“I hate tombs,” Lara Croft sighs as she enters a musty crypt in Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics’ bold reboot of the long-running series. The franchise had grown a bit musty in recent iterations, bogged down in clumsy shooting and silly supernatural elements like an evil Lara doppelgänger, and distancing itself from the core experience of, you know, raiding tombs. Despite a string of solid if unspectacular efforts, Lara’s star had faded considerably, and Uncharted’s Nathan Drake largely supplanted her as gaming’s top adventurer, in gameplay and graphics –until now. This new Lara has taken a page from Drake’s exploits and is officially reclaiming her throne.
In this new origin story, Lara is not a girl, not yet a woman when she is shipwrecked on a mysterious island. Separated from her crew and visibly scared, she is forced to grow up quickly when a murderous cult kidnaps her friends. Armed with a bow and arrow, she channels The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen in sheer grit and determination, gaining new weapons and abilities that open up the world as the game progresses in a nod to gaming’s first lady, Metroid’s Samus Aran.
The brutal island changes her, and voice actress Camilla Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy) gives a fully realized performance that sells Lara’s evolution from untested neophyte to warrior princess. She’s put through the wringer — escaping burning buildings, getting tossed off cliffs and over waterfalls — in a series of stunning set pieces that are as fun to play as they are to marvel at. The graphics are dazzling, zooming in close in tight corridors to show the emotion on her face, and then panning way out as she ziplines off a mountain, flaunting the game’s impressive scope and size.
The greatest improvement is in the game’s combat sequences. In past games, Lara would lock onto an enemy and then blast away with her trademark dual pistols, and it felt very disposable. But this game’s enemies are much smarter, rushing her, flanking her, and throwing explosives to keep her constantly scrambling for cover. While she gains access to several guns, the bow and arrow is most satisfying, as Lara can use it to silently pick off enemies from a distance or arm it with fire or explosive tips to make things go boom.
When not fighting crazed cultists, exploring the island is just as entertaining thanks to the rock-solid platforming system, which has Lara leaping across chasms and clinging to the sides of mountains. Hunting animals (sorry, Bambi!) and finding salvage rewards the player with XP that is used to upgrade weapons and unlock new abilities that prove invaluable. The titular tombs exist as optional side missions that are absolutely worth seeking out, since they contain clever physics-based puzzles that provide a nice reprieve from the campaign’s breakneck pace. Lara may hate tombs, but gamers are going to love them — and her — all over again. A–
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