If in doubt, reboot. This seems to be the mantra of the games industry lately, and usually entails making franchises grittier and darker too. The adventures of Lara Croft are no exception, with this new Tomb Raider starring a younger, less objectified Lara experiencing all manner of horror as she learns to survive, adventure and pilfer relics.
This new Tomb Raider is a rather different affair from the intricate puzzle-dungeons and platforming the series is known for. Shamelessly taking cues from rival Indiana Jones-aping series Uncharted, much of the game is a heavily-scripted blend of cinematics, quick-time events and jumping to colour-coded, predetermined as the environment explodes, crumbles and collapses around the ever-screaming, ever-falling Lara. It's spectacular to behold, but intermittently exhausting and preposterous - logic and physics are thrown to the winds, and every other five minutes, this hitherto adventure-free teenager miraculously survives a fall that would kill an elephant.
The game also has an unfortunate tendency to switch between interactive and cinematic without warning, so at times you might be trying to move a character who's actually controlling herself, or failing to react to a threat that you could have sworn was happening in a cutscene. Tomb Raider's certainly dramatic, but if the developers wanted to make a movie that badly perhaps they should have made one.
Outside of scripted mania and irritating quick-time events, the game improves enormously. Choose to ignore the persistent objective arrow and there are some impressively huge and gorgeous environments to explore, strewn with satisfyingly hard-to-reach items and secrets. It's here that the game most evokes the series whose name it takes, as Lara uses navigational logic, a few gadgets and not a little derring-do to make her way to apparently inaccessible places.
It's a refreshingly interactive and unpatronising break from the constant falling and rollercoaster-riding of the storyline, and a real shame that it's not the backbone of the game. Especially entertaining are the optional secret tombs, a handful of deathtrap dungeons hidden away and containing grand-scale puzzles with big rewards. There's not enough of these and they're all too easily missed - and without them, there's no tomb raiding whatsoever.
Taking extra prominence instead is regular gunplay - there's more shooting than this series has ever had before. It's actually very well-done, offering multiple angles of approach and a choice between stealth (of a sort) and all-out fury, plus a few combos and finishing moves if you want to get up close and personal. The bodycount's a little jarring given the storyline shows us the first time Lara ever kills a man and how badly it apparently affects her, but then videogames have long seen their heroes turn from reluctant self-defence to brazen psychopathy.
As for the much bally-hooed story, this origin tale of how a frightened young girl stranded on a hostile island full of cultists and mercenaries became the confident, indefatigable Lara Croft of legend, well... It succeeds at removing Lara from the lad's mag culture which has dogged her for decades, re-establishing her as a more believable character in both demeanor and physique. Her oddly frozen face, a creepy amalgam of Jennifer Lawrence and a blow-up doll, undoes some of the good work there, but never mind.
Significantly less successful is the backstory of the island - something to do with cultists and a sun god - and Lara's contingent of friends and colleagues, also stranded on the island. We're expected to care for them immediately, with next to nothing done to earn this, but they come across as irritating stereotypes who steal focus and time from the adventuring.
Fortunately, it's that adventuring the game lives or dies on. It dilutes it far too much with scripting and ludicrous cutscenes, but resist that where you can and this new Tomb Raider's definitely onto something. The search for parts and resources to upgrade Lara's weapons is satisfying too, as her slim arsenal evolves rather than expands. That 2013 gaming vogue, the bow and arrow, performs a welcome duty here, able to both perform stealth kills and solve environmental puzzles with the aid of fire and rope.
Indeed, Tomb Raider does a fine job of gradually introducing multiple elements and abilities necessary to navigate the levels and solve conundrums. That stuff feels like it should be the game's heart and soul - it's a shame the game itself disagrees.