We explore Tomb Raider to discover the secret corners and dark mysteries of Lara’s island prison
Well, it’s taken her a shipwreck, some subsistence hunting, the skill to avoid two kidnapping attempts and a series of gunfights to get here but, finally, Lara Croft is raiding a tomb.
We find the entrance nestled in a crevice behind a waterfall in Tomb Raider’s first small hub area, but only after having searched some abandoned weatherworn shacks and scaled a sheer rock face. It’s an unostentatious little hole that lacks the grandeur of some of the old Lara’s discoveries (there will be no 100-foot-tall statues carved by the hands of alien civilisations inside), but that doesn’t stop us feeling a slight thrill. It is, after all, our first archaeological find, and it’s all the more intriguing for the fact that we could have blithely stumbled on by. And so Lara lights her torch and creeps inside.
It’s tiny, barely a couple of chambers deep, but that doesn’t stop the place feeling genuinely more tomb-like than the levels of previous games. Skeletal remains litter the floor of the cave, with what little lighting there is provided by Lara’s guttering torch. We walk into the hollowed-out main chamber to find out what’s buried here.
Although she does express regret over her initial kills, Lara’s soon forced to rack up quite a body count. The interleaving of exploration with the combat scenarios goes some way to retaining death’s impact, however
As it turns out, this tomb is the final resting place of a physics puzzle. It’s built from the same ingredients (fire, flammable materials, weighted platforms) as the others we’ve seen, and when we solve it Lara is able to access a higher hidden level of the chamber. There’s a golden chest up here, but it doesn’t contain relics of a lost civilisation or a small fortune in doubloons. It contains something of much more practical value: a great big haul of Survival and Salvage points.
Two upgrade systems run through Crystal Dynamics’ reboot, and Survival points relate to Lara herself. Any significant action, be it discovering secrets, killing an enemy or skinning a dear, will generate XP. Enough XP transforms into a single Survival point, which in turn can be exchanged for new abilities or improvements to old ones. Combat abilities are the most straightforward, offering Lara new skills, such as an improved dodge or melee attack, whereas Hunter and Salvage abilities let her extract more items and materials from the world. One Hunter upgrade, for example, allows Lara to pick out prey as well as items when she activates her so-called Survival Instincts (another riff on Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Detective Vision).
Salvage points, meanwhile, upgrade Lara’s gear. Her necessary first upgrade strengthens the handle of her axe, allowing her to crack open stone chests and use the tool as a makeshift lever when operating an ancient door-opening mechanism. From that point on, however, we’re free to upgrade as we choose. We focus on Lara’s stealthy bow – improving the firing rate and the length of time we can keep an arrow drawn, but we could have chosen to add a burst fire function to her pistol, or extend its magazine. Combat itself is brisk and violent: Lara hunches behind cover but doesn’t actually stick to it, encouraging scrabbling movement from one safe point to the next.