by Adam McCabe
Lara Croft's had it rough over the past decade. The Tomb Raider franchise has been in an unfortunate state of identity-flux, and many fans wondered if our hallowed heroine would join the "could have been awesome, but not so much" ranks of Sonic the Hedgehog---Enter SquareEnix and Crystal Dynamics to swoop in and save the day! The new Tomb Raider is an articulately-crafted origin story of strife and overcoming adversity that isn't just a pinnacle for the franchise, but sets the bar for the action genre from this point, forward.
Now, as a massive fan of the Uncharted franchise, it's very easy to quickly draw comparisons and write off most of Tomb Raider's brilliant gameplay dynamics. But spend a little time in Lara's world and you'll quickly find it to be a title that doesn't exactly "rip off" multiple gameplay styles, but borrows tried-and-true aesthetics and expounds upon them to great effect. See, Crystal Dynamics are fans of complete and total immersion. They want you to not only feel Lara's suffering as she grows into the badass we all know and love, but understand that you don't just press a button and climb a mountain: You have to leap at that damn wall, slam your hook into the side (knowing that you may fall to your death), and leap up to the next ledge with every last bit of strength you may have left after the horrific gun battle you just survived by the skin of your teeth. You're not being kept at an arm's length in Tomb Raider, you're living a fantastical, impossible experience.
That folks, is why we game: To be transported and convinced that we can face impossible odds. Where our button-mashing stops feeling like button-mashing and makes us come alive. The game's style of 'open world gameplay' breathes new life into an otherwise very linear genre, and the presentation of story (the voice acting is superb) brings the user claustrophobically close to Lara's struggle. You just want her to make it out alive, at any cost. It's a massive undertaking, and Crystal Dynamics delivered on all accounts. Not to mention, the graphics are some of the best this generation. Until the Playstation 4 and the new Xbox release, I believe we may have reached a peak in terms of what our current-generation of consoles are capable of.
The only issue I encountered was a lack of mini-map (a la Assassin's Creed). I understand having a clean HUD means more immersion, but in an open-world game with so many secrets and hidden objects, I would have liked to mark them on my main map and visually hone in on my mark without all the extra effort. This is a small gripe, and is completely overshadowed by the sheer breadth of the experience.
Now that Uncharted has taken a backseat to Naughty Dog's newest effort, The Last Of Us, it's time for our old hero to step back into the spotlight and redefine our love of exploration and adventure once again--And what an adventure it is. Do yourself a favor, and pick this one up.