Tomb Raider

Lara Croft gets an origin story and a new beginning in this adept game that revitalises the aging franchise.

CNET Rating

About The Author

CNET Editor

Nic Healey can usually be found on a couch muttering about aspect ratios and 7.1 channel sound - which is helpful given that he's the home entertainment guy at CNET.

The first Tomb Raider title came out in 1996 and made Lara Croft a cultural icon almost overnight — she even appears in the Guinness Book of Records as the most recognisable female video game character.

Since then, the character's star has waxed and waned with two less-than-stellar movies and a few poorly received games on her CV. This new game — once again titled just Tomb Raider — takes Lara back to her roots, literally. The title is essentially an origin story for Lara, showing her transition from mild-mannered archaeologist to hard-nosed adventurer.

The game begins with a ship-wrecked Croft seeking to find her surviving crew and then get off the strange island they find themselves on. Obviously, it's going to be a little trickier than just finding a raft, as forces both mundane and supernatural combine to make escape a rather difficult proposition.

In terms of both story and gameplay, Tomb Raider is a resounding success. The thematic shift to a more vulnerable Lara is done well and succeeds at not coming across patronising.

It also makes for a solid game progression, letting players unlock new skills and weapons for Lara as she gradually adjusts and reacts to the hellish environment she finds herself in.

Tomb Raider manages to hit the right notes in terms of the traditional gameplay in the series, while still keeping it all feeling fairly fresh. The game relies primarily on exploration, with Lara's climbing skills an important focus. Puzzles abound — a few are actually quite pleasingly tricky — and stealth sequences, including silent kills, add a new dimension.

With a few notable exceptions, combat is fast paced and avoids being a lengthy drag of wave after wave of henchmen running at you. Lara has a few weapons at her disposal — the bow being the primary option and easily the most fun to use — and you'll later unlock the capacity for hand-to-hand combat, which is surprisingly visceral.

Collectibles make the mandatory appearance, including documents that help flesh out the back story of the island and its inhabitants, as well as relics, many of which require some additional investigation after discovery to reveal extra information.

And yes, there are, of course, tombs, all of which require raiding.

The game is not without its flaws and frustrations, however. While we said that combat is generally fast paced, there are a couple of notable exceptions when particular fights drag on and prove more irritating than enjoyable.

Some of the on-rails sequences — Lara sliding down waterfalls or underground caverns — can also be frustrating. One particular sequence was so visually busy that it was difficult to actually see the correct path, making not dying more a case of guesswork than any skill.

But these exceptions are all the more noteworthy for their rarity. For the most part, Tomb Raider humanises the previously super-heroic Lara Croft, and gives gamers a chance to experience her not-exactly-humble beginnings in a game that's extremely fun to play.

It's hard to imagine a game that could do a better job with such an iconic figure and such an extensive franchise.

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