This game should really be called "The Story of how Lara Croft fell up a mountain", but I guess "Tomb Raider" is shorter, and catchier. You fall a LOT during this game, but it's almost always cool to watch. I'm a HUGE fan of anything that Square Enix touches. They seriously cannot fail! This game is no exception.
I remember looking at the trailers at E3 and thinking "Oh god, another cinematic game. Great." but wow, this game made me eat my words. This game is cinematic, but you never are out of control. The whole game is so well done that I only hope my words can even do it justice.
This really is a reboot in the truest form. There are so many nods to the previous series, including finding out how Lara got her trademark pistols, but this really takes you back to the start of it all. Lara Croft is far more book worm and far less adventurer at the start of this game. This game takes you through the (somewhat predictable) emotional transformation from Archeologist to Adventurer.
This game is stunningly beautiful. If you don't particularly like the Tomb Raider series, it is worth picking up for the graphics alone. This game looks better than pretty much any game that I have played. The detail and quality are incredible.
The gameplay reminds me a lot of the old Tomb Raider series and Prince of Persia combined. It also has hints of Lost (TV Series) and the Batman: Arkham series. The puzzles are amazing and the new XP system is fantastic. They also have "Salvage" which is sort of an XP system for your weapons, which is amazing, too.
The story goes that a crew (inc. Lara) get shipwrecked on an Island filled to the tip with secrets, cultists and ancient mythology. Lara is basically thrown right in to the deep end and is forced to learn how to survive. She clearly has had some training in the past, but as the game progresses you can see her confidence boost and her abilities get far better. It is really amazingly done. The transition is so flawlessly integrated that you don't even notice until you look back and truly see how far you have come. If you need a guide for item locations, I suggest this one by gosunoob.com. It was pretty useful for me once I went achievement hunting.
You can very clearly see the character struggling, which makes the game feel so much more human. A lot of the time you just see the character just progressing, but Lara is suffering from guilt, loss and fear throughout the game, the way any normal person would. You find yourself supporting and rooting for her as the story continues. You befriend the main character, which is an amazing experience that comes very rarely in games these days.
The island you land on was home to a group called the Yamatai, and is covered in shrines, temples, statues and more, which are all there for you to discover as you progress. These come as side quests, much like the tombs, but it doesn't pull away from the main story and it never feels like you HAVE to do it. I usually hate side quests because they are so repetitive and meaningless, but the side quests are so elegantly integrated and they are so rewarding that I forget I'm not just playing the main story.
I hope that the facts you find out about ancient artifacts are actually true, because they are really interesting. I also enjoyed uncovering the journals throughout the game, too. It was incredible fun to hear the different stories, and they teach you a lot about the back story. Finishing a tomb is incredibly satisfying, too.
The ancient structures are now in coexistence with bunkers that appear to be from the World War II era. A lot of the planes that have come down on the island appear to be military planes, too. The island itself is inspired by the bermuda triangle. It is an island that isn't on maps and, for some reason, any vehicles, boats or planes that go in simply never return. I will try not to spoil the story for anybody, but you do start to learn more about why this keeps happening as you progress through the story.
The island really feels alive as you play. You can see signs all over the place that people have been there before. There are people there now, too. The combat between you and them feels a little batman-esque, which is a great thing. The guns in the game handle extremely well, and I have never once blamed a faulty weapon on my death.
Once you begin to explore the island you will get a bow, which will be your first weapon. You will find a campsite which is a place where you can sit and level up, fast travel or upgrade your weapons once you have the required parts and salvage. The bow is so satisfying that I actually used it as my main weapon, alongside the pistol, for the whole game. You will also get an assault rifle with a grenade launcher attachment, and a shotgun. Upgrading ALL of these weapons is a lot of fun, and you notice the difference each time. It is rewarding to level up your weapons and give them better perks and abilities. You wouldn't believe the things your bow can do by the end of the game.
Hunting is integrated in to the game, but it is not required for you to survive. It is an amazing way to get XP and level up faster, though. The island is home to a wide variety of animals, some hostile, some not. If you want to ensure you unlock everything during your playthrough, you really should hunt as you are going. Whilst there is a lot of XP in killing enemies, I cannot imagine that there is enough.
I'm sure it is possible to sneak your way through most of this game without getting caught, but with such an incredible combat system, fighting is irresistible. Once they know you are there, a few support troops will come in and start tossing Molotov's and dynamite at you, which can sometimes get overwhelming but it is never incredibly frustrating and obnoxious. That forces you to keep on your toes, keep using dodge and it makes you become incredible aware of your surroundings. Some enemies are close range, and some are long range, which makes it even more challenging. Counter-attacks are so satisfying, too.
I can't talk too much about the story as anything I say could potentially be a spoiler, but trust me when I say the story in this game has so many twists and turns. It can be slightly predictable at times, but it is still an incredible story.
A few years ago I remember thinking to myself that this series needs a reboot, because the Lara Croft from the start was long gone and the game was more about the money and title than it was about the story. Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have not only brought back everything I loved about Tomb Raider, but they also made the story even better. The gameplay is incredible. The look and feel of this game is second to none. If you love story telling games, then this is for you. If you love incredible graphics, then this is for you. If you're a Tomb Raider fan, then this is for you. If you're a gamer of any variety, then this is for you.
Overall Rating: 10/10