Member Tomb Raider (2013)?

Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.

Originally released in 1996, Tomb Raider was met with critical acclaim and instant popularity. Part of this was due to its inventive and engaging gameplay, and part of it was due to the protagonist sporting the most triangular breasts since Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour. Looking at the original graphics it can be difficult to imagine the massive objectification that was inflicted on Lara Croft from the fan community, but it happened and continued to happen with each new Tomb Raider game. In 2013 the series was rebooted, bringing us a new Lara Croft with more realistic proportions and a greater emphasis on combat.

As a reboot, the tenth mainline Tomb Raider game takes the player on Lara’s first expedition. She and her crew are aboard the ironically named ship Endurance. They are searching for the fictional lost kingdom of Yametai, located on an island off the coast of Japan. The expedition goes horribly wrong when Endurance ventures into the Dragon’s Triangle during a terrible sea storm. This seemed like a rookie mistake, as the Bermuda Triangle is known for being a mysterious anomaly that causes ships to vanish into thin air and the Dragon’s Triangle has to be worse since Dragons are more dangerous than Bermuda, but alas the seafarers ignore the warnings, venture into the Dragon’s Triangle during the storm and end up shipwrecked and scattered on an island.

After waking up on the island Lara searches for her colleagues. She encounters Sam with a man named Mathias, who claims to have been one of the ship’s passengers. This doesn’t seem strange to Lara and Sam, but I guess after having their ship smashed to bits, stranger danger is the last thing on their mind. For whatever reason Sam enlightens Mathias about the legends of Himiko. Lara passes out and instead of waiting around to make sure everything is okay with her, her two companions wander off. It’s not like she just survived a terrible shipwreck and woke up marooned on an island that may or may not be inhabited by a dangerous cult.

After regaining her consciousness with no apparent head trauma or debilitating effects, Lara ventures off to explore the island in hopes of reuniting with her colleagues. Fortune smiles upon her as the island does appear to be inhabited but as she finds evidence of human civilization. She eventually finds a place where she is able to use her radio to send out a distress signal to call for a help. A plane comes to pick her and her crew up, but fortune is no longer in a smiling mood. As luck would have it another storm rages while the plane attempts its heroic rescue, which destroys the plane. The pilot is skillfully able to parachute down to safety but unfortunately is greeted by the local inhabitants who swiftly kill him.

As it turns out many of the inhabitants of Yametai belong to the Solarii Brotherhood, a cult worshipping the Sun Queen who want Lara killed because that’s typically how cults in isolated parts of the world that are accidentally stumbled on by outside explorers tend to operate. More information about the cult is revealed along with some red flags from earlier in the game being confirmed. Lara learns that some of her colleagues have been kidnapped by the Solarii Brotherhood and the expedition is now a rescue, escape and kill a whole ton of cultists mission.

Like previous Tomb Raider games there’s a strong emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving. The traditional themes work well in this reboot as Yametai is a gorgeous environment to explore. Puzzle solving in action oriented games doesn’t always work as many games feature puzzles that for a number of reasons just aren’t enjoyable, but the environmental challenges in Tomb Raider enhance the experience. Whether the purpose of solving the puzzle is to uncover new information to help understand the cult’s belief system or history of the land or serve a practical function in game advancement, the puzzles are constructed in a way that enhance the game’s enjoyment and don’t feel shoehorned in to artificially extend playtime. Combat was always a part of Tomb Raider, but the greater emphasis on it helped usher it into a more action oriented era.

Tomb Raider was an ambitious title for Crystal Dynamics. It had the advantage of using an established franchise and had an idea what fans would want but reboots are always a risk, especially when the formula that made it originally successful is getting tweaked. Fortunately for this particular reboot everything just worked. The story with the cult and mythic happening with them was constructed in a way that kept the player interested in how it unfolded as they spent more time exploring Yametai. The shift to be greater focus on action was successful because the gunplay was so smooth and the player got a sense of becoming more powerful as Lara was able to craft improvements into her weapons. Finding a proper balance between puzzles, battle and exploration can be a difficult one to strike, but Tomb Raider was able to nail putting everything together in a way where the game never lost any of its momentum.

The 2013 Tomb Raider was the second time the franchise got the reboot treatment, which ended up spawning a trilogy that Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider completed. A year later an enhanced Tomb Raider was released for shiny new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles that included all DLC. The original Tomb Raider adventures that were popular in the ’90s were games I was never able to get into, but the this version was something I checked out because it was a free Games With Gold on Xbox and ended up sparking enough interest in the new incarnation of the series to get the two sequels.

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