Tomb Raider (2013) – Throwback 10

The Tomb Raider series has been around for a long while. Having been first introduced way back in 1996 on the Sega Saturn, it might not feel like Lara Croft is that much of an old character for ancient gamers like myself, but she has been around for almost thirty years now (writing that hurt a little). And as with any media franchise that’s been around for that long there comes a time when things start to feel a bit too bloated, a bit too convoluted, and a clean sweep is needed. That came in 2013, when Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix rebooted the franchise with the unimaginatively named Tomb Raider.

The tenth game in the franchise, by the time Tomb Raider went into production Lara Croft had fought dinosaurs, discovered the ancient kingdom of Atlantis, and has wielded both Excalibur and Mjolnir. Trying to keep track of all of the people she know, has worked with, and been betrayed by, along with shady organisations, evil cults, and ancient entities, requires a huge board and a lot of string. As such, starting from the beginning was one of the smartest moves that the team behind Tomb Raider could have made. and makes this a perfect jumping on point for new fans, and those who haven’t played a Tomb Raider game in years.

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Tomb Raider sees the young Lara Croft (Camilla Luddington) setting out on her first ever expedition to the remote and mysterious island of Yamatai. The home to huge storms that have caused dozens of shipwrecks over the years, Lara hopes to find proof of the rumoured lost civilisation that’s said to exist there. Unsurprisingly, the expeditions ship is caught in one of these powerful storms and wrecked. Lara and a handful of the crew are able to make their way to the island, where they’re forced to try and survive.

However, Lara soon discovers that they’re not alone on Yamatai, as the island is also home to the Solarii, a dangerous cult that worships queen Hamiko, an ancient figure of myth that once ruled the island and is said to have mystical powers to control the storms. With the Solarii out for blood, Lara has to pick up a weapon and fight for her survival, leading to her discovering that she’s more than just an archaeology student, and that she has the ability to become a hero.

© 2013 Square-Enix.

Tomb Raider opens strong, with the wrecking of the Endurance and Lara’s subsequent arrival on Yamatai being cinematic in scope with big moments, and breakneck sequences that throws the character from one peril to another. Before long Lara, and by extension the player, has very quickly learned that the island is not a safe place, and that you’re going to be battling the environment as much as you are the cultists that call it home. Luckily, the game manages to create an incredibly enjoyable and easy to use exploration and combat system, that makes clambering around obstacles whilst fighting for your life a joy to do rather than a chore.

One of the complaints about the earliest entries in the franchise was that Lara at times controlled like a tank. You’d think you were aiming at the place you wanted her to jump to, but your subsequent button press would see her leaping the wrong way and plummeting down a huge drop to her death, forcing you to replay several minutes in order to try the tricky leap another time. In comparison, this game is an absolute delight. Lara handles brilliantly, and there’s a ton of places to explore across Yamatai, so that you end up looking forward to finding the next area, and discovering hidden ledges to clamber up to.

© 2013 Square-Enix.

The action was also vastly improved, with the clunky shooting of previous entries thrown aside for a more fluid approach. A big part of Tomb Raider is having Lara scavenge for supplies and weapons. Building a bow to start hunting for animals, and for silently dealing with cultists, is a huge amount of fun (and makes for one of the best weapons in the game). From there you’re able to take weapons from your enemies, giving you access to pistols, shotguns and more as you dash around the island, becoming a one woman army in your mission to free your friends and find a way home.

The game also takes some inspiration from the Uncharted series, and sees some big set pieces that Lara has to scale her way through in order to survive. Buildings burn around you as you climb your way to freedom, or you find yourself thrown off a cliff and sliding down a watery slope, dodging rocky outcrops. These moments are huge in scope, and are often used as transitions to new areas, such as Lara sliding down tunnels and finding herself trapped underground. These moments work well in the story, and help to further show the personal growth that Lara is going through, transforming from the scared young woman at the start of the game into the hardened heroine we all know her as.

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These changes proved to be popular, and upon the game’s release it received a number of strong reviews and critical acclaim. The game was praised for its visual style that put Lara into more realistic settings, as well as giving her character enough attention that she actually felt like a well rounded and engaging person. The game did receive some criticism for how Lara in the story struggled with having to fight and kill, with her having a breakdown after the first time she kills a person, and the fact that the game allows players to engage in a number of killings. This is fair criticism, as this aspect of her character is sometimes at odds with the game-play, though it doesn’t detract too much from the overall quality.

After ten games, and more than fifteen years, Lara Croft was overdue a refresh, and Tomb Raider handled that in spectacular fashion. Not only was the game incredibly well received, but it would go on to spawn two more games as direct sequels, as well as heavily inspiring the next Lara Croft film outing. Tomb Raider was the revamp that the franchise needed, and will be well remembered by fans for a long time to come.

Tomb Raider was released on 5th March 2013.

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