Tomb Raider (Xbox360)

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Tomb Raider is proof that Crystal Dynamics are masters at creating a game that not only has a gritty and engrossing story, but a deep upgrade and gameplay system, excellently crafted combat mechanics, and a variety of enemies that will have you using all of the weapons at Lara’s disposal. While Ms Croft may at first be a reluctant hero, she will find the strength to overcome the many challenges she will encounter as she embarks on the journey of a lifetime.

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Tomb Raider tells the tale of how Lara Croft came to be the explorer we’ve come to know today, it takes us through the first journey she took as a young archaeologist and shows us what moulded her into this determined, strong, and resourceful character. Lara finds herself stranded on a mystical island after the ship Endurance is wrecked on its shores, and she’ll now have to overcome her fears and embrace her survival instincts in order to solve the terrifying mysteries that the island holds as she sets out on a quest to rescue her friends and escape with her life.

One thing that becomes evident as the story begins to unfold is that Lara will never be the same person again. The lush beauty of the island is in stark contrast to the evil that is infusing every corner, and the horror will build as you explore more of the island and discover that there’s even more to this mystery than you would have dared to believe. You’ll gather documents from previous survivors on the island and slowly piece together clues only to learn more frightening truths about the Sun Queen and this Dragon’s Triangle.

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While at first reluctant and scared, Lara will slowly be forced to find her inner strength to fight for her own survival and that of her captured friends. She will find a bow, hunt for food and medical supplies, and eventually be forced to kill another human being. From very early on she’ll learn to rely upon her survival instincts to navigate her way around the island, this can be used to survey her surroundings and move towards her next objective.

The island environments have been meticulously and beautifully created, and combine naturally with the sounds of the domain to create a living, breathing world that you’ll delight in exploring. Deer and rabbits amble past a rushing river while the subtle calls of frogs fill the air and butterflies dance on the floating particles of light highlighted by the setting sun. The tranquillity of the scene belies the truth though, and before long it will be harshly interrupted by the sight of a dead man hanged from a tree or the skeletal remains of a crashed plane, and so you’ll be drawn back into the fight for survival again.

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There’s more to this island than just this coastal forest region, and as you work your way inland you’ll be challenged to overcome different settings that will keep the gameplay varied and interesting. Crystal Dynamics will reward you for exploring your surroundings, you’ll discover artefacts, documents, and salvage hidden within the different areas. You’ll also unlock challenges which, together with the aforementioned collectibles, will give you plenty of extra missions to collect and complete. There are also secret tombs located throughout the island and once you’ve solved the puzzles within you’ll be rewarded with extra unlockables too.

The salvage hidden in crates and boxes, and which you take from fallen enemies, will become valuable in upgrading your weapons. You’ll be able to customise these upgrades on the weapons Lara acquires on her journey, which will begin with her bow but move on to a pistol, machine gun and more as you progress in the game. Base camps are dotted throughout the different regions and it’s here where you’ll be able to upgrade your weapons as well as allocate the skill points you’ve earned to master new skills. Once discovered you’ll be able to use these base camps to fast travel between areas, which will become handy later on when you want to use the maps you’ll discover to locate more of the collectibles and more towards completion of the game’s extra challenges and content. Day camps can also be used to apply upgrades and skill points, but don’t permit fast travel. While easy to understand and simple to use, this upgrade and skill point system has a depth behind it that ultimately allows you to customise your gameplay experience and rewards you for your exploration.

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Bands of fierce men inhabit the island, men whose ruthlessness is metered out in the brutal treatment of any survivors who have been unfortunate enough to find themselves stranded on this cruel land. The combat system has been excellently implemented and the fight sequences were often a highlight, with solid shooter mechanics, a good cover system, and variety in the weapons and tactical options available making this an integral part of the game. Whether you’re sneaking up close to execute a stealth kill, quietly picking off sentries with your bow, or going in guns blazing to face a roomful of enemies lobbing fire bombs at you to force you out of cover as bullets fly above your head, this was some of the best fun I’ve had in a shooter for a while.

You’ll face machete wielding wild men, archers, armed goons, and armed goons with shields. Sometimes it will feel as if the environment itself is against you, while you’ll always be battling the elements, and other times the wild wolves will force your hand too. There will never be a moment that you won’t be struggling to survive, battling to overcome the different obstacles that the island and its dwellers are determined to put in your path. And there won’t be a moment when Lara doesn’t feel the emotions and pain in a very real way, and you as the player will experience all that she goes through too.

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It’s through this experience with Tomb Raider that Crystal Dynamics have proved that Lara Croft is still a powerful videogame character, in fact one could argue she’s one of the most powerful characters ever created, and it’s through this reimagining that they’ve brought Lara through to today’s audience and ensured her continued survival into the next generation of the industry.

Graphically Tomb Raider has to be one of the finest games ever created in this generation, and it will most likely not be topped by any other titles released this year. Tomb Raider has all the checks in all of the necessary boxes, it just goes to show that you can have it all: incredible graphics, a masterfully crafted and immersive story, a solid combat system, an effective checkpoint system, variety of gameplay, and a haunting soundtrack combined with dramatic sound-effects, all rolled together to deliver one of the most powerful gaming experiences you’ll ever encounter.

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You’ll be able to enjoy four modes online in the Tomb Raider multiplayer component, each of which are easy to jump into with a matchmaking system that works seamlessly. Two modes will see you taking on the role of scavengers and shipwreck survivors as you work together with your team to overcome the opposition in the best of three rounds. Rescue challenges the survivors team to recover medical supplies while the scavengers must reach a specified number of melee kills. Meanwhile in Cry for Help survivors must activate radio transmitters while the scavengers must take them out and round up their batteries. There’s also Team Deathmatch and Free for All which are competitive multiplayer modes.

The modes are all set on maps of areas from within the game, and the Rescue and Cry for Help modes definitely fit into the survival theme of Tomb Raider, especially given the traps you can activate within the maps and using the unpredictable weather patterns to your advantage. There’s different customisation options available, you can use salvage you gather from the maps to upgrade your weapons and unlock different characters. You can also match your survival skills against others by mapping your progress on the leaderboards and participate in both ranked and casual matches. The multiplayer was enjoyable and challenging, and I’m sure I’ll be playing it for some time to come, especially if new modes and maps are added in the coming months.

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While you’ll be swept up in the new origin story in Tomb Raider, you’ll also see the essence of the Tomb Raider franchise in this game in the wonderfully crafted puzzles and the theme of exploration which is evident throughout. Crystal Dynamics will really reward you for exploring your environment, and when it’s this beautiful why wouldn’t you want to explore it? This is Lara Croft at her best, this is who she was born to be.