Tomb Raider is what you would expect from a new-school action-adventure game, which mostly means that you will get more action than adventure in the form of a character-driven, third-person shooter. As this is a reboot, it is only fair that we judge it by the quality of the previous entries in the series:
The original Tomb Raider games were about exploring tombs. Each level was basically one huge tomb which could only be completed by solving environmental puzzles, which in turn required you to explore to find missing pieces or interactive objects. Exploration was done in a contained environment which, nevertheless, was often big enough to wander around in for a good while and have enough hidden, hard-to-reach spaces for optional collectibles. Each level had a limited amount of enemies, each of which posed a significant threat to Lara due to her inability to handle more than one enemy at a time. One could argue that the combat system was a flaw in those games as it often felt clunky and hard to handle, and yet it was the reason why each enemy was so frightening to the player. There were some players who felt that that went against the very premise of playing as this bad-ass heroine who, during cutscenes, pulled off insane stunts like an old-school action hero. Yet, it seemed as though that was exactly what the designers were going for as the atmosphere complemented that sense of danger and even horror at times that would make the player feel uneasy most of the time.
Either way, this reboot offers exactly what those unhappy players wanted; constant, non-stop, over-the-top action. Ironically though, this is the first Tomb Raider game where you do not actually play as that bad-ass heroine that pulls off insane stunts like an old-school action hero in the cutscenes. Instead, we are playing as a fragile young woman who, during cutscenes, yearns for a way to get away from the action and study archaeology by, perhaps, visiting less frightful places. During gameplay, however, she is able to dispatch about twenty-three undead Samurai that are armed to the teeth with ease (and yes, I counted). The player is given this overwhelming power by means of a much more simplified and generic combat system that allows you to take cover, switch between a couple of weapons like a shotgun that can shoot flaming bullets and a submachine gun that has a grenade launcher attached to it, and to go out and absolutely destroy every enemy in your path.
Needless to say, any sense of danger is absolutely absent from the game, no matter how loud Lara whimpers while shooting grenades into a band of barely armed cultists. Sure, the cutscenes and quick-time-events would like you to believe that you are in danger, but even falling from a cliff because the bridge holding you UNEXPECTEDLY collapses is not a really problematic scenario to handle since it only requires you to press either the square, or triangle button to survive.
Any sort of challenging plattforming sequences are also absent from this reimagining, and is instead replaced with very simple, almost automatic jumping from one cliff to another. There really is nothing here that could frighten you, and you will probably not miss any jumps throughout the whole game because there are no jumps to actually miss except if you purposely jump down a cliff. Add to that the typical cinematic gameplay elements, like slowly walking around at times to get the exposition out of the way, or on-rails action sequences like navigating a parachute around trees, and you have got the recipe for the typical modern adventure game.
With that in mind, the other elements that made Tomb Raider such a great series are still present in this reboot - at least, in theory. Tombs are optional to explore, but you are given a huge island that is divided into smaller sections to wander around in. This island is absolutely gorgeous, and the cool thing about how exploration is handled in this game is that it implements a Metroidvania-like mode of progression. Certain areas cannot be access until Lara obtains weapon upgrades throughout the story that would allow her to, for example, shoot rope arrows at marked pillars to make herself a zipline to reach an otherwise inaccessible location. That progression makes the game fun, though the game is not exactly very good at offering you interesting rewards that will make you want to explore that much. Just to clarify, those weapon upgrades are not found throughout the game, but are just given to you after you reach a certain point in the story.
The reward for any sort of achievement, ranging from just getting a headshot to completing an optional tomb, is experience points which you can use to upgrade Lara’s abilities. These unlockable abilities, if I may be frank, are absolutely useless. One of them, for example, reduces the recoil from shooting a submachine gun; that would be appreciated if I was not already getting headshots with a basic pistol all the time without much skill. Another ability gives you more loot when looting the thirty or so corpses that lie around after every engagement, which in turn can be used to upgrade your weapons so that you can shoot flaming ammo or expand your magazine. The latter one is another useless upgrade since you are going to get bullets at every step of the way, no matter where you go.
With that in mind, its easy to say that exploration serves no purpose except getting a shiny 100% mark on your savefile which, I have to admit, was enough for me to actually contemplate coming back to this game. Its hard to deny that it is not fun to explore the whole island, its just a shame that I do not earn anything for it except experience points and artifacts that tell me more about the story.
Let’s talk about the story really briefly; its nothing special. Admittedly, that’s the case in every Tomb Raider game to date, and that was absolutely fine back then. The reason why it is not fine in this case, however, is the fact that the game really, REALLY emphasizes the story and thinks it is engaging enough for you to care. Sadly, there really is nothing engaging about it since its just about a cursed island, basically. You would think it would develop into something more by the end, but it really does not. There is not much development at all, actually, which is surprising as this game is marketed as a story about the development of the iconic character of Lara Croft; you know, from zero to hero?.
It does not feel like she goes from anything to anything else. She starts out as the daughter of a famous archeologist who has apparently taught her how to handle guns and be extremely athletic, so there is not anything TO develop other than her personality since she is already pretty much the Lara Croft that we knew before in terms of physique and ability. With that in mind, I should now be able to talk about her personality after beating the whole game, right? Sadly, the only thing I can say is that she was an insecure genius at the beginning of the game, and just turns into a slightly less insecure genius who is also a mass-murde-, I mean, survivor. Really, the game even concludes with a short monologue which did absolutely nothing to show any sort of development other than her coming to the conclusion that “Okay, I guess action isn’t that bad, y’know”. Its absolutely silly how the game thinks it is some sort of grand story, and yet its nothing of the sort. Again, if it was not constantly emphasized, I would not mind at all, I care more about gameplay than story anyway, but in this state it was nothing more than aggravating.
There are books and artifacts that talk about the history of the island and stuff too, yet the history of the island is very simple; its cursed, and everyone has died because of that.
With all of that in mind, the only conclusion I can provide is that this is a gorgeous, yet generic third-person shooter with some nice, slightly Metroidvania-like exploration and progression that offers no significant reward and no incentive to actually go through the game again, as well as offering you no challenge at all no matter the difficulty you choose at the beginning of the game. Even the achievements or trophies are not motivating to get since getting half of them requires you to actually play the multiplayer, which I will never touch even if there were more people playing it. Its a really sad state of affairs when such a clearly talented team of designers work on such a beautiful and promising game for years, just to get a regular third-person shooter on the market that completely undermines everything that the series it is named after stood for. Underworld was a much less expensive game to make, I am sure, and yet it offered a much more exciting adventure; unfortunately, we will probably never see that kind of gameplay anymore.
Still, the game is not bad at all when judged on its own, its just not very outstanding at all; in fact, it blends in with all the other ‘oh-so-mature’, overproduced games out there. If you are in the mood to kill an entire island inhabitation, though, you will love this game and I cannot deny that I had fun to just go out and blow up everything in my path.