Tomb Raider is a reboot of an iconic franchise where archaeologist Lara Croft embarks on dangerous adventures. Ship wrecked on an exotic island, our petite protagonist braves the elements and endures some very harsh situations in order to save her fellow crew mates from being isolated and captured by the inhabitants.
It is highly recommended that you tackle this game with a gamepad or Xbox 360 controller as there are a lot of quick-time events and control fiddling. The Xbox 360's rumble pack also adds to the cinematic feel by providing a more tactile experience.
Very early in the story Lara suffers some serious injuries which make you wonder how long she can carry on until infection renders those wounds fatal.
Sadly, this seems like a missed opportunity as Lara tends to get around as though nothing happened to her. Metal rod through the kidneys? All good just yank it out and Bob's your uncle. Land hard on splintered wood? Just dust yourself off and back to spelunking.
She may not limp or groan after an epic fall but Lara's appearance shows signs of being knocked around. Her skin is caked in mud and dried blood while her hair is slick with muck. Her clothes are torn and she probably smells funny too. This is a less sexualised and more pragmatic portrayal of our favourite tomb raider.
Filthy Lara usually bathes in lakes and shallow cavern waters. Clean Lara tends to shiver when it's too cold and so she seeks shelter and warmth very quickly. Sure enough she finds a base camp and dries herself by the fire.
The base camps are an important part of the game because this is where you can unlock survivor, hunter and brawler skills in addition to changing your outfit and fast travelling between other camps.
If you are keen to find every bit of loot you will spend a lot of time backtracking due to obstacles that requires late-game enhancements to get through.
Dry Lara can explore the gorgeous island. There is a lot of detail in the world. Light a torch and squeeze through narrow corridors of rock to see articulate stone carvings and ornate chests full of treasure. Whenever you find unique items or crack open a crate with your climbing axe you accrue salvage, which is the game's currency for purchasing weapon and item upgrades.
As you find ancient relics you can view them in a separate menu screen. See the dints on a Chou dynasty helmet or spin a Kansu burial urn for more detail. The gamepad will buzz to indicate that there is a chance to unlock bonus experience points and learn a little more about the object. The island has plenty of unique items just waiting to be unearthed.
Soon you realise you are not alone in the wilderness. You are forced to learn how to use a bow and arrow to survive. Hunt packs of wolves and let loose a bolt at an unsuspecting deer for additional salvage. Over time you will find better bows and unlock other arrow types.
Soon enough Lara encounters armed, and violent, men. Out of necessity she takes human lives. To aid her in the slaughter, Lara finds a pistol, a submachine gun (which can be jury-rigged into an AK47) and later on a trench gun, which is great for blasting through debris that blocks routes to secrets and so on.
Rope becomes very useful too and so does a lighter. Setting goons alight with fire arrows never gets old.
The environment is full of simple puzzles that slowly become more elaborate and more difficult towards the end. There are many variations of jumping, climbing, burning and breaking things in order to proceed with the story.
To mix it up you can scale walls and slam your climbing axe into craggy surfaces. Remember to hit the right button when you jump from one craggy cliff to the next otherwise Lara will slip and fall.
There is a lot of trial and error in Tomb Raider. Fortunately the checkpoints are generous and the game saves every time you discover a relic so you never get too frustrated with the puzzles.
Expect to be involved in a lot of scripted sequences and enjoy the rollercoaster moments. Just remember to look out for those annoying quick-time events otherwise the ride will start all over again until you figure it out. Usually this involves dodging hurty things, jumping or grappling for a surface to cling to.
This third-person shooter favours action and explosions over more cerebral problem solving, which is unfortunate. If you ever get lost or stuck there is a noob-friendly awareness feature that shows you glaringly obvious hints on what you need to do. This feature kind of ruins the puzzles as it highlights how easy they are.
Despite her odds, Lara's mental state meanders from poor-emotional-me to I-have-to-save-everyone. As she gets closer to the secrets of the island the more sinister and macabre her surroundings become. The atmosphere draws you in and keeps you hooked right until the explosive finale.
Tomb Raider is all about the singleplayer. The first half of the game was slow and only improved when most of the more impressive skills were unlocked as Lara does not have a basic melee attack. You have to unlock a finisher move where she strikes with her climbing axe. She really needs an early-game melee attack option.
The lack of a melee attack means that using the bow under pressure is incredibly tense. You aim with one trigger, draw the arrow with the other and pow.
Overall Tomb Raider is a thrilling third-person shooter with enough features to keep spelunkers busy for a weekend. The plot is mediocre because we don't really learn much about the main characters or when we are fed a little backstory it's not that interesting anyway. There is no real incentive to revisit the island but for those who crave more exploration and combat stay tuned for the inevitable sequel.