The last time I played a Tomb Raider title that I really enjoyed was back in the 32bit days of the Sega Saturn and PlayStation 1. Tomb Raider was fresh of breath air that brought innovation and game design to the forefront of its genre. After the amazing trilogy, I found that subsequent titles had lost their way. Now, Lara's back and not just in glorious HD, she's back with a bang.
The story (without giving out any spoilers), is dark and broody with a lot of twists and turns. As you progress, you start to feel for the characters as the story develops. The visuals have had a big overhaul compared to previous outings, the visuals in this reboot are implemented in a gritty, dark and realistic approach. The graphical quality is amazing, with breathtaking locales and detailed environments as well as great lighting and particle and debris effects, you really do feel the scale and depth of environments and terrain as you scale your way through them. The graphics are impressive that you'd quite easily mistake them for a next-gen system - that's how good they are, kudos to Crystal Dynamics. Along with top visuals, character and enemy movements are smooth and fluid as are weapon animations.
Along with the traditional usage of weapons, there are a number of new additions to the latest installment of the series, firstly, during some scenarios such as during combat etc, QTE's (quick time events) will appear, this is a first for the the series I believe, the usage of QTS's are well thought out and are not overly-used, they further enhance the cinematic feel of the title.
The second new addition to the game is Lara's ability to hunt game, you see, she's stranded on an island, and quite naturally, she's been trained to for this type of scenario (or so it seems). Once she's got hold of some hunting equipment such as a bow and arrow, she's good to go. Don't expect her to go all-out 'Rambo' style and expect to have piles of meat over her shoulder, no, that's not the way to do it, not in this game anyway! As in reality, the key to good hunting is to sneak up to the prey and take it out discreetly.
Another new addition to the franchise is the levelling up and upgrading system, when you get enough XP points you gain skill points to upgrade her fighting and hunting abilities as well as survivor abilities. Hunting abilities will allow the use of weapon upgrades. By hunting down animals and smashing certain wooden boxes littered within the game, you gain 'salvage' points that allow for weapon upgrades. Fighting abilities allow the use of more damage to enemies as well as new moves and counter-attacks. Survivor abilities enables easier tracking of treasures and items in hard-to-reach locations.
The fourth new addition to the title is the Survival Instincts mode, when activated, the screen turns black-and-white, enemies will be marked a glowing red, any treasures or items will also be revealed and the location/mission mark is displayed, useful for when you get stuck. This is a cool addition although I prefer to use it when I really need to.
The audio in the game is done well, the sound effects are spot-on and the music is wonderfully composed (as with the previous titles, the audio has always been impressive).
Gameplay-wise the title feels solid, from the ease of switching between weapons on the go to Lara running and sneaking up to animals and taking out enemies without a hitch. There's a new cover system too I noticed, instead of going up to a wall or obstacle that allows the use of cover by pressing a button, Lara will now automatically go into cover-mode as she approaches said items, this gives the game a more natural and flowing experience.
With the vast amount of islands and areas to explore, there will be numerous times that will require you to travel back and forth between areas (especially for the treasure hunters and completists out there), thankfully there are 'fast travel camps' littered around the place, as you progress in the game more will be revealed.
Now, onto the puzzles, what's a tomb raiding game without any puzzles? Well, the game certainly has them but they are certainly not in abundance as you'd expect from the franchise, in fact I actually preferred it that way, as I just wanted to get on with the game, I'm not saying I don't like them, I just don't like spending too much time rattling my brains out.
Oh and before I forget, and yet another first for the title is that it has a multiplayer mode, yes multiplayer, that's right, once you've completed the game, gotten all treasures etc, or you just wanna engage with your online friends, multiplayer is where it's at. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to test the online aspects of the game, but will update the review once I have.
Overall, this reboot of the franchise really brings back and encapsulates the original Tomb Raider perfectly and evolutionises it with more balanced gameplay, tighter controls, solid platforming mechanics along with new features to boot. With the ability to re-visit areas once the game has been completed, continue your treasure hunts and upgrades as well as online modes, there is a fair amount of replay value to keep you going - there has never been a better time for tomb raiding!...
+ Amazingly detailed visuals
+ Excellent character animation models
+ Great sound effects and musical scores
+ New features are implemented well
+ Vast islands to explore
+ Captivating storyline
+ Survival Instinct feature
+ Multiplayer mode
- Lara doesn't get to swim