The year is 1997, included with my copy of the Official UK PlayStation Magazine is a demo of the first Tomb Raider game. I hated it. From the very start of the demo you are ambushed by a pack of wolves, and if you survive that you what awaits you is a whole lot of platforming – my least favourite game activity. Before playing Tomb Raider (2013), the only other experience I’d had with the Tomb Raider franchise is the 2001 movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the less said about that the better.
This goes some way to explaining why it took my so long to play this game, despite the fact that it was published by one of my favourite video game companies, Square Enix. I shouldn’t have waited so long. The game is quite simply superb.
Not unlike the demo from over twenty years ago, this game includes a lot of platforming. However, due to it’s variety, I didn’t mind in the least. The mix of scrambling up walls, zip-lining down ropes and scaling rock-faces keep the activity fresh, particularly during the numerous heart-stopping sequences dotted throughout the game, such as the collapse of the huge bridge. This is not to mention Lara’s superhuman jumping ability, as she easily clears five feet from a total stand still.
The game is largely linear, however, the overlapping level design lends itself to a more open-world feel. You’ll be stood on the top of a cliff looking down and be like, “Hey, I just came from there”. This is also featured in one of my favourite levels from the game, the shanty town, where you can choose multiple paths and between fighting at ground level, the roof-tops or a bit of both. This works not only to add a level of immersion and reality to the environments, but also confers a real sense of achievement.
Achievement really is the name of the game here. With the character of Lara (or ‘Laura’ as, I swear, most people in the game call her) you are presented with an incredibly determined person and just great company really. Her journey from someone who, at the beginning of the game, has to constantly reassure herself that “I can do this” or who is always looking to others for help to, towards the end of the game, a genuine badass calling to her enemies “I’m going to hunt you all down”, is a pleasure to be a part of and to watch unfold.
I love the fact that amidst all the surrounding chaos, Lara still finds the time to investigate the various relics hidden along the way. She imparts historical knowledge and even cracks the occasional joke, like when, whilst investigating an old relic and theorising on its origin, she discovers a price tag on the bottom of it says “Oh wait, it’s a fake *chuckle*”.
Whilst similar to games that I have played and enjoyed in the past such as Resident Evil 4 and The Last of Us, Tomb Raider is its own distinctiveness experience. If I mess up a stealth encounter in a game like Metal Gear Solid or The Last of Us, it draws me out of the immersion. In those games you’re playing as a hardened survivor, the best at what they do, and if (read ‘when’) I make a mistake I think to myself ‘that wouldn’t really happen’. But here, playing as Lara, who is new to this kind of stuff, it’s feels ok if you mess up sometimes. Tomb Raider allows you to take part in the creation of a badass, and it’s a very rewarding experience.
I feel like I’ve been missing out on a whole franchise, are the other games in the series as good as this one? Feel free to recommend me a game from the series in the comments.