And it's been rebooted. Tomb Raider 2013, as people are referring to it, just Tomb Raider as it's called officially, or TR13 as I shall so do from here on in, was released in March 2013 for PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. Unlike the previous entries in the series, it is an attempt at a serious reboot of a franchise which, for whatever reason, had admittedly devolved into little more than cynical attempts to shift some units with Lara's funners. TR13 is an attempt at trying to rehabilitate, if you will, the franchise. And to do this, the developers have enlisted a certain Rhianne Pratchett. Yes, yes relation - it's Pterry's daughter. Wikipedo tells me she also wrote Mirror's Edge but I've not played that so I can't comment. This writeup refers, of course, to the version that runs under Windows, as I am a proud exponent of the Glorious PC Master Race, and have been ever since my hands could hold a mouse and keyboard.
Does it succeed? Well, read on.
Firstly, prepare to forget all the previous fluff about her being a member of a British landed gentry who goes off trying to hunt up lost treasures and slay a few hundred thousand endangered species on the way. Lara Croft (for it is still she) is reimagined as a slightly overambitious gap year student, if you will. We first meet her on a boat sailing to find Yamatai, which was some lost Japanese realm that was mentioned in all the legendry of feudal Japan but has never been discovered. Also on the boat is her nakama, her university friend Sam who is part Japanese and has a link to same, allegedly; Conrad Roth, a bluff Lancashire chappie and thus all round good egg and father figure to Lara ever since her real father (a professor of archaeology) died when Lara was very young; Grim, the violent Scottish captain, Reyes, a no-nonsense American woman, Jonah, a Maori and rugger-bugger and the ship's cook, and some other folks. Well... ship sinks, crew washed up on uncharted island in the Dragon's Triangle (that's like the Bermuda Triangle but in the Pacific) and finds it's inhabited by a whole mess of unpleasant folks who are fellow survivors, or their descendants, and one of them kidnaps her and strings her up in his secret den, and Lara is the only one who can escape, stop the Big Bad from sacrificing her mate Sam to the goddess of the isle, and escape.
I think the best way of explaining how it plays is probably by reference to Eric Chahi's one-man effort Another World from 1991. Aside from set pieces which are almost identical (escape from being suspended somewhere by swinging until the rope breaks, QTE-kick ill-intentioned mook in the genitals, etc.) it also has a nice and heady mix of exploratory platforming, speed platforming, puzzle platforming, and similar, all of which result in it playing an awful lot like Another World (although, thankfully, without the horrible frustrating difficulty). You may have noticed a certain commonality here, and that is because, at heart, TR13 is a platformer. Granted, it might be awash with scenery porn and suchlike, but it's still a platformer. You guide your player character over landscapes by running, jumping, grabbing onto things, and avoid falling onto things that might hurt you. You also have a variety of weapons and can use them to kill off bad guys. There is a cover mechanic but it's triggered automatically by moving up against things and can be got into and out of fairly freely. It's not like cover magically causes you to regenerate health and be immune to stuff and the game devolves into whack-a-mole with an AR-15 like certain other efforts I can name. Thankfully, the shooty bits are a fairly minor portion of the game. The majority of it involves progressing through a fairly open map with platforming and physics-related puzzles.
There is a plot, and it's actually rather good and has (gasp!) actual characterisation, which the series was lacking somewhat beforehand. As the game progesses, Lara obtains new and exciting skills and pieces of kit that she can use not only to surmount obstacles ahead of her, but also to get to secret bits that she has previously had to go past. For instance, there are certain passages that are blocked by random debris. Barrels and cloth and similar can be cleared as soon as one gets the torch very early on in the game, but planks and barbed wire require a shotgun blast to remove, and only when Lara obtains explosives can she pass the barriers made of metal and girders. Furthermore, she also finds herself going from being literally terrified out of her wits (thankfully, she has brown trousers) and tied up in the cave of an unspeakable cannibal to single-handedly preventing the rebirth of a long dead and very vengeful goddess. She goes from creeping through a wolf's den in some terror to being an object of utter despair to the Big Bad and his cultists, all of whom previously wanted to do unpleasant things to her.
And I suppose that's a natural point to talk about That Scene.
In the run up to TR13's release there was a large squawking match about how Lara could allegedly get raped by one of the bad guys. Shrill sounding phrases such as "objectification," "raunch culture," and the like were bandied around. However, as this was before the game even came out by some time, it turned out to be a bit of a manufactroversy. What happens is fairly early on when she is attempting to ascend a mountain path without the bad guys finding her. Given that at this stage the game is fixed that one has the longbow but no arrows, having used them all to clear out a pack of wolves previously (it is scripted so that the number of wolves spawned is equal to your remaining arrows) and no other weaponry. Therefore one has to avoid being seen. To do this, one hides in a shack but is seen by one of the bad guys. He forces her at gunpoint to come out and makes some rather creepy advances towards her. There is then a sequence of Quick Time Events which involve trying to escape, snatch his gun, and shoot him. Nobody gets raped. Furthermore, it is not simply thrown in out the blue - the cultists (all male) who form the majority of the bad guys in this game specifically can be overheard going out their way to capture any women who are washed up for breeding purposes and say as much. If anything, it is entirely in character and in keeping with the plot to make it logically consistent. Furthermore, it is the first occasion on which Lara actually has to kill another person, albeit in self defence, and it is a crossing of the Rubicon character-wise.
Then again, it did not help that the trailer leading to this manufactroversy showed this bit and edited it in such a way that it changed the whole atmos of the scene.
There is a point that I will take over this which isn't all that consistent. From this crossing of the Rubicon, within minutes, the player (as Lara) is then presented with a veritable horde of mooks to bump off in short order and quite cheerfully. In addition, one can score more (and thus unlock extra kit more quickly) the more gratuitously violent one does this. Headshots (resulting in Scanners-like displays with plenty of red pixels) are one such, as is sneaking up behind an unaware bad guy and planting an ice-climbing axe in his skull. Maybe I'm being overly critical, but this gratuitous violence doesn't really sit well with the idea of Lara as a survivor. Similarly, the other crew members are all a bit too flat for my liking and when one of them tackles a bad guy off a cliff and falling into a mist-covered bottomless chasm, thus saving our protagonist from an unpleasant buckshot-hastened demise, one is not quite as motivated to care as the resultant cut scene indicates. Because we know too little about these people.
Also, I'm going to fault it for its over-reliance on Quick Time Events. I always hated them and still do. Probably most annoying is one bit where you have to succeed at a whole sequence of them or Lara gets eaten by a wolf. Especially as just a few minutes beforehand, I was shooting the furry bastards through the face at shorter ranges than this QTE takes place. Also, THE FINAL BATTLE WITH THE BIG BAD IS AN EXTENDED QTE SEQUENCE. Sorry, but I disapprove.
If I had to sum TR13 up in a few words, I'd probably say that Lara has, as TV Tropes would put it, grown the beard. The fanservice of the original games is gone almost entirely. There are no abuses of Jiggle Physics. Lara can't scrape through filth-infested holes in the ground and still come up looking like a supermodel. If she falls into a vat of blood from human sacrifices, she comes out with it stuck to her. Ditto mud. Clothing gets scuffed and torn as life goes on - and not in strategic fanservicey places either. She actually looks like she's been through what she goes through. Well, almost all of her at least. Her hair still looks like a L'Oreal advert, but that's because the developers partnered up with AMD and used TR13 to show off their co-developed "TressFX" rendering routine for more realistic hair than otherwise we are used to in games - and indeed, throughout the summer of 2013 AMD was giving away free copies of the game with certain models of its Radeon HD 7000-series graphics cards. However, it was criticised for having a disproportionate performance impact on Nvidia cards.
(I personally think they missed an awesome three-way cross promotion myself - "TressFX. Because I'm worth it.")
Similarly, there is a plot and character development and it's fairly well written (subject to the caveats listed above). I bought a copy despite not having felt the need to play Tomb Raider, or Chesty Archaeologist as I used to call it, since the 1990s. I heartily recommend. And yes, there is an obvious sequel hook at the end.
Avoid the multiplayer though. It's boring and pointless and just another cover-based shooter.