by Brian Robbins

 I’ve been playing video games most of my life and the one character I couldn’t ever see the merit of was Lara Croft. Sure, I owned the first game for the original PlayStation but I just hated the character. She was one dimensional and incredibly fake, and never seemed like a heroine anyone could really care about. This all changes with Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the franchise- not since Red Dead Redemption‘s John Marston have I actually cheered for a character this much. Tomb Raider is also the first triple A title for 2013.

As the story goes, Lara Croft and her colleagues and friends are after the lost kingdom of a Japanese princess. Their vessel reaches the dreaded Dragon’s Triangle and eventually becomes shipwrecked on this mysterious island. Throughout the campaign you’ll be searching for your friends and ahem, raiding tombs. Without giving too much away, you’ll find that the island holds as many secrets as you would suspect. Also, the weather is always terrible.

I felt the story was generally predictable but thoroughly enjoyable. Of course all the plat-forming around the jungle and mountains reminded me of Nathan Drake in Uncharted 3 but at times it actually felt better. The way the designers handled weapon and tool upgrades is reminiscent of Arkham City. You’ll see something familiar yet different in the environment but you’ll have to progress through the game in order to reach that objective. For example, you’ll notice a gathering of rope against a craggy wall, but you’ll have to wait until you get a pulley in order to have enough strength and power to topple the foundation. It’s pretty interesting and it takes the best things of Uncharted and the Arkham games and perfects them, which is an impressive feat.

While playing the game, you’re going to be attached to the character of Lara Croft. Sure, she’s an incredibly beautiful gaming goddess in this game but that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that you’re genuinely rooting for her. In the beginning of the story Lara takes her first life. She’s not Master Chief; you actually feel the weight of ending a bad guy’s terrible bad guy life. The storytelling in this instance was moving and believable. Weirdly enough, shortly after she kills her first bad guy, she’s moving around and killing guys left and right. It was a hiccup to pace the game a little bit more but only a minor gripe.

Once the shooting and killing bad guys does take place, it’s absolutely refined. It feels terrific to use Lara’s bow and arrow and take out baddies silently throughout the island. I was a little bit worried that once you pick up your first firearm it would replace the bow but luckily, every gun and tool at Lara’s disposal is varied enough that you’ll be switching back and forth as a change of pace.

Another aspect where Tomb Raider excels is the upgrade feature. As you’re killing, hunting, and discovering things around the island you’ll be gaining experience. As you’d expect, you can level up and put these points into a sort of talent tree. You’ll unlock new moves to counter enemies and find it easier to discover clues to puzzles. My favorite aspect of the upgrade mechanics was that as you loot bodies and find little crates you’ll discover salvage. You can take the salvage and upgrade your weapons and tools. By the end of the game my Assault Rifle was a death cannon. You’ll be thrown so many enemy encounters and boss fights you’ll never feel overpowered.
At times the game can be difficult with some aspects to puzzles and certain boss encounters but it’s never mind-punishing like the original Ninja Gaiden. You’ll feel like an accomplished bad ass, whether swinging around on ropes or slaying ancient enemies. This game makes you feel rewarded. Which is a pleasant surprise considering how easy games are nowadays.

If there is one lackluster feature in this game it has to be the multiplayer. It’s just your standard run-of-the-mill death match, and team objective game types. I played it for a while and I was mildly entertained at most. This game won’t be pulling anyone away from Halo 4 or Black Ops 2. With such a good single-player it was a shame that the multiplayer was bland. Just think of the multiplayer as a bonus feature.

That being said, Tomb Raider surprised me. I watched trailers for it earlier last year and it looked promising but I didn’t get my hopes up. Throughout the experience I was surprised at every turn, I was fully expecting the action to die down and reach a weak point. This is one of those rare games that actually gets better the more you progress through it. If you do not play this, you’d be missing out on what’s for sure to be one of the best games of 2013. Yes, it’s only March and we’re already spoiled.