For years, Lara Croft has been one of the poster girls of the strong female video game protagonist. She’s amassed a loyal following of gamers and cosplayers, all who love her image and attitude.  So when a new Tomb Raider game comes out that takes our heroine and completely reboots her, fans are of course going to be a little skittish until the game can prove its mettle.

Tomb Raider is an incredibly executed game, exciting and intriguing without giving the player too many frustrations along the way.  It follows the story of a young Lara Croft, coming into her own and becoming the character that we all know and love.  Through the course of the game Lara gets beaten, battered, dropped, thrown and knocked around.  By the end of the game, her clothes and body show the tears, gashes and scratches she’s gotten over time. Honestly, I was surprised that she wasn’t a giant black and blue bruise by the time it was all said and done.  And throughout all the danger she’s being subjected to, the player is immersed in that journey.

The game itself begins with a bang, taking you through an action filled sequence that doesn’t actually give you much time to breath before throwing you headfirst into danger. Once it’s done knocking you around there, the game allows you to have a small breather as it introduces you to the basics of combat and gaining experience.  And as the game progresses, it starts to introduce you to more advanced fighting techniques and more advanced platforming techniques to navigate the beautiful island environments.  Some of the environments are very intimidating when you first enter them. Every new area I went into, I looked around a little bit to try to get the lay of the land. And some of them looked flat out impossible when I first got there. But by the time the game is about halfway through, you’ll find yourself leaping around and fighting like a pro.

Now, I’ve played just about every other Tomb Raider game and I find that this one was the most approachable in terms of easing the player into the game systems.  They were easily managed and I really didn’t have any issues or problems with the controls.  They were easy to understand, pretty easy to execute and I didn’t have to do anything too complicated to interact with the environment or enemies.  Lara did what I told her to do, 99.99% of the time.  If it turned out badly for me, it was usually because I told her to do something stupid or because I forgot about a fighting technique that could be used to make my life a whole lot simpler.

The combat in the game is very manageable as well, with the player able to avoid all out conflict in many areas by silently killing their opponents.  Other times Lara is involved in a flat out brawl between fanatic enemies who’ll stop at nothing to see her dead.  The tools of combat in this game are simple yet powerful, with Lara having access to a pretty decent arsenal.  Close range and long range combat are both perfectly manageable with the weapons she has.  But one of the problems that I found with the combat system was the inconsistent AI.  I would go into an area and kill an enemy from a distance before moving on to the next.  I’d be able to proceed until I got killed fighting.  When I started the area over, that same distance kill was suddenly spotted by an enemy that had shifted position, making it so that the alarm got sounded far sooner than before.  And when watching someone else play the game, they were able to leave bodies in locations that in my game on the same difficulty, had alarms sounding.  Sometimes the enemies react to Lara and the people she’s killing and sometimes they don’t. It was a little inconsistent and made it hard to always know when the stealthy approach would work.

Another problem I found with the combat was that some of the sequences seemed harder than they really needed to be. Any enemy with a machine gun is an enemy to be feared.  They have incredible accuracy with that weapon and it drops Lara far faster than any other weapon seems to.  The aggravating thing about that is that Lara’s machine gun doesn’t do nearly as much damage to the enemies.  So between machine welding psychos and the plethora of enemies with dynamite, certain fights are less fun and more tedium.

Here’s where one of the game’s best features come into play however: the checkpoint system.  There is no manual saving in Tomb Raider, which seems perfectly fine considering how often you’ll suddenly find yourself in a cinematic fight for survival.  There’s just no time or easy place to really stop and save as consistently as you’ll need to.  So the game takes care of it for you and does an excellent job in doing so.  After collectable finds, after major sequences and in the middle of combat, the game will checkpoint, ensuring that player deaths don’t mean hours of work lost.  And believe me, most people will die playing this game.

Over my whole Tomb Raider experience, Lara has been shot, stabbed, impaled, blown up, smashed upon the rocks, crushed and just flat out died in so many gruesome ways.  Too many missteps will spell disaster for our heroine and in some really nasty ways.  So while death is annoying, it was still sometimes entertaining as you watch Lara bleed out around a tree branch planted in her gut.  Combat deaths aren’t the most entertaining, but with the checkpoints they become less frustrating.  I had a combat sequence in a forest where I’d killed far too many enemies to count. I died to someone with a machine gun.  But when the game reloaded at my checkpoint, it recognized that I’d killed most of the enemies in the area. It was clear and I was free to proceed.  During boss sequences that involve multiple steps to kill them, the game would checkpoint after each step, meaning that I didn’t have to start the fight over from the beginning.

Lara also has in her arsenal a whole set of skills that she can use to help make the game easier.  She has a skill that unlocks advanced dodging techniques, as well as a skill that helps her spot collectables in the environment.  Most of them were very appropriate and helpful, making the game more manageable and adding to Lara’s repertoire.  However, there are a few skills that only seem to be helpful if taken early on in the game.  Lara can hunt animals for experience.  One skill lets her gain more experience when looting them and another skill lets her find salvage on the animals, which is used for improving and upgrading her weapons.  If those skills aren’t taken early on in the game they can become pretty useless, as animals all but disappear as you get further into the story.  And I didn’t take either of those skills at first because there were so many better and more useful skills to pick up.  When taken early on and used appropriately they can help a player boost themselves early in the game, but there’s no indication that it might be necessary.  There really isn’t anything to indicate that the animals will start becoming scarce.

There is a fast travel system in the game that makes it convenient to travel back to places that you’ve already been.  This system can be used to go back to early areas where the animals are more prevalent.  But once I started getting really into the game, I didn’t want to go back and hunt. I wanted to move forward and find out what else was going on with the story.  The fast travel system does, however, help greatly if a player is looking to go backwards to find collectibles that they’ve missed.  Now, with most games, finding collectibles is simply for achievement purposes and not much else.  In Tomb Raider, not only do some of the collectibles give you background and story, but all of them give experience.  There is an actual in game incentive to find the collectibles, because it means Lara levels up faster and can start picking up bigger, badass skills to use.

The puzzles were even fairly manageable.  As I was completing them, all I could think of was the very first Tomb Raider game and some of the crazy puzzles that had to be completed there.  I’m not opposed to difficult puzzles, but I enjoyed having puzzles that were difficult without being almost impossible and intrusive to the story.  And the story itself was interesting and exciting to watch.  I was having a lot of fun watching it progress and watching Lara have to toughen up in order to survive each new challenge and each new emotional obstacle thrown her way.  I will admit that one of the games “baddies” was very obvious and that it was disappointing to know that they were going to be an issue.  I would have hoped for a little more drama and uncertainty.  But otherwise the story was very engaging.

The game environments themselves are absolutely stunning as well.  Watching the water ripple and crash against the rocks on the beach was almost hypnotic.  And running a sunlit forest while pollen motes are floating through the air was just plain gorgeous.  Massive attention was paid to the details of this game and it shows.  Without an environment to match the rest of the game, you’d have a pretty dull experience.  But Tomb Raider does not disappoint, with stunning visuals and in game footage.  Oftentimes, the game will take over and draw you into a cinematic cut scene where the player occasionally has a quick time event to participate in.  These only served to draw me further into the environment and the experience as a whole.  There were even a few times where I wasn’t entirely sure the cut scene was over and that I could control Lara again because I’d gotten so drawn into the experience.

And the music and sound effects for this game are awesome.  When I was watching the water crashing on the rocks you can also hear it and the seagulls in the distance.  When you hunt deer and take them down, the noises they make are almost gut wrenching with how pathetic sounding the poor deer are.  And when the action is fierce and the scenes are getting intense, the music plays into it beautifully, helping to set the stage for the epic sequence coming up ahead.  And the dork in me can’t help but be especially pleased: There were several times where I could hear a French Horn playing with the music, giving it a hauntingly beautiful quality.

Briefly touching on the multiplayer experience, it seems a waste of disk space.  While some of it can be interesting and provides a change in pace from the main game, I wonder why you'd even bother.  There's no real characterization with the multiplayer characters that you play and no real incentive to choose one character over another.  One team plays search and retrieve while another tries to murder them. Very simple, very basic and ultimately not necessary.  I won't say it takes away from the single player campaign, but it doesn't really add anything to the game as a whole.  Tomb Raider is really a single player experience, with all the emotion and attachment that comes from watching the characterization of Lara onscreen.  Adding a multiplayer aspect to that seems almost like adding chocolate sprinkles on chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup.  Yes, it's an okay addition, but it doesn't really add anything.  The game has so much to offer as it already stands.

It was absolutely incredible in every way imaginable.  It far exceed any of my expectations for it and blew them out of the water.  Yes there were problems and some glitches, but every other part of the game outweighed any aggravation I felt.  It was such an exciting game that I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having with it.  Multiple times over the course of the game, Lara would be taken on an intense action packed sequence that just wouldn’t end.  And when it finally did, I was left wondering how the game could possibly top it, seeing as how I wasn’t yet finished. And to my surprise, it topped it.  This game didn’t lose steam at any point in its progression which was amazing to experience.  And yes, every single day I played it, I had Tomb Raider themed dreams that night. I just couldn’t get it out of my head and couldn’t escape my desire to continue playing and progressing in the game.  It was such an incredible game and so well done that I can’t wait to take this incarnation of Lara on another journey.