I have an archaeology degree because of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Lara Croft isn’t far behind Indy in the “archaeologist of my heart” department. I played Tomb Raider a lot when I was younger, but just got around to playing the 2013 franchise reboot game this year.
Tomb Raider is an intense and riveting first-person (Edited: It’s actually third-person in gaming terminology) adventure game that involves a lot of climbing, hanging from ledges, shooting bad guys, solving puzzles, and zooming down zip lines. What it doesn’t involve is a lot of archaeology or actual tombs.
In this reboot, Lara Croft is young and on one of her first adventures when she’s shipwrecked on a mysterious island with the rest of her team. She gets separated from everyone else early on, thus beginning a harrowing survival tale that had my pulse pounding. The PoV reminded me of a YA (young adult) novel — dramatic and personal and packed with intense emotion.
In fact, it was a little too intense for me at times. Lara’s deaths are gruesome, and when I was invested in her and fully immersed in the story, I found some of the situations uncomfortably stressful. This is not a game for the squeamish, and there were many times when I could barely look at the TV screen.
Overall, I loved the game… as a survival story. Young, innocent Lara is dumped into a hostile environment full of bad guys and supernatural forces and, during the course of the game, she becomes the badass Lara Croft that we know and love. But this is barely a Lara Croft game in terms of the archaeology, other cultures, and sense of wonder. (The wonder here comes from the amazing scenery and set pieces, not from the fabulous archaeological discoveries.)
The tombs are actually optional in this game. Yes, you read that correctly. They have no bearing on the plot or story. As such, there’s not much to them — just one central puzzle then a cut scene where you open a treasure chest and pocket some unseen treasure with the text “Tomb raided!” or somesuch. Very disappointing.
It’s impossible not to compare this game to the Uncharted franchise, staring Indiana Jones clone Nathan Drake. I never feel emotionally invested in Uncharted, but the sense of wonder is off-the-charts fabulous. Drake travels around the world, finds hidden cities, and solves multiple, complex puzzles that frequently have breath-taking results. (The Uncharted series is inspired by the original Tomb Raiders, I think, which makes it funny that I’m now comparing Tomb Raider to them.)
And like all modern games, I thought there was too much fighting/killing and not nearly enough puzzles and exploring.
In summary, Tomb Raider is a deeply engrossing game and a wonderful new beginning for Lara Croft. It needed more archaeology and better puzzles to be a true Tomb Raider game, in my opinion, but I’m still really glad that I played it and I’ll definitely be playing its sequels.