"There’s no waking up. It’s really happening. I’m really doing these things."
So begins Lara Croft’s newest adventure, but one so different from anything seen from one of the most famous female characters in video game history. First impression? Impressive, not only in presentation but also in the creation of a "definitive edition" of Lara Croft herself.
This is a different Lara. Gone is the impossibly busty facade and the over-the-top invulnerability of the character. What you have here is a gritty, real, impenetrably adventurous yet sinuously vulnerable Lara. This is a prequel, you see, so it makes sense that we don’t have the hardened, tougher version of Lara. She’s more human – redefined, real and respect-worthy.
Having crashed on an island in the mythical "Dragon’s Triangle," she escapes broken, bloody, and shivering, and must face her shaking emotions, focus herself, and hone her skills to find any fellow survivors. While you may not feel much for any other crew members spread out across the island, you feel for Lara and her need to reconnect with someone with whom she feels safe. For underlying it all, underlying all her excitement of finding new relics and allusions to myth, there is Lara’s desire to just get home.
Underneath this inner struggle, an impending fear is added to the mix: her group isn’t alone on this island. A violent cult known as “The Solarii” has taken control of the region, attempting to unlock the powerful secrets found within the relics and tombs. The game does a great job of balancing these layers throughout the narrative, lending a pace to the game that is consistent, engaging, and organic. Some controversy has surrounded a scene early in the narrative whereby an impending sexual assault is played against Lara. What I found more impressive is that after the fight we didn’t see a strong woman rise until she first succumbed to fear and shock.
The key to your emotional connection to this defined Croft is the defining performance from English actress Camilla Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy). She is the one who really brings this character and her conflict to life. Luddington’s performance is raw and compelling, and I applaud the developer for taking the time to show real fear in their character.
At key moments, the music of Tomb Raider – through commanding percussion and the high action theme – adds a rare intensity as you grapple from crumbling ledges or succumb to the perils of your environment. But it’s at the moments of intimacy and vulnerability that the score truly shines. The strings sing, haunting yet human, paralleling Lara’s own feelings and drawing the player into the deeper plight of feelings exposed. In their review, Forbes gave it a 10/10, heralding it as “one of the first must-own soundtracks.”
The icing on the Tomb Raider cake is certainly the graphics. Though she is not the best rendered character ever, she is by far the most rendered and best-looking Lara we’ve seen, but not for the reason she’s been historically known. In this version, you’ll find Croft caked in mud and blood, sweat and tears, with fantastically executed facial expressions, all lending towards the humanity and raw vulnerability of the character, shifting later into the discovery of a defiant strength.
As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock new abilities which nudge you towards revisiting previous camps, thanks to a nifty fast-travel system – to reach rewards you couldn’t attain before. There are also optional, puzzle-based tombs to explore, each with their own rewards of salvage and experience points. You’ll spend the salvage on upgrading your equipment while the experience points you attain helps build up and unlock new skills. These RPG elements add a much-needed sense of choice and helps you create your own version of Lara Croft.
The developers went with both quality and quantity, creating a game that is epic both in its scope and duration, with near perfect pacing so you rarely felt bored. However, with this fantastic package, it must be said that given Lara Croft’s passion for archaeology, the one thing I seemed to miss out on were chances to really delve into mythology, bringing history to life for a new generation of gamers.
This Definitive Edition of Lara Croft trades the superhero impossibility of previous iterations for one much more human, believable, and interesting. As Lara grows in confidence, you feel drawn to journey with her. Graphics, music, design, and game dynamics all work together to give players the best Lara Croft ever. I just wish a bit more historical learning had been added to the mix.
When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.
Rating: M (contextual language and violence)
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One
+ the most human version of Lara Croft
+ presentation and pacing is exciting, extensive, and varied
+ voice and music blend beautifully
- piecemeal historical and mythological implications