It's at this point that you're probably thinking, "Yeah, but what about the tombs?" Well, it was inevitable that Tomb Raider would find it difficult appeasing both puzzle-loving fans of the original game and COD-addicted action junkies, but in the end Crystal Dynamics doesn't get the balance quite right. The main story takes you through several memorable sepulchres, each with bags of atmosphere. These are places that recall the fiendish nature of the original game's tombs, except draped in sparkling, current gen visuals. The problem is, there's just not enough of them.
There's nothing as devilish as the lead-to-gold puzzle in the original game
The transition between hub levels and tombs are seamless, so there's no indicator to say, 'you are now entering a tomb'. (In fact, sometimes it's hard to tell where a hub ends and a tomb begins.) Because of this, we've opted against revealing exactly how many there are. In the long run, you'll thank us. With a number in your head, you'll find the game will lose its impressive sense of immersion and simply become a box-ticking exercise.
The same goes for the side tombs, of which there are more - although they obviously take less time to complete. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel), there's nothing as devilish as the lead-to-gold puzzle from the original Tomb Raider; instead, Uncharted is a clearer reference point in terms of difficulty. But they're universally good - which makes their relative paucity one of the game's few disappointments.
TOMB WITH A VIEW
Despite this, Tomb Raider could never be accused of lacking scale. Take the gadgets. If Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequel taught us anything, it was an appreciation of a well utilised gizmo. Here, Lara's gear plays a similarly important role in gauging your progression and opening up the previously unreachable recesses of the island (including hidden areas you were unable to access in previous hubs and side tombs).
Like a cross between Bruce Wayne and Ray Mears, she puts these tools together out of the resources she has to hand. Sellotape a zippo lighter to your bow and you have fire arrows. Tie rope to your arrows and you're able to make bespoke twine bridges which cross gaps, while upgrading that with an automated pulley lets you heave heavy objects. Inspiration is taken from Zelda and Metroid - and by the time you reach the end, Lara truly feels like she's become the master of her once terrifying environment.
Going back to previously explored areas reveals a huge number of collectibles to unearth. Tied into this - and taking a leaf from the Assassin's Creed series - is Lara's new 'survival instinct'. It's something which the game could arguably have done without, simply to maintain a more rugged challenge, but the benefits outweigh the negatives: this glowy visual effect helps uncover more of Yamatai's secrets through documents and relics, while also highlighting the locations of GPS caches and area-specific challenges (such as stealing eggs from seagulls' nests).
Even better, it also leads you to a few scattered side tombs. These are always a joy to discover and each contains a single puzzle to solve, with the reward of extra salvage. Solving one can gift you a treasure map of the area, detailing the rest of the hub area's hidden collectible locations.
But it's not all perfect, and the small number of tombs on offer isn't the only gripe we could aim at Lara's latest. Despite its impressive atmosphere, the game's ensemble cast jars. We labelled the crew of the Endurance the HMS Stereotype a few weeks back, and we're sticking to our guns. There are document-based hints of darker pasts for some of the characters but textbook archetypes (angry Scotsman, gentle giant, jovial man-geek) coupled with flat dialogue, make some of them almost comically duff; unwelcome in such a perfectly-crafted world.
There are missed opportunities as well. One particular sequence sees Lara - covered in blood - pounding through a hellish cave system scattered with dismembered body parts, in a scene directly lifted from Brit-flick horror The Descent. It hints at something interesting and terrifying - perhaps new subterranean enemies who threaten to appear, only to disappear just as quickly - but fails to make anything of it. There are suggestions, also, of the psychological effect that the island may be having on Lara, but in the same way, this is never fully explored.
Yet, following a bombastic final third, the 10-15 hour long story draws to a particularly memorable conclusion, and these things hardly seemed to matter. It takes around 20 hours to fully explore the entire island, something you'll instantly feel compelled to do, and at the end your thoughts will turn to the inevitable sequel - and how Crystal Dynamics will look to top this.
Because rest assured: Lara is back.
What about the multiplayer? Here's CVG writer Andy Kelly's verdict on the online modes.
Violent, scary, ambitious, inventive: a lack of tombs and unconvincing characters can't mar a blockbuster return to form for Tomb Raider.
- The island is the star of the show
- Lara's world feels brutal, dangerous and frightening
- Smooth combat married to DIY gadgets
- Inventive tombs that recall the original game...
- ... it's just a shame there's not enough of them
- The occasional unwelcome QTE
- Clichéd characters, flat dialogue