*some minor spoilers ahead
Reboots are one of the riskiest moves you could do to an ageing video game franchise. As well as catering for old, loyal fans, the reboot has to be relevant in the time it was released, getting brand new fans along the way. It has to have the same feel as its predecessors but fresh enough that it isn't much of the same tired old game. There are many fine examples of video game reboots such as Ubisoft's Prince of Persia Sand series and Rayman Origins and Team Ninja's Ninja Gaiden. Alas, it's finally Lara Croft's turn to be rehashed all over again to tell a brand new story and offer a new take on this long running franchise of action-adventure games.
I was never really a fan of the Tomb Raider series because I thought the camera and controls felt clunky to me but I did like the puzzles and storylines though it was not enough to win me over. Just to note that I will unavoidably compare this game to the Uncharted series to a small degree, ironically being influenced by Tomb Raider series, thus becoming an influence loop.
Tomb Raider is of course, a reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise as it explores Lara Croft's origin story and her transformation from a vulnerable, naive young woman to a strong, hardened and fearless explorer depicted in preceding games. First of all, this game really deserves its 18 (UK) and Mature (US) rating since it can be a dauntingly brutal game by visual standard, which makes you try not to get Lara killed, especially in the scripted gameplay parts of the game, I mean it is hard to see a young woman being impaled through her neck by a spike of wood because you couldn't dodge fast enough.
Graphically speaking, the game does look very nice. The background and foreground designs are very beautiful and exotic and the character designs are very photo realistic, especially Lara's design. The character animation is also extremely well done as Lara interacts with her environment like how an actual person does. It does have some occasional texture pop ins and it did glitch out on me on intense combat scenes where Lara's whole body stretches out of the screen, hindering my view of the combat.
So how's the gameplay? Getting it out of the way first, multiplayer is boring and overall completely and utterly pointless. One of the things I like about this reboot is that they have completely improved the controls as it feels a lot easier to move Lara about from running, climbing and jumping, even without the acrobatics and flexibilities that she is known for. Unlike previous games, Lara doesn't control like a tank any more and the camera follows her very consistently and stylishly but without any hindrance whatsoever. The combat is more of a third person shooter than the stylish, run and gun style of the previous games and most of its combat sequences are quite reminiscent of Uncharted or the Gears of War series with already set up battleground filled with strategic covers. An improvement to this is that instead of a sticky cover mechanic where your character sticks to a cover at a press of a button, Lara will automatically duck and hide whenever she's near cover, allowing you to move freely and strategically plan your position of attack and it never hinders your ability to change from cover to cover. This auto cover feature is also very useful in stealth though it does make it too easy to stealth through a combat sequence. Platforming is also very well executed and the tools that you gradually acquire opens up many dimensions to the platforming, giving you a good reason to explore the whole island though the exploration is a whole other problem.
The very beginning of the game is a very well scripted and very compelling sets of action set pieces but is unfortunately marred by annoying and unpredictable quick time events. It does portray Lara's struggle and fear quite well but it becomes more of an annoyance than a tool of tension. Fortunately, it does lessen as you progress through the game with more platforming, action and puzzle solving that the series is known for. The game contains a good amount of cinematic like gameplay from escaping a collapsing building or outrunning a collapsing bridge, some being quite similar to the Uncharted series. The world gradually opens up for you to explore but your ability to openly explore it is hindered by the story's scripted scenes like for example, you want to go back to the previous area to get the collectibles but you can't really since the bridge that connects it was destroyed according to the story progression, the only way back being fast travel by camp and camps are scattered inconveniently throughout the island, which makes exploration a bit of a chore. A motivation to explore the island are of course the collectibles and most importantly the tomb challenges, which are one of the best features of the game. The puzzles involving the tombs are incredibly clever and creative and it gives you a lot of salvage and experience points. It is a shame that there are only 6 (7 if you buy the pointless £2 extra Game Exclusive edition) and they are unfortunately short. Setting the tomb raiding, which is the main reason why the series is called Tomb Raider, as a side extra can be forgiven as the story is more of a character study and development rather than another adventure for Lara Croft. It would be very interesting (and inevitable) to see a sequel that involves more tomb challanges as part of its single player campaign as well as extra side tombs. Speaking of collectibles, most of them are completely arbitrary since they're only for trophies/achievements sake like collecting gps devices or lighting up up monk torches. Yes, they do give some XP but there are better ways to do it.
While it does claim that it is a game with survival like gameplay, the survival aspect of it is not really part of the whole gameplay but rather than a tool to imply the situation of the story. At the very beginning of the game, you are tasked to hunt animals since Lara is becoming hungry, one of the few survival aspects of the game but in the long run, you don't go hungry again and you don't even need to hunt animals any more for survival, being only for experience points rather than a commodity of survival. This did bother me quite a bit since I felt tricked that I need to make Lara hunt for animals so that she wouldn't starve to game over and to be honest, that would've made a plausible feature in this supposedly survival themed game, even if there are only 3-4 types of animals in the whole island to hunt.
The story in this game is pretty good, with a few problems concerning its complementaries with its gameplay as it does have some disconnections on Lara's characterisation and the actions that you make her do in game. She is shocked to having killed a man for the first time but in seconds, she is shooting arrows in the heads to unfortunate enemies. I really do like Lara Croft in this game. Her voice acting is great and in terms of personality, I prefer this one over the other incarnations. Her transformation from being a naive, optimistic and vulnerable woman to a strong survivor is the story's key highlight. The supporting character are a bit on the lackluster side as we don't really have enough time to get to know them and what their relationship with Lara is. Overall, the single player campaign will last you an average of 8 hours, depending if you want to collect everything in the game.
Overall, consider me intrigued by this game. It is a very good game and It feels like this is a very appropriate and improved reboot. It has problems but they are never enough to hinder the experience. It has a quite compelling single player campaign, probably one of the few triple A titles today that has more focus and care on its single player campaign than the obligatory multiplayer feature. The combat is a lot of fun and the platforming encourages incentive to explore, even if it doesn't get the exploration bit quite right yet. Do yourself a favour and try this game out.
Good story and the best incarnation of Lara Croft I've seen.
Graphics are nice and character animations look great.
Improved and better control scheme in comparison to previous Tomb Raider games.
Impressive gameplay mechanics, especially the auto cover.
The tomb side quests.
Boring, needless multiplayer.
Uninteresting supporting characters.
Tombs sidequests are too short.
Quick time events, especially at the beginning, are unintuitive.
Disparities between the player's action and Lara's characterisation.
Could've used survival aspects for necessities rather than experience points.