Let's jump back to last June, I was sitting in a small private showing room at Square-Enix's watching some of the first live-played footage of the upcoming Tomb Raider title. i was initially apathetic towards it, but by the end of the show I realized there was some serious potential there. By the end of E3 I realized that it was probably the best game I had the luck of seeing there. The longer I waited for the game to release, the more excited I was to play it.
I was hardly a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise. I did play a majority of the series but I would consider 'playing' to be finding the highest point I can make the polygonal Lara Croft swan dive off of that would result in a painful death. The way I looked at it, the character was a play to get us 13 year-olds excited over a busty character. Game play was as stale as their character design, when Uncharted came out, the series was obsolete.
Unlike prior Tomb Raider games, this Lara isn't the over-the-top eye candy that seemingly ventures through caves and cliffs in nothing more than tank tops, booty shorts and pistols. This is a shipwrecked young archaeologist that is probably more afraid of her situation than anything else. While the characters in the game are blatant tropes, you can't help but like most of them, and when a 'twist' takes place, there really isn't any surprises. Yet, with that being said, I found myself pushing to get the story advanced, as I just wanted to see what Lara and the crew of the Endurance were going to have to go through next. The story is told masterfully and the amount of over the top visceral moments that Lara is thrust into will keep any veteran player on their toes.
The game play itself has several very important bullet points (woo, puns!) that absolutely need to be mentioned. First off, the game plays like a Metroid game, with many things hidden away in plain sight and only accessible once you have unlocked a certain item or upgrade. Lara also 'levels up' in the game, survival points allow you to actually purchase or augment abilities to make Lara's 1 v 1000 odds much better. Finally, exploration offers many different rewards throughout the game, from small collectibles to massive tombs that you can explore. It's like they took the concept of what an action/adventure game should be and followed it to an exact T, something that everyone tried to take a creative direction with up until this point. The game seems to provide the exact right amount of content for the situation, without overdoing it or undercutting the experience.
I could write tons of commentary on how the game plays and feels, or how the sound effects are absolutely stunning but when it is said and done Tomb Raider was one of the first games that actually upset me when I knew it was drawing to a close. Lara and I were on an adventure, we fought off crazed cultists and deadly animals. We climbed mountains and ventured through dark and dangerous caves. When I saw the message "You will not be able to fast travel to any other location on the map after this camp", I was sad because I knew that it was all coming to an end. I cared way more for this Lara and this Tomb Raider than I ever had for any in the past. This isn't only the best Tomb Raider ever, this very well may be the best action/adventure game ever. Move over Nathan Drake, Lara Croft has come back to show you a few things.
When it is said and done, this game impacted me far more than any other game of this console generation.
- This new Lara is much more human than the old, it was a treat to watch her become a survivor
- Combat is great, do you hear me? Excellent even!
- Fast travel and exploration make the game worth coming back to, even after you have beaten it.