Tomb Raider is a prequel in time to all the other Tomb Raider games and tells the story of Lara Croft as a young woman and her first lessons in surviving against the odds. This is not your typical Tomb Raider game and although some might find this disappointing, the game stands up very nicely on its own merits. Trying to compare it to the iconic Tomb Raider series would just do it an injustice. But like many, I did have preconceived ideas and in the beginning I was feeling slightly dissatisfied. However, as the game progressed, it grew on me and by the end I was left with a very favourable impression. It's kind of ironic that this is the way the sales went as well. In terms of profitability, it did not reach the developer's expectations on release, but ended up strongly enough to finance a sequel.
The game begins on the high seas with Lara and her fellow archaeologists and adventurers searching for the location of the lost kingdom of Yamatai. Sam Nishimura is Lara's best friend and the expedition is funded by the Nishimura family who are descendants of the Yamatai people. On Lara's advice and with some reluctance, the group ventures into the Dragon's triangle east of Japan where their ship, the Endurance, is struck by a violent storm and the crew shipwrecked on an isolated island. Lara becomes separated from the team and is forced to draw on survival skills to track them down. Along the way, she discovers that the island is populated by hostiles, people who were formerly shipwrecked on Yamatai as well and who have organized under the leadership of a man called Mathias. She also determines that a strange entity is preventing people from leaving the island by conjuring up unsurpassable storms. When the hostiles kidnap Sam Nishimura, Lara is driven to rescue her and unravel the mystery behind the unnatural weather.
Although I found this game very enjoyable, it does leave room for some improvement. On the negative side, the game is too easy on normal mode, although the difficulty somewhat ramps up later on. The optional tombs are pretty much of a disappointment as they are very short and have simple puzzles. The game also employs QTEs (quick time events) which I hate and mashing the right and left movement keys with one hand is awkward as you need the other hand free to press a third QT key in sequence. Some of these can be a little tricky with the keyboard as diagonal movements always present awkward keystokes. The dodge mechanic is also dodgy and is not well implemented. By the time you need to use the maneuver, the camera is often way too close and can block visibility.
Those are the negatives, but there are many positives. The character of Lara is well developed and the voice acting is superb. It's the story of being forced to kill or be killed as the people Lara loves are being murdered by Mathias and his band of psychotic followers called the Solari Brotherhood. The name is derived from Yamitai's ancient queen, Himiko, known as the Sun Queen who according to legend had the power to control the weather.
Combat in general is also pretty good and the weapons effective, with special mention going to the bow, which proves very useful. Skills and upgrades are a no brainer as you cannot progress till you have purchased almost everything in the tier you are in anyway. You amass skill points through hunting, performing actions and from gaining spendable points through finding stashes. Upgrades to armor, weapons and ammo are also found in stashes and on dead bodies. By the end of the game, there are enough skill points and salvage to purchase every available skill and upgrade, so there is no real need to weigh choices. Leveling up is accomplished at the campfires, but fast travel only becomes available at selected base camp fires. These will open up as you progress, allowing you to revisit areas to collect things you've missed. Collectibles come in the form of various relics, letters and journals.
Although there is a lot of platforming and dizzying heights, this Tomb Raider doesn't particularly distinguish itself as a platformer like in previous games. By that I mean that there are no really frustrating sequences that need to be replayed over and over again till you get it right. In fact, there are no really difficult challenges in the game at all. However, it also doesn't suffer from the annoying camera angle problems of other Tomb Raider games.
I thought the graphics were quite good and the environments impressive. There are a fair number of short integrated cut scenes, but even though player input is interrupted quite often, it's done well enough not to seem intrusive or interruptive to gameplay.
Overall, this is a good game. Its strong points are the story, the impressive graphics and the combat mechanics, which override the disappointments. However it does follow the unfortunate gaming trend of the single player DLC being pretty much a joke. You pay for content such as weapons or outfits and the added maps are quite flat in terms of content. For instance, Tomb Raider's Lost Adventurer is an added tomb that can be completed in 10 - 15 minutes and offers nothing special in terms of exploration or loot. Multiplayer also did not receive good reviews and is not well populated at this point.
A sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, is due to be released in the 2015 Holiday season as a "timed" Xbox exclusive, but is expected to hit the PC at some point. Although I love the old Tomb Raider games, I'll be looking forward to seeing the new Lara again.
UPDATE Jan 2016: Rise of the Tomb Raider is no longer an Xbox exclusive and is now available on PC. A twenty-year celebration edition will be available in the fall.