FIGHT OR FLIGHT?
Nintendo should take note of what Crystal Dynamics has pulled off here. In the face of the tremendous pressure that accompanies contracts with a faltering publisher and a supremely botched PR campaign during the final stages of development, they’ve created a sensible new direction for a venerated franchise.
The methodology was clear: make a (short) grocery list of what still worked and jettison everything else, no sacred cows.
Strong willed, adventure-prone British heroin? Check. Cocky demeanor that issues from a wealthy upbringing? Gone. Extensive array of skills/gear for traversing environments? Check. Ludicrous globe hopping paired with a similarly distended plot? Not this time. Raiding immaculately designed tombs? Check. Solving trite, archaic puzzles? Nope.
This new approach feels entirely different from the previous, stale Tomb Raider adventures. Less is more – focusing on an accessible mystery to uncover on a single island with a small, fleshed out cast of supporting characters magnetizes the voyage. Plenty of variety is included without leaving players tone deaf with relentless plot twists and generic action tropes.
Brilliantly following the Metroid formula, newly acquired gear will open up access to new sections in previously traversed areas for plundering treasure and exploring tombs. This kind of self-initiated dungeoneering bolsters the sense of agency and constantly goads speculation for how to overcome barriers as the main plot unfolds. It forms a kind engaging exploratory experience than an Assassin’s Creed or Batman Arkham City fail to capture.
Tomb Raider ultimately carves out a new space in the jungle between a few of our modern gaming staples, borrowing then branding tried and true ideas with its own snappy delivery.
There’s a greater sense of urgency while jungle stalking soldiers, in contrast to Metal Gear Solid 3’s high-maintenance approach. There’s no shortage of over the top spectacle and set pieces à la Uncharted, but the emotional payoff is heightened when paired with more elegant storytelling. The overarching world isn’t nearly as overwhelming as a Far Cry, rendering side quests/collectibles more manageable and the whole game generally more approachable.
Everything comes together in sequences where Laura gets the jump on her foes – there are dozens of creative options when using her weapons, tools, vertical mobility, and environmental hazards in harmonious concert. Tomb Raider does remarkably well in these ultimate tests of playability, proving that measured stealth and guns blazing are equally viable.
At the end of the day Tomb Raider remains undeniably gripping and just plain fun, despite what insights may accompany further scrutiny. Furthermore this reboot has completed its core mission: Crystal Dynamics has charted a fresh course for the series that steers clear of Nathan Drake and forms a clear map for future gems in the franchise.