By Daniel Shaw:
Ask any gamer of at least thirty years to think fast and name a classic title at random; odds are good he or she will shout, “Tomb Raider!” Long before Nathan Drake jumped into our lives with his superhuman ability to climb mountains with just his bare hands, the spiritual successor to Indiana Jones was Lara Croft: The Tomb Raider. Born the daughter of Lord Richard Croft, Lara’s treasure-seeking adventures have spanned over twelve video game titles, three live-action films, a plethora of comics, and several novels. With new fans being drawn in every day, as well as a brand-new game hitting the market, this franchise is showing no signs of slowing down.
Lara Croft made her gaming debut in 1996 with the premier of Tomb Raider for the original PlayStation. The game featured Lara from a third-person perspective and challenged players with environmental/mechanical puzzles, maze-like areas, and a variety of enemies. While the graphics would naturally appear dated when compared with today’s standards, it was still a unique look and a next step in the development of three-dimensional worlds.
The game was very well received among players and critics alike, most notably for its ability to blend puzzle solving and intense fighting. As can be expected, Tomb Raider made such an impact that two direct sequels were produced: Tomb Raider II (1997), & Tomb Raider III: The Adventures of Lara Croft (1998). Over the next eleven years, the adventurer would see various iterations and reboots. However, it wouldn’t be until 2013 that Lara would be given her most unique look yet.
On March 5, 2013, developers SquareEnix and Crystal Dynamics premiered the newly rebooted Tomb Raider.
As with the last entry in the franchise (Tomb Raider: Underworld), Lara’s movements were brought to life via motion capture, with Camilla Luddington providing her voice and movements. This new branch of continuity would explore Lara’s beginnings from an inexperienced college grad to the steely eyed fighter of legend. The story is set on the dark and mysterious island of Yamatai, located off the Sea of Japan. Lara and her crew have been shipwrecked by a sudden and mysterious storm, trapping them on the island with its violent inhabitants. This game absolutely knocked all expectations out of the park. The new gameplay and weapons crafting are presented practically pain free for the player, being very intuitive and easy to use. The characters are all very well acted and fleshed out, providing for some truly heartbreaking moments. Where this game shines however is in its setting. The atmosphere is ghostly and foreboding; everything is out to get you. The violence and gore really push what even an “M” rating will allow and the various ways in which Lara can meet her end can easily drop jaws. Overall it’s a delightfully creepy ghost story that perfectly introduces us to our new Lara.
2015 saw the release of a much-anticipated sequel in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Lara’s development continues with the search for a mythical artifact drawn from the story of an ancient prophet. The Siberian landscape is a welcomed change of scenery, and the newly introduced shadow organization, “Trinity,” make for serviceable villains. Although the character models and voice acting continue at a high level of quality, the story itself felt a little lacking. It follows a fairly predictable plot that doesn’t really take any opportunity to subvert those expectations. Would-be plot twists can be seen miles away, and what we end up with as primary antagonists just leaves us wanting more. Gameplay is enhanced with a wider array of strategies and finishing routes. The combat and survival skills that Lara can learn have also been expanded to encompass a wide range of fighting and infiltration. However, Rise of the Tomb Raider also falters in its enemy variety. The supernatural combatants that Lara eventually encounters seem blatantly copied and pasted from the previous game; getting a simple palette swap and alternate name. Overall it was a decent entry in the series, but it didn’t quite live up to the hype that it generated. Could these few missteps be righted by one more sequel?
Thus we come to the newest entry in the franchise: Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Purported to be the final entry in the reboot series, the new game takes Lara to the jungles of South America to stop an apocalyptic prophecy from being fulfilled. Camilla Luddington has returned to provide Lara’s movements and voice with Trinity also returning as the overarching villains. One of the highlights of the new game is a revamped stealth system; Lara will be able to disengage from open combat and enter a stealth mode by breaking from an enemy’s line of sight. We will also see the inclusion of a grappling and rappelling mechanic, allowing for a wider range of exploration. Reviews have only begun to trickle in, however expectations are extremely high and players can’t wait to see how this story wraps up. Expect to see our own review of the game very soon. Shadow of the Tomb Raider has released and is available across all platforms and for PC.