She may be a wholly different Lara than before, but the new game is a superb return to form for the legendary adventurer.
Tomb Raider gives Lara Croft extra dimension
PS3, Xbox360, PC
Why is Batman so darn grumpy? How did all those pesky apes take over the planet? And just who put James Bond's back up, emotionally? In the current landscape of reboots, much emphasis has been placed on the backstory. Now, some 17 years after she first high-kicked her way into the public sphere, gaming's iconic heroine Lara Croft gets a turn.
Crystal Dynamic's much-anticipated return of the Tomb Raider series is all about finding out how Ms Croft transformed from a fresh-faced university student to the tough-as-old-boots, singlet-wearing adventurer who was so famous in her 1990s heyday.
In the first few minutes, it all becomes clear. Shipwrecked on the lost island of Yamatai, a battered and bruised Lara finds her feet quickly, escaping near-death at the hands of boulders, wolves and armed savages to become a hardened survivor in a matter of minutes.
Her development is pretty dramatic. After expressing sorrow at her first kill (a deer with a bow and arrow), she's soon nonchalantly taking out entire rooms of bandits with a machine gun, the naivety and confusion she showed earlier on banished. Lara's growth is also captured in the atmosphere on the island, which swells around her as she progresses, while the gameplay develops as she gathers more skills and equipment.
Despite the spectacularly rendered scenery, the tropical setting is largely dark and menacing, with rain and wind almost permanently lashing the increasingly less fair face of our maiden as she searches ancient temples and rusting Second World War Japanese outposts for her fellow crew. It makes for something of a cinematic experience; indeed, as a player you can often feel like a bystander as Lara painfully ascends cliff faces, grunting as dynamic camera angles capture her every move.
Fans of the original games may also notice a significant switch in emphasis from the elaborate puzzles Lara faced before. While there are still obstacles to overcome through clever use of the environment, much of the game relies on exploration and direct combat.
There are, of course, tombs to explore, each with puzzles to overcome to reveal the treasure, but these are optional side quests to help boost your XP. Those intent on ticking all the boxes will also find an island littered with other collectables, including relics and journals that help tell the overall story.
If the aim of the game was to reinvigorate a character in danger of becoming irrelevant, then Tomb Raider has certainly achieved this. Lara is grittier and more dimensional than before, and seeing her emerge from countless pitfalls as a stronger, more fight-ready woman right before your eyes makes the story all that more engrossing. Thankfully, this is supported by a captivating game, with sublime graphics and an instantly playable control system.
Let's just hope what has been achieved here is maintained in the inevitable sequels.