Lara’s transformation too far. The gameplay depicts her as a battle-hardened warrior, yet she was busy retching over her first kill only hours earlier. While the game incorporates stealth killing similar to Assassin’s Creed, too often the action devolves into a Call of Duty-style shootout. Enemies are usually grouped too tightly together allowing soldiers to easily notice the arrows sticking out of their comrades’ bodies. No amount of stealth in the world can prevent an all-out fight from happening, unfortunately pitting Lara against a horde of enemies. Though the shootouts are still fun due to the game’s practical duck and cover system, it was just more pleasing to play Lara as a sneaky assassin (Not to mention it suited her character better).
Combat stays fresh throughout the game through the variety of ways to kill. While I stuck mostly to my trusty bow, players can also use a pistol, shotgun, or rifle. Weapons can be upgraded through the salvage that Lara collects throughout her exploration of the island. She can add napalm to her arrows or even a grenade launcher to her rifle. Sadly, there is no option for a flame-thrower addition like the one Ripley had in the movie Aliens. The game also does not rely entirely on ranged fighting. I regularly snuck up behind enemies and watched as Croft silently choked them out with her bow. I found melee combat exhilarating at times by timing my dodging ability against an enemy and counter-attacking. I also found out that killing enemies outright was not necessarily the best way to play because then Lara couldn’t apply gruesome finishing moves to wounded soldiers similar to the stomp in the Gears of War franchise.
Even with all the fighting in Tomb Raider, the beauty of the game lies in the exploration of this gorgeous island. Like Altair or Ezio in Assassins Creed, Lara smoothly maneuvers through the many obstacles on the island. She gracefully jumps from cliff to cliff and is able to climb just about anything, ranging from mountain sides to ancient Japanese houses. The awe and exhilaration never quite disappear as she flies down the many ropes and ziplines all while taking in the beautiful scenery.
As Lara traverses the lush forests, climbs snowy mountains and makes her way through ancient buildings, her explorer spirit never dims. Her fascination with ancient civilizations shows through her excited demeanor when discovering artifacts and secret tombs. It is in these tombs that I was required to solve tricky environmental puzzles, which reminded me of the old Tomb Raider games. The puzzles were just complex enough to give me a sense of satisfaction after completing them.
Croft shows her adaptive spirit by adding new abilities and tools while she hikes farther into the island. Receiving an ice axe from her friend Roth allowsed me to scale previously climbable cliffs. Later on, she learns the rope arrow ability, allowing me to launch climbable ropes across huge chasms. With each new skill learned, Croft transforms into the seasoned adventurer that we have come to know. She begins to insert her will on the island and dictates where she wants to travel instead of being at the mercy of nature. In a Metroid-like fashion, Lara can travel back to previous locations on the island with her newly gained abilities to explore previously unattainable locations to find the numerous collectibles in the game like journal entries and artifacts.
Even after Lara saves the day and the main story is finished, I had a longing for more. While Tomb Raider is not an open world game like Elder Scrolls, the levels were well-designed and large enough for me to continue exploring. This time, instead of being pushed by the game’s plot towards certain places, I was able to leisurely enjoy Lara’s acrobatics as I combed the island for its mysteries. I found myself climbing up cliffs and leaping across platforms and crevices to places I thought were unattainable when I first started the game. It was in this ability to turn into a bonafide adventurer that makes Tomb Raider well worth playing.