The hero’s journey. That tried and tested chestnut of story-telling. And no wonder, the development of a meek, mild-mannered character forced to become the only person capable of saving the day has, for thousands of years, always been intriguing and appealing. There have been endless variations and tweaks to the formula over the years in every medium, but the basic structure is always the same: the Departure, the Initiation and the Return.
Loads of different titles feature the story: Ezio Auditore da Firenze avenging the death of his family from the Templars; John-117 taking on the Covenant to save the human race; Link rescuing Princess Zelda time and time again. The narrative is retold over and over, to varying degrees of effectiveness.
Tomb Raider, the latest offering from Crystal Dynamics, is an exemplary combination of plot and gameplay that coalesces to create the greatest telling of The Hero’s Journey in recent years.
A complete reboot of the franchise, Lara Croft is no longer the adventurous aristocrat she was in her previous incarnation. Here, she’s a fresh-faced and wet-behind-the-ears archaeology graduate bravely stepping out into the world after university by embarking on a boat ride to a remote and mysterious island. Upon arrival, the Endurance is quickly grounded by horrific storms and the crew is separated as the ship is torn apart. Taking refuge on the island, Lara must battle the elements and the feral fauna of the island and find her friends.
But her problems don’t end there. Yamatai Island houses a deadly secret guarded by murderous fanatics alongside some mysterious and deadly… Samurai? It’s up to Lara to discover and embrace her inner strength, fight for her life, save her friends and escape the island. Oh, and there’s a little bit of raiding tombs as well.
Many people were worried that the reboot would be too big a change for the franchise – swapping straight-up spelunking to a more open world with an emphasis on combat – but Crystal Dynamics has implemented the transition superbly. The new Tomb Raider blends platforming and shooting into one meaty package, set in a remote location with little hope of outside rescue. Combat is solid and satisfying and identifying and scaling climbable rock faces, ziplines and leaps of faith is immensely enjoyable. It’s as if Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted and Far Cry 3 all had a hugely fun time together.
The switch to a darker and edgier story has also benefited the series. Rather than the confident explorer her previous incarnation was, Lara is now a naïve young girl thrust into horrendous situations beyond anything seen before. Initially, trying to survive her first night on the island without succumbing to the elements or the local wildlife, Lara constructs a homemade bow with which she hunts for food and protects herself from wolves. Later, she comes across her first insane cultist, dispatches her first assailant and obtains her first firearm.
These important incidents in Lara’s development from a wide-eyed idealist to a battle-hardened warrior occur regularly throughout the game, with you – the player- sharing each and everyone one of those intimate and character-changing moments with her. As such, when Lara acquires a new skill, a new weapon or another piece of the puzzle that explains the truth about Yamatai Island, the player, by association, feels like they, along with Lara, are developing into a true hero themselves. Yes, sometimes the story-telling and gameplay can be a tad ham-fisted and archetypical – the dialogue is sometimes a bit iffy and Lara’s still treated somewhat as an object of lust, her boobs jiggling about when she does little more than breathe – but it’s still a welcome change and maturation of a character the gaming world has come to love.
Which is what the new Tomb Raider has turned out to be: a game that’s easy to love by just how well-crafted it is. The gameplay is tight and satisfying, whether you’re navigating the various large environments on offer, exploring dark and dingy caves, fighting off marauders intent on skinning you alive or partaking in the numerous set pieces – all of which are totally awesome. The story is compelling, intriguing and makes you feel as herioc as Lara as the plot develops. The only thing that’s not exemplary is the multiplayer. It’s merely alright, a decent distraction (if you can actually find any other players, that is).
Tomb Raider is a fantastic example of a reboot done right and the quintessential example of The Hero’s Journey in modern videogaming. Exciting, emotional and just damn fun to play, it’s a return to the greatness of the Croft legacy. It’s a Lara, Lara laughs.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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