Tombs! Puzzles! Guns! Jumping! More guns! The setpieces are all there, but does Tomb Raider manage to scratch that treasure-plundering-and-adventuring itch? Reviewers say it does.
Survival horror-esque hiding and sniping goes hand in hand with mountain climbing and cover shooting in the franchise reboot. But what was it, in particular, that sent critics over the edge? Here's what they have to say.
When you're not fighting against Tomb Raider's design, you feel like you're just going through familiar third-person adventure motions. As you may expect, combat encounters are broken up by largely straightforward environmental puzzles. These usually involve figuring out how to apply the set of upgraded weapons or items that Lara has acquired through the game. On top of this, Tomb Raider is overblown with quicktime events. They are often used to pull you up from a ledge or open a door. They aren't inherently bad but I often felt removed from the on screen action when all I was required to do was a single button press to perform a death-defying manoeuvre.
There aren't many mandatory puzzles and they aren't too tricky. They involve a lot of ropes. For the first few hours of play, it feels like this core element of the series has been sidelined and dumbed down to a disappointing degree. But again, things look up as the game goes on. The puzzles crop up more regularly and get more challenging. It's just like old times as the game shuts up, calms down and gives Lara the breathing space to quietly work out the answers.
Battle is as big a part of Tomb Raider as navigation, and that's a surprisingly good thing, because Crystal Dynamics has been able to create a most elegant combat system. When enemies are near, Lara transitions into a crouching stance, and will automatically take cover near convenient walls and boxes. While most game characters take cover with obtrusive — and often unwanted — snaps, Croft manages to flow naturally and simply from cover to combat to regular movement, in a way that never seems obnoxious or unnecessary. The game's contextual animation is superb, and seems know exactly the correct thing to do in any given situation.
Few action games come close to the level of control that Tomb Raider provides. For example, after Lara makes a deliberate jump in one direction, you maintain the ability to change where she's falling in mid-air. This air control sits at odds with the emphasis on realism found in Tomb Raider's presentation, but it makes the platforming less linear and demands more from the player. Likewise, you can leap between locations — say from sliding down a rope to climbing up a rock wall with your pickaxe. The speed of these changes makes Lara's animations look awkward and unnatural, but it feels right.
Tomb Raider has definitely taken inspiration from the other great action games of this generation. There's an escaping-from-a-burning-building scenario, and more than one sequence where you're skidding at speed down a waterfall. But even when Tomb Raider falls back on action-game cliché, it does so with such confidence and aplomb that you don't mind — in fact, that burning-building sequence is one of the game's most breathlessly exciting moments. Once it gets going, Tomb Raider is high-octane and squeezes your adrenaline gland dry, but it's also got great variety and pacing. There are quiet, tense moments inbetween the combat-heavy setpieces, and you're never in the same place doing the same thing twice.
Even the tombs themselves have been simplified. They're not big huge sprawling things filled with massive statues, hidden switches and deadly traps. They're petite puzzle rooms with a very simple goal: Figure out how to get from the entrance to the treasure box using ordinary objects like gas cans, buoys, and cargo haulers. If you find yourself stumped, Lara's Survivor Instinct ability helps highlight items of interest in the room, and occasionally Lara herself will mutter a hint. It's a great compromise, offering a helpful nudge to those who want it without forcing it on those who don't.
Ominous dread replaces intrepid sauciness in this reboot, and there's little of the breathless wonder that distinguished the first Tomb Raider games. You will see beautiful vistas, yes, but not much joy accompanies those moments. A tight claustrophobic camera zooms in on Lara when she squeezes through tight crevices and, even in the game's more open environments, a tense anxiety is never too far off. But that dread makes the play of the game feel deeply satisfying.