Lara Croft has been one of gaming's most recognizable icons for nearly two decades now. However, with "Tomb Raider," developer Crystal Dynamics intends to reinvent the character completely. "Tomb Raider" is simultaneously a reboot and an origin story, one that preserves the core aspects of the franchise while not afraid to cut out some of the series' more outdated mechanics.
At the outset of the game, Lara is a young, inexperienced archeologist who finds herself shipwrecked with her crew on a mysterious island while looking for a lost Japanese kingdom. The island is home to a cult of various castaways who also find themselves stuck. Lara and her friends quickly find that these islanders are hostile, and several members of the crew are kidnapped, leaving Lara to rescue them. Over the course of the game, Lara learns what it takes to survive on the island and gradually comes into her own as the story's hero.
In "Tomb Raider," gamers spend most of their time either engaged in shootouts or climbing the island's mountainous terrain. At first glance, it's easy to dismiss the game as an "Uncharted" rip-off, and while the game has certainly been influenced by that series, Crystal Dynamics has taken steps to make sure the game stands apart from Naughty Dog's series. The core third-person combat is incredibly fluid thanks to a passive cover system that removes the need to press yourself up against a wall for every gunfight. Where the game really distinguishes itself, however, is the way Lara gains new abilities and tools over the course of the game. Players get skill points to spend on various abilities and can use salvage found around the island to improve their gear.
While the game is mostly linear, instances where there are multiple paths the player can take helps the game feel more open. Also, in a fashion reminiscent of a Metroid or Zelda game, Lara's progress is often blocked by an obstacle which she cannot overcome until she has obtained a new item. Lara starts the game with nothing but a torch and later acquires a bow, an ice ax, an assortment of firearms and numerous other gadgets. This character progression adds a great deal of depth to the gameplay and also reinforces the central theme of the game: Lara's transformation from explorer to survivor.
In an era where great looking games are not hard to find, the visuals of "Tomb Raider" still manage to impress. In particular, Lara is incredibly detailed and features superb animation. This, in combination with stellar voice work, lends greatly to the character's believability. Other characters are less impressive in both regards, but not to the extent that they detract from the experience.
With "Tomb Raider," Crystal Dynamics has revitalized both Lara Croft and the series. The game features excellent shooting and platforming mechanics, as well as top-notch visuals and audio. The game is a must-play for action adventure fans, and even if you aren't a huge fan of the genre, "Tomb Raider" demands your attention.