Despite being one of the most well-known video game characters of all time, for many years Lara Croft was little more than an accent, a pair of pistols and a set of unrealistic measurements that would make Barbie blush. With “Tomb Raider” the series -- and Lara -- undergo a gritty reboot that mixes the gunplay and explosive set pieces of the “Uncharted” games with lots of exploration and just a touch of actual tomb raiding.
“Tomb Raider” opens with a shipwreck that leaves Lara and the other survivors stranded in a Bermuda Triangle-esque zone where freak storms destroy any ships or planes that come too close. Lara is kidnapped by one of the island’s many deranged inhabitants and has to fight to survive.
The rest of the game shows Croft slowly coming to terms with the kill-or-be-killed situation into which she has been thrust. Lara begins by hunting deer with a bow and arrow to keep from starving to death, mouthing apologies as she skins the carcass. By the end of the game, Lara has seen enough (and been attacked often enough) to have no problem blowing away wave after wave of enemies with shotguns, pistols and even a climbing axe.
The cover-based gunplay has been lifted right from the “Uncharted” games, and gunning down enemies feels fun but overly familiar. The combat is broken up by frequent “run for your life” segments involving crashing planes, brittle bridges and collapsing buildings. Just about everything on the island seems to be waiting to come crumbling apart beneath Lara’s feet, and while it makes for a lot of tense moments early on, at a certain point it starts to feel silly.
Exploring the island of Yamatai is made easier by Lara’s climbing axe and the ability to shoot arrows with ropes tied around them to create makeshift ziplines. Campfires serve as save points and give the player the option to level up their survival or combat skills or travel to any other campfire on the island instantly. This makes going back to previously visited areas to raid the game’s hidden tombs much more convenient, though it also erodes the game’s hard-won sense of realism a bit.
The island itself is perhaps the real star of “Tomb Raider,” as it never fails to provide the player with interesting, beautiful and spooky areas to explore. Ancient Japanese ruins and WW2-era bunkers sit side by side, and the often-brilliant level design makes navigation intuitive and fun. A creepy soundtrack works wonders for ratcheting up the intensity during the game’s many stealth segments, where Lara must take out enemies one by one without being noticed.
Lara’s adventure will take most gamers around 12 hours to complete, though there are plenty of artifacts for completionists to dig up and optional tombs to raid. While the puzzles built into the game’s tombs are on the easy side, it’s still addictive to discover and explore them all.
“Tomb Raider” also features a multiplayer mode that feels uninspired and out of place. While multiplayer can be a nice way to keep the player’s attention after beating the game, it’s a throwaway feature here.
While it draws too heavily from other games to ever feel truly original, “Tomb Raider” is a gripping adventure at best and a solid shooter at worst. The vulnerable, more human Lara of this reboot makes for a much more compelling character than the pistol-wielding pinup girl of the nineties, and watching her grow from victim to hardened survivor is nothing short of thrilling.
While Lara might make a living by digging around in dusty ruins and stealing the treasure of long-dead royalty, “Tomb Raider” proves that the franchise still has some lifeblood left.
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