Back in the days of Britpop, Lara Croft was a sex symbol for the new-fangled internet age. But just as that fleeting fetish for triangular mammaries faded, so did the buzz about the games that spawned it. Now Lara’s back, relaunched for a second time, and out to reclaim her treasure-hunting crown from Uncharted’s Nathan Drake. But can she measure up?
The upper crust adventurer is the star once again, but since this is a relaunch, the story goes back to her formative days as a treasure hunter in training. She’s a junior member of an archeology expedition searching for a lost island in the dangerous waters of the Dragon’s Triangle. Inevitably it all goes pear-shaped and Lara and co end up marooned on the mysterious island. But there’s no time for sunbathing and coconuts since the jungle-covered isle is also home to a strange death cult and ancient supernatural forces.
Uncharted might have raided Tomb Raider for inspiration but this time it’s Lara that’s pilfering from Sony’s Indiana Jones homage. That means there are plenty of cover-based shoot-outs and bombastic blockbuster movie moments that require well-timed button presses to survive.
But while the influence of Nathan Drake is clear, Tomb Raider 2013 doesn’t forget its roots. There’s a greater emphasis on stealthy take downs with a bow and arrow than all-out blasting and, thanks to molotov cocktail-lobbing baddies, constant pressure to keep moving in and out of cover rather than hogging a comfy hiding spot.
Tomb Raider wouldn’t be Tomb Raider without some clambering, and there’s no shortage of rock climbing, zip lining and chasm leaping here. It’s not an open world game but the environments are generous enough to encourage exploration. There’s plenty of reason to explore, too, since the game is overflowing with goodies and secrets. There are misplaced diaries, ancient relics and USB sticks to find, hidden puzzle-rich tombs to uncover, wild animals to hunt and weapon-enhancing junk to collect.
All this shooting, climbing and item grabbing would be worthless if it wasn’t for the way it all knits together and Tomb Raider uses its variety well. The game expertly blends puzzles, do-or-die action sequences, clambering, shoot outs and sneaking to create a well-paced game that is incredibly hard to turn off, even though its story suffers from the usual overdose of twist and turns to keep the lengthy single-player adventure moving.
With Lara Croft’s character being so central to Tomb Raider the inclusion of multiplayer modes feels somewhat out of place, but they are here all the same, ticking all the usual player-versus-player and weapon-upgrading boxes. The environment clambering and the ability to set traps for other players brings some novelty value but it’s a competent bonus shoehorned in because it’s expected rather than a revelatory addition to the Tomb Raider mix.
Tomb Raider 2013 will win no prizes for innovation, but its thrilling combat, bountiful secrets and roomy environments make for an impressively addictive cocktail and that's good enough for our list of the ten best games. Nathan Drake’s adventures might still have the edge when it comes to explosive action, but Lara’s got a smidgen more brains and much more variety. Quite simply, Tomb Raider hasn’t been this good since the days of John Major.