Lara Croft has been called a lot of things over the years. First she was a ground-breaking step forward for the way women are represented in games, then later she began an inevitable decline to being just a sex symbol and icon of Eidos’ past successes.
It’s only recently though that we’ve been able to legitimately refer to her as a believable, likeable and well-developed character and while she still has a lot of sway as purveyor of cleavage and sultry looks, it isn’t these that we’re most interested in nowdays. Not now that Crystal Dynamics has re-launhced the series anyway, giving Lara a mission anyone can sympathise with. She just wants her mommy.
Tomb Raider: Underworld picks up the story right where Legend left off. Lara is still coming to terms with the fact that her mother, who disappeared in front of Lara’s eyes when she was a child, might still be alive in the mystical realm of Avalon. Lara, armed with this knowledge, will stop at nothing to find a way to save her mother.
Of course, you could say the same thing about Lara’s father too. A talented archaeologist, he too was searching for a way to save his wife and dragged Lara back and forth across the globe in search of clues. His firm belief in Avalon saw him getting laughed out of the respected circles and as Lara continues the quest and ends up retracing his steps it becomes clear that he would go to any lengths to bring his family back together.
Unfortunately though, no story is complete without a nemesis or two and it’s no surprise to see that Amanda, Lara’s friend-turned-foe from Legend is back. We knew Lara shouldn’t have let her live.
What is a bit shocking though is the reveal that Amanda isn’t working alone this time, having rescued and teamed up with another old friend of Lara’s. Natla, the fallen Atlantean god who Lara had dealt with in Anniversary has returned with an agenda all of her own.
Three strong-willed women as main characters? It’s obvious this is going to get messy, with Croft Manor being the first victim when it’s burnt to the ground in the opening cutscene.
It’s this opening segment which perfectly encapsulates everything we love about the new Tomb Raider in fact. And as Lara runs through the flames, automatically shielding her face from the blaze as she goes, the drama is so rocking and tangible that we were worried it was going to fall off the desk.
Crystal Dynamics has changed a lot of the traditional Tomb Raider formula, creating a Lara who is realistic, tech-savvy and surrounded by a close-knit group of friends who support her from a distance. The new Lara has emotions, gravitas and the difference between how she is now and how she was in the old games is like the comparing Alyx Vance and the marine from Doom.
Things only get better then when Lara catches up to her crew and Zip tries to kill her. What could be going on here? The game won’t let you find out just yet, skipping the story back a whole week and leaving you on the edge of your seat.
It’s one hell of an opening act, though we’re still not sure what we think of the rest of the game...