What you might not expect is that the cover system (Lara automatically ducks down behind anything waist-height when you’re in combat) also works a treat, and is a nice touch that deserves the flattery of replication. The bow is the star of your arsenal, capable of stealth kills as well as (once suitably upgraded) firing flaming arrows and projectiles that can create ziplines or yank down chunks of wall. If you want to play the game low-key – or just fulfil some Robin Hood fantasies – this is likely to be your staple firearm.
A word of warning, though: the stealth system is something of a damp squib for those used to Far Cry’s brilliant implementation. If you keep Lara hidden it is possible to pick off a room full of goons, but as soon as one person spots you, every enemy in the vicinity instantly knows your location – these island dwellers must be the psychic sort. It doesn’t totally nerf the enjoyment of playing incognito, but it’s a fairly remedial error for a game this polished and ambitious, and is a definite disappointment.
What’s also a shame is that the latter half of the game is a letdown in comparison to the former. In the early hours there’s a good mix of exploration, puzzling and combat – and the combat when it does take place generally tasks you with using the environment to your advantage as you tackle fairly small numbers of enemies. However, as the game progresses someone seems to push the button marked ‘engage Michael Bay mode’ and everything is either on fire, exploding, or armed to a degree that would make ’80s Arnie jealous. I’m all for varied pacing and narrative crescendos, but this is overplayed in terms of both intensity and duration, and the game never manages to recover the feel of the opening acts.
Other problems are limited to things such as fiddly QTEs that break the immersion – seeing Lara getting strangled to death three times in a row because you failed to press Triangle during a split-second window hardly keeps you invested in this story of survival against the odds. It’s also true that, while Crystal Dynamics has done a decent job of making it fun to explore as you return to locales, there’s far less longevity in the side-activities than there was on Far Cry 3′s Rook Island. Once you’ve ventured into some previously inaccessible locations and hoovered up some missed collectibles you’re heading back to the main trail and onwards with Lara’s adventure.
One thing you will distract yourself with – as the name suggests – is tombs. Little of your main quest is concerned with the raiding of these bad boys, but there are a number of optional caverns to explore. These all consist of a small puzzle – usually switch, lever or timing-related (or a combination thereof) – with a reward at the end. They’re not game-changing but most provide a pleasant distraction and tease the brain gently, and they all offer a welcome change of pace. There’s also an online multiplayer offering, which we’ll test fully in a future issue.
This is a rollicking and hugely enjoyable adventure, filled with spectacular set-pieces, emotional highs and lows, and – thankfully – not an oversized sports bra in sight. Crystal Dynamics has set a shining example of what can be done when reimagining a franchise from the ground up, and all of the elements on show have been well-conceived and well-crafted, and they come together to form a cohesive whole.
The game itself contains some minor irritations, but Tomb Raider’s own failings are minimal – they only become magnified in light of the games it’s been inspired by and can be compared to. The story, script and cast fall some way short of the brilliance that the Uncharted series has consistently achieved, and the set-pieces never have quite the same ‘it’s too amazing for my brain to process’ factor. The exploration, side-activities and setting never compels or excites to the level of Far Cry 3, and the package offers much less for your money.
Even the tombs can’t match up to the brilliant catacomb-climbing sections from Assassin’s Creed 2. These bars have been set high for any game to reach, no doubt, but Tomb Raider is not far from breathing that same rarefied air. PlayStation’s first lady is back in style, even if the crown no longer fits as once it did.
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