When she first hit the scene in 1996, Lara Croft was held up as the poster child for everything that was wrong with video games. Her big boobs and short shorts appealed to the lowest common denominator of teenage boys, and it was easy for critics to dismiss the game’s redeeming qualities when all they could focus on was Tomb Raider’s too-obvious sex appeal. As it turned out, Lara ran into a far bigger problem than a few critics. She committed the more egregious crime of growing stale over time. But now she’s back, with a game that will be considered a milestone for all the right reasons.
The newly released Tomb Raider from Crystal Dynamics (available for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC) gives the series a fresh start, rebooting Lara to a young, ambitious, but inexperienced archeologist on one of her first big expeditions. When she and the crew of the Endurance are shipwrecked on a mysterious island, Lara is separated from the pack, and a desperate fight for survival begins.
The opening sequences might seem a bit basic, but they make sense in the context of the game, and mimic real-life scenarios. For example, if Lara is limping and injured, then there’s little the player can do to push her forward. However, as gameplay unfolds, you’ll feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction when you heal Lara’s injuries, gain XP, level up, and fine-tune her survival, hunting, and brawling skills.
As you learn more about the dangers of the island and the mysterious cult that’s hell-bent on killing any outsiders, the narrative speeds by with a sense of urgency. Lara’s enemies are no mere cannon fodder. They feel deranged and deadly. And as the new Lara isn’t the gun-expert superhero she was in the past, she’s uncomfortable with doling out death at the outset of the new game. Case in point: She offers a heartfelt apology to a deer she kills for food and sobs after taking a human life in self-defense. Still, Lara has little time to ponder distressing moments, as she wants to find the rest of the crew and get off the island, even if that means killing, and lots of it.
Players can choose to stay on the game’s linear path or wander off to hunt, uncover hidden items like salvage and GPS caches or raid optional tombs for big chunks of XP. These findings can be used to improve your weapons and gear and help Lara learn new skills. Collecting loot can get addictive, and will more than likely keep the majority of players—even ones who don’t want to boast a 100% game completion score—playing for weeks or even months down the line.
In summary, Tomb Raider is a brilliant new take on the series and the adventure game genre as a whole. It’s a visual feast that wonderfully mixes a fast-paced story and a deep array of optional adventures that should prove satisfying on multiple play-throughs. If you’ve been salivating over every last morsel of next-gen news, chill out and get yourself a copy of Tomb Raider. After just a few minutes of playing, chances are you won’t be wishing away the current gen just yet.
Matt Tuthill is a senior editor of Muscle & Fitness, a brother publication to Men’s Fitness. You can follow him on Twitter @MCTuthill