Everyone knows Lara Croft, whether it be through the games, or the movies, even people who aren’t gamers know who she is. Those who know her from the games may have been with her from the beginning, or may have caught up in the PS2 era, or even may find that the new title out next year is their first Lara experience. Those who know her from the movies obviously know her as the amazing Angelina Jolie. That is all besides the point, that being that everyone knows her.
The decision made to give Lara’s story a rework in the next title, called simply Tomb Raider, is long overdue in my opinion. The clever ideas that spawned the first few titles, and the introduction of new mechanics brought in by the Legend format, have both become stale. Don’t get me wrong, I can very happily return to the first 5 titles on the original PlayStation again and again, simply because they are fantastic games.
My time with Lara actually started at the beginning, on the hulking grey box that was the PlayStation. As I mentioned in my Retro Years article, after playing the incredible Super Metroid, I loved games that had a set goal but with means of exploration and with tonnes to find. Therefore, Tomb Raider was a perfect fit for me. The game involved searching through a series of tombs or other areas for a particular mythological artifact. With a set level structure and with little hidden relics and rooms to find in each level, I was in heaven. Sure it had some frustrating level design, and I ended up accidentally killing Lara more times than I could actually count, but I really enjoyed the game. After an arduously long time, finished the game, despite that boss at the beginning of the last level.
Tomb Raider 2, however, was when I truly fell in love with the series. The settings were absolutely incredible taking in China and Venice among the wonderful locations. The exploration was refined, along with the combat and the controls making the second instalment one of the least frustrating for accidental deaths. Despite all of it’s gaping flaws, I was hooked on the adventures of Lara. Even that pain in the ass dragon at the end of the game didn’t manage to hinder my enjoyment.
Of the ‘retro’ Lara titles, the third was the last actually great one, even if it took things a little too far away from the core experience for me. I loved the diversity of Tomb Raider 3 but I did, and still do, think that the sheer amount of locations was a little bewildering. Taking in locations from India, to London, to Antartica, it was clear that the third instalment was the furthest reaching of the series so far. As much as the scope of the game was a little too big for it’s boots, I really enjoyed joining Lara on this adventure. She had an enhanced moveset, a better design (with additional costumes for each area), and more weapons. It still stands quite highly in my estimations.
The fourth and fifth instalments, The Last Revelation and Chronicles respectively, were in my opinion the weakest of the PlayStation era. They were a great return to the classic gameplay of the original title, but they felt a little too rushed for me. Plus, owing to the sheer scope of the third instalment, they both felt very restricted. Furthermore, owing to The Last Revelations killing off Lara in it’s closing minutes, Chronicles also felt like it was milking it a little too much. That being said, I did enjoy that Chronicles was a group of people telling stories at Lara’s funeral, that was a clever dynamic as far as my teenage self was concerned. Also, regardless of the problems I had with the two games, both of them were still great titles.
One game I am going to very quickly brush over in my journey with Lara is Angel Of Darkness, one of the worst gaming experiences I have had full stop, let alone with Lara. Angel Of Darkness attempted to change things too much from the core of Tomb Raider, making the game more of a stealth-oriented, city-based affair. The game was pretty much universally criticised for various things including gameplay, and story. At this point, things needed to change dramatically to save the franchise.
Thus, the franchise itself changed hands and was entirely revitalised. I must admit, I have not played Tomb Raider Legend (although I do want to hunt it down at some point), and skipped straight to Anniversary. With this game being a ground-up remake of the original game, I was always going to enjoy it. The use of the new mechanics introduced in Legend such as the grappling hook were seamlessly added to the original story of Lara Croft, and Anniversary quickly became on of my favourite Tomb Raider titles. I would, in fact, go as far as to say that if you haven’t played a Tomb Raider game before, start with Anniversary. After all, you can now pick it up as a HD collection title on Sony’s PlayStation 3 along with Legend and Underworld.
However, after the three games that used the Legend game engine, I must admit that the series did need a huge boost and injection of something fresh into it. Step forward, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, you strange member of the family. LCGL (as it shall be known) was just about the furthest departure from the core franchise that Square-Enix and Crystal Dynamics could have managed, switching the third-person exploration and combat for an isometric view co-operative puzzle-based affair. The game was an incredible change from the previous games and was a joy to play. The new gameplay gave Lara an entirely fresh direction, and the emphasis on co-op play (a favourite of mine) was very welcome. However, as much as I enjoyed it, I missed the Tomb Raider of yesteryear.
Therefore, Tomb Raider (2013), take a bow. I had the immense pleasure of playing a demo of the new game at EXPO in October (and the displeasure at having to play it on an Xbox 360), and I am very impressed with what I have seen so far of this series reboot. The fact that Square-Enix and Crystal Dynamics have decided to return and tell the story of Lara from the beginning just proves the dedication they have to the franchise and the game is shaping up very well.
For starters, the game is a true beauty to behold, the new Lara character model and all of the scenery and locations are breathtakingly stunning and have clearly had more work put into them than with a lot of modern titles. It looks like a true labour of love. The game itself controls like a dream (or at least will do on a better control pad), with the movement feeling fluid and responsive and with a moveset that has been stripped back from the excessive heights reached earlier in the franchise.
The story focuses more centrally on survival, with a keen emphasis being placed on sustaining Lara through hardships. You do this simply by hunting for food or seeking out shelter. This even starts with acquiring a bow for hunting, and having to physically hunt the food yourself. Putting this as the core of the title creates a much deeper level of realism than we have seen in this franchise before, and I believe that it is a very welcome addition to a franchise that has been known to flounder occasionally.
Putting it short, the new Tomb Raider is on my hit list for 2013. Playing the demo has only reinforced what I originally thought when I saw the announcement trailer at E3, this will be incredible. Bring it on, I would never turn down a good adventure with Lara.