You already know the story behind this one. Buoyed up by a wave of hype and big-budget movie exposure – and having practically wrung the Tomb Raider franchise dry of its potential – Core Design decided a radical reinvention was due for Lara Croft. The result, Angel of Darkness, was one of the great disasters of gaming history; a game so badly received that Paramount, who owned the movie license, actually blamed it for the poor box-office performance of the second Tomb Raider movie, Cradle of Life. Wary of losing its biggest cash cow, Eidos moved production of the next game from Core to the US-based developer Crystal Dynamics. As this was the team behind the Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver games – amongst the finest third-person action adventures around – this seemed like a smart move. Then came another. In turn, Crystal Dynamics hired Toby Gard, one of Lara’s original creators, to work with the team on the new game.
So does this story have a happy ending? Mostly, yes. Without doubt, this is the finest Tomb Raider since Tomb Raider II, and the equivalent of a great Hollywood summer blockbuster – low on real innovation, but slick, enjoyable and packed with pulse-pounding action. Crystal Dynamics has slipped up in a few areas, but – by golly – they’ve got an awful lot right first time.
It all starts with Lara. There is a real sense that Gard and the team at Crystal Dynamics have rediscovered what works about the character, giving her a more modern look, a dry witted vocal from Keeley Hawes, and some stunning new costumes that will keep teenage boys (lets hope not literally) glued to the screen. There are signs of last-gen console origins in the model’s rather angular appearance – a characteristic shared by other characters throughout the game – but this has disguised quite effectively by a healthy lashing of new-generation effects. The luminous skin and the dripping water on the clothes and cleavage stick in my mind for some unapparent reason. Lara’s beautifully animated too. From her gymnastic swings to the sultry way she walks into a party, you can see that the girl has something that pretenders like Bloodrayne or Joanna Dark have never grasped: real personality and class.