A tale of two Tomb Raiders: what I like and don't like

Ed splits his brain in two over Crystal's reboot

Come to think of it, the evolution of my understanding of Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider reboot is exactly like the average Tomb Raider trailer - that's to say, moments of giddy enthusiasm punctuated by squeals of agony. When they announced it in December 2010, I was all "Yay! Gritty, grown-up themes!" Then, "Oof! Hand-holdy navigation and QTEs!" Then, "Whee! Realistically proportioned, empowered heroine!" Then, "Aiee! 'Attempted rape' debacle!".

There's only two months to go till the game hits shelves - two months almost to the day, in fact - and I'm no closer to making my mind up. Sumptuous, scenic and heavily familiar, the new Tomb Raider is flagrantly the work of a team equipped with both an enormous budget and an equally enormous checklist, concocted by the Powers That Be in market research. Pick an action game at random in the three million sales plus bracket, be it Assassin's Creed, Uncharted or Gears, and chances are you'll find a parallel here.

That sort of box-ticking doesn't have to be a negative thing, given creatives who are prepared/able to extrapolate interestingly from sales-proven ideas, but it's a delicate tightrope to walk. Here are four ways the new Tomb Raider stands to make it across... and four ways it risks a tumble.


Funky combat
Acts of wanton murder have never been Lara's strong suite, whether you're talking old-style jump-spasmodically-to-win Tomb Raider or new-school Simon-says-die Tomb Raider. Despite my trick of moaning about this in every Tomb Raider interview since the dawn of time, Crystal has yet to see the point of dumping combat entirely (after the example of, say, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories). But I'm prepared to live with that for the moment, because Tomb Raider 2013's wildlife-axing and man-puncturing looks like it could be, dare I say, rather fun.

There are whiffs of Far Cry 3 to how many of the encounters begin with Lara in stealth mode, identifying targets and picking them off with a bow and arrow, before segueing into up-close punishment. The gunplay is familiar stuff, but there appears to be a reasonably intricate set of melee combos and environmental tricks to call on - you might chuck mud in somebody's eyes, then knock a lamp over with your bow to set the victim's trousers on fire. Lara's also capable of some grisly finishing moves - channelling the Legolas in order to shove arrows up noses, for instance.

Incongruous combat
Being forced to take a man's life is all part of Lara's transformation from trembling waif to butt-kicking adventuress. I get that, I really do, and it's nice that there's a decent degree of preamble before the critical sequence takes place. What I don't get is how "taking a life" escalates into "taking hundreds of lives in vividly imaginative ways". That's not "coming of age", Crystal, it's called "turning into a psychopath", and I'm finding it rather hard to credit all the morally conscious boohooing in cutscenes as a consequence.


Accomplished, well-directed navigation
Tomb Raider may well represent the acme of the Uncharted-era blockbuster's art, coaxing players down the rabbit hole by way of gentle environmental highlights and framing, each task rotating smoothly into view as you conquer its predecessor. A vast set of animations, some context-specific, keep the realisation that you're fundamentally repeating actions at bay, just about. QTEs pepper the proceedings in a natural way, never whipping away the carpet like those in, say, Resident Evil 6. In short, if you like your interactive entertainment slick as a classic convertible coated with extra virgin olive oil, they don't come much greasier.

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