This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider series reboot, which reviewers describe as "exciting, beautiful and just incredibly well-made." Tomb Raider currently earns a score of 86 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Keza MacDonald at IGN scores Tomb Raider at 9.1 out of 10. "Crystal Dynamics' new Tomb Raider sees a young Lara on her first expedition, shipwrecked and stranded on an island bristling with danger, pushed to the limits of her ingenuity and will to survive," she explains. "It is a greatly successful origin story, a series reboot that feels both authentic and hugely exciting."
MacDonald warns that the game's opening is heavily scripted. "The first hour is a sequence of carefully scripted set-pieces and, yes, a cavalcade of button-mashing QTEs," she recalls. "But it's all for the sake of character development, and Tomb Raider is so good at this that you'll forgive the strict direction -- especially after the game opens out past the 60-minute mark and lets you loose on the island."
"Throughout this adventure you'll really feel for Lara -- she is just not having a good time out there," MacDonald continues. "It is a compelling reading of the character; we see Lara's vulnerability, but she is never disempowered, and never less than totally capable in extreme danger."
The combat is especially engaging. "Combat has never been the strength of Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider games, but the developer has finally nailed it here," MacDonald assures. "Lara periodically discovers new weapons, injecting the combat with fresh novelty every few hours. I gravitated towards the bow -- there’s something vastly more satisfying about being a hidden assassin than leaping into the fray with a shotgun or hiding behind a wall with an assault rifle, though the game necessitates all these approaches and more in different situations."
"Tomb Raider is well-written, sympathetic, exciting, beautiful and just incredibly well-made," MacDonald praises. "The single-player rarely makes a mis-step, and though Lara's quick transformation into a hardened killer seems at odds with the narrative at first, the game quickly moves past it. It is a superb action game that brings a new emotional dimension to one of gaming's most enduring icons, and repositions her alongside Nathan Drake at the top of gaming's action-hero heirarchy."
GameSpot's Carolyn Petit gives Tomb Raider an 8.5 out of 10. "The gameplay of this series reboot takes a few cues from a current titan of the genre -- Nathan Drake and the Uncharted series -- but don't let that familiarity put you off," she writes. "This origin story is a terrific adventure that balances moments of quiet exploration with plenty of rip-roaring action to keep you enthralled from start to finish."
Petit continues: "It's empowering to witness Lara's journey from the understandably fearful individual she is when she first arrives on the island to the justifiably confident survivor she becomes. Later in the game, when she has proven to the resident cultists that she's not the easily cowed person they mistook her for, she turns the psychological tables on them, letting loose battle cries to strike fear into their hearts."
Other narrative elements aren't as successful. "There's a twist of sorts that occurs late in the game that you see coming hours ahead of time, for instance, and the central villain offers little in the way of nuance," Petit recalls. "But as an introduction to the legendary Lara Croft, Tomb Raider's tale is a success; she emerges as a strong, charismatic and human figure, and you're left eager to see what the future holds for her."
Petit praises Tomb Raider's combat, but notes that the exploration sequences are just as enjoyable. "As great as the combat is, it's the quieter moments in Tomb Raider that are most affecting," she writes. "The simple act of moving, of shimmying along ridges and climbing up craggy rock walls, is a pleasure, thanks to the excellent controls and the fantastic environments. Once in a while, Lara appears to get a bit of divine assistance and float through the air to successfully land a jump you botched the timing on, but with these rare exceptions aside, the controls let you experience a wonderfully physical and agile relationship with your surroundings."
"It doesn't try to rewrite the book on third-person action adventure games," Petit admits. "But with its excellent controls, engaging heroine, thrilling combat, and fascinating setting, it doesn't need to. Lara may be covering some previously charted territory here, but Tomb Raider is so well-crafted, you won't mind at all."
Ellie Gibson at Eurogamer rates Tomb Raider at 8 out of 10. "Lara holds a special place in many people's hearts," she notes. "But it's time to let old Lara go. Characters must be allowed to evolve. Series have to move on. [...] Fair play, then, to Tomb Raider developer Crystal Dynamics for trying something new."
"The first hour of play is pretty depressing," Gibson continues. "It's also embarrassing, unless you have thick walls or neighbours who will regard the noise as adding ambience to the violent pornographic film they're making. When Lara's not screaming, shrieking, panting or squealing, she's busy getting chased, groped and tied up. When she dies, it's with the kind of orgasmic groan that would make Ben Dover demand another take that's less over-the-top."
In addition: "The gory imagery is so prevalent and overblown it soon loses any power to shock or scare. 'Oh,' Lara might say, if she were thinking out loud, 'Another room full of flayed corpses and pools of blood. I wonder what's in that crate?'"
The game soon strikes a satisfying balance, however. "Combat remains the dominant component as the game progresses but thankfully, it improves in other areas," Gibson says. "The tide of blood and gore subsides and Lara stops shrieking. There are some excellent exploration sections complete with satisfying routes, beautiful vistas and atmospheric tombs. The latter are mostly found by diverging from the main path, and solving the puzzles contained within them is voluntary."
However," Gibson continues, "for every pretty view or pleasing puzzle, another prolonged bout of hiding behind walls and shooting things is waiting around the corner. It's as if the game is terrified the high-level intellectual thinking involved in working out how to open a door will tire the poor dim player out, so a bit more mindless violence gets chucked in for relaxation purposes."
"The game does get better as it goes on, and despite the distractions the last few hours are a pleasure to play," Gibson concludes. "At the centre of it all is a brilliant character, still iconic but more human and believable than she's ever been before. So goodbye, old Lara. Your time is up. Hello, new Lara. If you can stop hacking people to death for five minutes, we'll get along fine."