Tomb Raider meets Diablo. They have sex. This is their offspring. And this baby is exactly what Lara's been lacking.
Already during the very first playing I felt the urge to score as high as humanly possible, and even though I often screwed it (especially because during the first playing some of the tasks are tad over the top), most of the times I did faithfully accomplish everything the game prompted me to do, and many times I even reloaded countless times just to get some new artifact or to collect the final skull. Out of all I least cared for the time challenges (out of which I still find some unmanageable even now), and the tasks of the hole-in-one style also didn't usually sparkle me fancy.
Now that I started about the artifacts - there sure is a whole lot of them, but they differ from each other minimally and one time I even finished a complex puzzle only to be rewarded with an artifact I already owned. It pissed me off big time. Anyway the message is following - you'll easily do good enough for the entirety of the game with only the first artifacts and relics you find. Granted, some of the really good artifacts and relics (which you'll start to stumble upon during like the final five levels) do make your time in the game easier, but why would you voluntarily simplify a game you're playing FOR the challenge it brings?
The situation is similar with the weapons. I'm sure the amount looked awesome on the paper, but in practice you'll use barely...six. Many of local seemingly incredible guns are totally weak in reality and so you won't lay your hands on them unless it's absolutely inevitable. The greatest gun BY FAR is the gold shotgun. Sadly, you gain that only at the second last level, and even then they don't give it to you for free. Before you acquire that, it's again shotguns that are most effective. For some reason it's always shotguns that flow in the spirit of the best weapons when Crystal Dynamics make video games. Just sayin'.
The difficulty of the game overall on Hard setting is...adequate. The game DOES every now and then cross the line between hard and ridiculous, but it happens only rarely, and it's possibly because of the not that wise decision to play on this setting for a first playthrough. You know, as opposed to previous Crystal's games, in here the Hard setting really is hard sometimes, and is obviously (and logically) designed for only next playthroughs with heavily upgraded Lara. I do have to admit it's sometimes a bit overdone even then, though. Like when you shoot yourself through a huge battle and after it the game doesn't pass any medipack or ammobox in your way, and right around the next corner you're thrown in another battle of the same thickness, you do think to yourself you could use a little break.
The uncomfortable keyboard controls don't help anything either. Shooting is fine, but to make Lara jump exactly where you want her to jump...that's absolutely impossible more often than not. You press W and the jump key, and what does Lara do? She jumps diagonally somewhere to her doom. You take your time playing with the directional keys to force Lara to face the desired location and press the jump key and what does Lara do? She gets stuck in something invisible hanging in the air and falls to her death. You could pretty much say the local controls and more unreliable than ALL of the previous Crystal's errors combined. By a long shot.
Visually it's pretty pretty. It doesn't make your eyes hurt, it moves nicely and it's all nice n' colorful. The sad part is it seems they used only one color scheme for the whole game, which is why the game's locations notably lack some variety. But then again there are thousands of cool effects and there's a damn lot going on on the screen constantly, and so you don't really notice such minor flaws. It also juices more out of one's processor, but I can definitely see why.
If the game did disappoint me in something greatly, it's the music. You see, the whole music part of the game is plain recycled from Crystal's previous TR games. There's not ONE SINGLE original track to be heard here. And what's worse, plenty of times there's a loop of one song playing over and over again throughout the whole level, which also happens to be utterly unsuitable for given level (Toxic Swamps, for example). Sure all these tracks are good and quality, but they feel over-used, and if there's something I was looking forward to a lot, it was some new awesome music. Too bad. And a bit of fail.
I don't think I have to talk about the story too much. It's unbelievably simple, and the storytelling is actually fairly crappy. Although it's a surprise on one hand, as Crystals definitely DO have the ability to tell stories and so far they've been showing it more than clearly, on the other hand such story is the least I care about in an arcade game. I don't care why am I chasing that overgrown shaman. I don't care when and where did an Aztec statue learn English. I don't care where did such wide collection of ancient beasts come from on such short notice. I only care for one thing - how to massacre them in the most effective way. And in that the game definitely lets me unleash my fantasy.
It's downright arcade, and (not) surprisingly it did good for Lara. After Legend and Underworld we're dealing with an interesting and playful game design, level design, design of more or less all the enemies...so I do hope and believe Crystals won't lose it again and Tomb Raider 9 will be awesomesauce.
+ The game really takes advantage of being an arcade, Crystals finally managed to create a TR game that occasionally screams "EPIC" in my face
- The music is recycled, the controls, the meaning and impact of local artifacts is minimal, most of the weapons are useless, the variety of locations is zero, the lack of puzzles (and they could really come up with some crazy stuff...)