Birth of a legend
Lara Croft has been raiding tombs since 1996 and is now a true cultural icon. This latest version of the puzzle-action series goes all the way back to Lara's early years as an archaeology graduate and her first adventure on a mysterious island, which ultimately shapes her personality and hones her combat skills and athleticism to create the character you know and love today.
This origin story finds Lara and a small crew of shipmates exploring the island of Yamatai off the coast of Japan. According to legend, the island was once home to Himiko, a sun queen, who could control the weather. This legend attracted traders, American marines and even a Japanese military project to Yamatai, all of whom were either shipwrecked or stranded there over the years.
When Lara and her friends arrive, they discover the seemingly deserted island is populated by a dangerous cult called the Solarii Brotherhood, which worships Himiko and wants to bring her back using a human host. It's going to take all of Lara's improving skills and determination to stop them and escape Yamatai in one piece.
It's Lara Croft, but not as you know her and like you've never seen her before. As an inexperienced university graduate on her first expedition, this rebooted Lara lacks confidence, is vulnerable and at times even tentative. Indeed, she spends the early part of the game injured and having to find food and shelter. In place of the glamorous adventurer from the previous games is a mud-streaked, blood-caked, scared yet tough amateur.
The island of Yamatai is as much a star of the game as Lara. The moment you escape from the cave at the beginning of the game and look out upon its stunning vistas and dozens of shipwrecks is breathtaking. Whether you're sliding down a waterfall or escaping from a burning building, the slick action is matched by the jaw-dropping presentation.
Complete the game and you can explore the island to your heart's content, searching for all those hidden relics, documents and other goodies you inevitably missed first time around. Perfectionists will also want to unlock all the videos, character models and concept art. The island is rich in secrets.
The great survivor
Tomb Raider ups the action while still finding plenty of room for devious puzzles that fans have always cherished. One minute you're wiggling the left stick in a frantic attempt to shake off an enemy, the next you're trying to work out how to divert flaming barrels from a mini-waterfall that keeps extinguishing them. A pivotal scene where Lara is forced into killing someone for the first time signals the start of the real action.
Lara's Survival Instincts make exploring the island easy, whether as part of the story or to collect all the hidden goodies. Pressing the L2 button turns everything black and white, except for objects of interest are picked out in yellow. It's not a solution to a puzzle, just a gentle guide in the right place.
Throughout the game you can upgrade Lara's skills, which are split into Hunter and Survivor categories. For instance, the Steady Shot skill lets you hold charged bow shots for double the time, while the Cartography skill reveals all hidden tomb entrances and points of interest on your map.
Multiplayer comes to Tomb Raider for the first time in the series' history, with four game types to choose from: Team Death Match, Rescue, Cry for Help and Free for All. Every game except Free for All pits Survivors – those on Lara's ship the Endurance – against Scavengers – the Solarii Brotherhood, with players alternating sides.
Team Death Match is a round-based, four-versus-four game. The first team to get 25 kills or to have the most kills at the end of the final round wins. Rescue sees Scavengers trying to stop Survivors from returning five medical packs to their base in order to win the game. Scavengers win if they earn 20 kills, though Survivors have a limited amount of time to revive injured teammates. Cry for Help has Survivors activating radio transmitters while the Scavengers try to steal their batteries. And in Free for All you're on your own and must simply kill the most players before time runs out to win the game.
Each playable character has different abilities, though the more powerful ones must be unlocked by earning experience points that in turn open up higher levels.