When I played the original Tomb Raider on 1996, I was both equally impressed with the game as I was disappointed. On one side it was a technically impressive title that brought to life a 3D world on what was admittedly limited hardware. It also featured a mature setting and character in a gaming environment that was trying to shake off its juvenile image from the 16-bit era.
Raiding through the ages
The cumbersome controls, with some of the blame attributed to the DualShock-less control pad at the time, made the actual gaming experience harder than it should have, and by extension, frustrating. 1997’s Tomb Raider II was a bit more refined and aided by having a robust saving system. While Tomb Raider II was still true to its archaeological roots, the new direction of 1998’s Tomb Raider III, as well as the growing cult of celebrity around Lara Croft, would turn me off the franchise.
After Crystal Dynamics took over development duties for the current generation of consoles, the Tomb Raider franchise became a bit more focused and even returned to its roots with Tomb Raider: Anniversary in 2007. Unfortunately, the Uncharted series on PlayStation 3 had already set the benchmark for third person adventuring, admittedly doing all the right things that the Tomb Raider series should have done before it lost its way with the general public. I tried the new trilogy of Tomb Raider games from Crystal Dynamics years after they were initially released, but I found the gameplay a bit too slow paced compared to other thirst person titles to capture my interest.
Change for the better
Despite the minor makeover of Lara Croft, and a pair of decent Hollywood movies starring Angelina Jolie, I no longer held any goodwill for the character. Despite my mixed history with the franchise, the new Tomb Raider game overcame my initial misgivings and thoroughly entertained me from beginning to end.
It is true that the game has borrowed a lot of elements from Uncharted, which may seem odd since Uncharted itself borrowed from the original Tomb Raider games, but that is what makes the new Tomb Raider work. It feels and plays like a modern game, unlike the past titles which were a bit too old school for their own liking. The new game is also cinematic with high quality graphics to boot.
A new start
This is topped off with responsive controls and a satisfying combat engine, with the bow and arrow being one of the most rewarding weapons to use. As for Lara Croft, making her younger and more vulnerable, without the virtual and real world fame, makes the character feel as fresh as when the original Tomb Raider came out in 1996.
- Cinematic gameplay that rivals titles such as Uncharted.
- Responsive controls and weapons are well implemented.
- Atmospheric world that captures the excitement of exploration.
- Lara’s death animations can be surprisingly graphic.
- The mood of the game can be somewhat dark and depressing.
Tomb Raider is a stellar example of what happens when a studio decides to pull out all the stops in reinventing a franchise that was weighed down by its own legacy.