You are out in the middle of the ocean when your ship, the Endurance, starts taking on water quickly.  After dodging debris and scrambling for your life, you leap and grab hold of your outstretched crewmate’s hand.  Unfortunately, you slip off and fall into the water below.  Soon after washing up on shore, you are knocked unconscious.  You wake up, bound and hanging from the ceiling by your feet.  Thankfully, you manage to rock yourself free and run away.

This is where Lara Croft’s origin story is rebooted.  This is Tomb Raider.  It’s a blast to play.

This isn’t your older brother’s Tomb Raider

  • TL;DR: Gameplay, story, pacing, and graphics come together for an all-around great experience
  • Platform: PS4
  • Score: 9.3
  • Hours Played: 16
  • What I Played: Story mode on hard
  • Recommended: Yes, definitely

Tomb Raider is another long-running gaming franchise that I haven’t so much as touched until recently.  The newest game in the series, a reboot simply named Tomb Raider, focuses on none other than Lara Croft.  The intrepid young archaeologist is on the good ship Endurance with her crew, searching for the lost kingdom of Yamatai.  Things go south when the ship is all but sunk and the crew wash up on an island.  After realizing she is separated from the crew, Lara is on a dual-threat mission to reunite with her shipmates and discover the mysteries of Yamatai.

Since Lara is an archaeologist, exploration plays a large role in Tomb Raider and man is there a lot to see and find.  Each section of the map has GPS devices to find, documents detailing past island inhabitants, and ancient relics.  Most sections also have hidden challenges, like dismantling hiking cairns or burning propaganda posters.  The Definitive Edition on PS4 truly shines in the graphical department, giving you all the reason in the world to explore.  Full 1080p and 60FPS make Tomb Raider the first game I’ve played on next-gen to truly feel next-gen.  Each texture, from cave walls to mountain faces all the way down to the clothes on the backs of enemies, is insanely detailed and nearly independent of one another.  Sweeping vistas and crappily-built settlements are mixed in with waterfalls, caves, and tombs (of course).  This isn’t your run-of-the-mill game with five shades of brown.  A great move by Crystal Dynamics was to eliminate the HUD completely during normal gameplay, allowing you to really take in all that Yamatai has to offer.

Even the cliche red barrels are pretty

Some reviews may bash Tomb Raider for it’s linear play or lack of actual tombs to raid, but I found both the story and the pacing to be great.  New gadgets, like rope arrows and the climbing axe, are doled out pretty regularly and never leave you feeling underpowered.  It’s true that the game is pretty linear — the island isn’t open to roam around like in Far Cry 3, for example — but the environment changes so often that it’s easy to overlook.

Combat evolves with Lara as the game goes along.  She starts out as a novice: cold, wet, and afraid.  Lara even remarks after her first kill how she had to do it to survive but how “surprisingly easy” it was.  The longer you are on Yamatai, though, the more seasoned and brutal Lara becomes.  Regular arrows are replaced with fire- or grenade-tipped ones.  A WWII machine gun becomes a modern-day assault rifle with a mounted RPG.  Lara isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, either.  Your simple attack dodges can be combined with throwing dirt to disorient an enemy or, if timed correctly, burying your climbing axe in their skull.

Exhibit A

Generic salvage, found in boxes and on dead enemies, can be used to enhance your weapons at camp fire sites, Tomb Raider’s version of save points.  If you’re lucky, you’ll also find weapon parts that will allow you to upgrade a weapon a full tier, like changing the longbow into a recurve bow, unlocking more modifications.  It kind of sucks that you only find “weapon parts” and not specific pieces, like scopes and stocks, but oh well.  Experienced gained from searching for collectibles and killing enemies (bonus XP for style points!) will grant Lara skill points for abilities like extra looting, faster climbing, or weapon-based finishers.  None of these skills are particularly game breaking or required, but the one for highlighting collectibles is a must, if you ask me.

One in-game system , seemingly copied directly from the Batman: Arkham games, is Lara’s “survival instincts”, which acts like the Dark Knight’s detective vision — it highlights enemies and key surroundings, like ladders or collectibles.  This didn’t seem to really fit in, since Lara is supposed to be just a regular person, not some kind of super hero.  It’s definitely helpful, though.

Enemy types aren’t that varied in Yamatai.  The vast majority of enemies will be your standard gun thug, but you need to look out for the dynamite/napalm throwing baddies, who have absolute pinpoint accuracy.  It seems like no matter the angle, they can lob a grenade from 40 yards and have it land in your pocket.  Another frustrating point is that of the rubber band/Spiderman/suction cup effect.  Some jumps will have Lara shifting and jerking in mid-air to hit what looks like a pre-determined landing area.  These are more me nitpicking than real problems, though.

Lara, in her natural state — raiding a tomb

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition is incredibly fun to play and, hands down, the best looking next-gen game I’ve played yet.  The island of Yamatai is beautiful and vibrant at 60FPS and 1080p on the PS4 and the pace of upgrades always leaves you feeling stronger than you were 30 minutes before.  If you’ve been waiting to pick up the reboot of Tomb Raider, do your eyes a favor and grab the Definitive Edition.


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