The environments, meanwhile, can be dazzling. We’ll generously sweep past a woefully generic freighter and the interior of Croft Manor, and instead talk about the temples, tombs and ruins in Thailand and Mexico that follow. These are huge, sprawling temples, offering spectacular vistas of crumbling stone and lush, green vegetation, matching the high standards set in this area by Uncharted. At their best, the lighting and weather effects are impressive, and you have to love cinematic touches like startled parrots or the damp walls in ancient, dank crypts.
Yet beneath this surface gloss – beneath a modern interface and some genuinely useful in-game help functions – this is an oddly conservative Tomb Raider. It’s built as if Crystal Dynamics had looked at what people loved about Anniversary (the old mix of platforming and puzzle solving) and loathed about Legend (the forced action scenes, boss battles and quick-time event sequences) and decided that it was better to look backwards for inspiration than move forwards. While Legend’s physics-based puzzles make a welcome return, the core gameplay is classic Tomb Raider, played very straight.
Sure, Lara is now more responsive and controllable. True, the grappling hook from Anniversary is more flexible and useful. Nonetheless, this is very much a game of jumping from surface to surface, swinging from or clambering on poles and dangling from things by the very tips of Lara’s fingers. Lara can now ‘freeclimb’ but this freedom is restricted to clearly designated surfaces, and while there are a few more tricks with poles and beams these are nothing really to write home about. In many ways this is Tomb Raider 1 to 3, but played out on a much larger, more beautiful stage.
Combat is the game’s weakest point. After Uncharted’s brilliant appropriation of the duck-and-shoot gunplay of Gears of War, there’s something horribly dated about the sight of Lara leaping around trying to avoid gunshots or ducking the attacks of assorted forms of wildlife before blasting them with assault rifle, SMGs or pistols using a primitive lock-on system. The AI is wretched and there’s little real incentive to use a new headshot feature. Arguably Legend actually did this stuff better, and you can’t help feeling that what fighting there is, is merely a distraction from the serious business of getting from A to B and putting objects X and Y on switch slab Z. There’s nothing wrong with that, but why make it so very boring?