This probably doesn't need to be said for a title this old, but I also don't always have spoilers in my reviews. So, warning: potential spoilers to come.
Tomb Raider was another Steam sale pick up I got during the Square Enix sale I got Absolution in. However, unlike Absolution, Tomb Raider is a game I was pleasantly surprised by. The Tomb Raider franchise is another one I jumped into part way through the series, when they did their first reboot with Legend, Anniversary and Underworld. Obviously that was a big step forward in the series, and I think their latest reboot with Tomb Raider was just as significant if not more so.
With almost every TR game I've played, I've always felt like I was playing a game that just a little behind the times. Being a late-comer to the series probably didn't help with that, but even playing one of the titles on release data tended to be accompanied by that feeling. Tomb Raider has been the only exception, and it was even one of those titles that I got to late. I think the origin story approach gave that degree of separation from the rest of the series that allowed them to break away from a stagnant past and create something new.
Beyond the highly publicized changes in character design, another addition to this title is a meaningful story that you can actually get immersed in. Stories in the earlier titles were either non-existent or all over the place, which makes it hard to stay engaged. With Tomb Raider, we're actually given something that (ok, maybe not the stuff at the end) could have actually happened. Sure, it's a little extreme at times, but it certainly wouldn't be the first time we've seen people build up a survivalist cult in an isolated area that's based in that area's indigenous culture.
"Never get out of the boat."
But I digress, another element that helped keep the story world cohesive were improvements made to the general game play. Nothing takes you out of a story like having to battle against weird clipping points during a simple platforming puzzle or a crappy grapple mechanic you have to use just to move around. The evolution of Lara's equipment also helped provide depth to the different areas of the world and how you were able to interact with them, and the journal entries Laura would read at key save points kept you immersed in the events around you even when you as a player were managing your equipment or skills.
The only downside I really experienced with Tomb Raider is more due to my own play style than anything. If you give me a game with any kind of stealth element, I have to go full stealth, all the time. This wasn't a problem at all for the early stages of the game where you are outnumbered and the focus really is survival. Still, as the story progresses, guns become more important and you start unlocking melee combat skills. At this point I did start using the guns I was able to pick up, but I really didn't dive into the combat skills until late game when there was nothing else for me to choose. The story was almost completely run and gun at that point, so they were definitely useful then, but I feel like I missed out a little by not using them sooner.
Yeah, that's an ice axe.
I've talked with people who say the different takedowns seemed out of place when compared with the classic Lara from the earlier titles, and while I agree, I didn't see it as a negative. It's just another pointed difference between this title and every other one that came before it. Is it really necessary for Laura to unload an assault rife clip into an attacker that's close enough to touch? No, it's not, and it's pretty grizzly when you think about it outside of the detached world of video games. Still, I think these help further define the world you are put into and enhance the gritty survival-focused story that every other gameplay element, cutscene and plot point are driving at.
All in all, Tomb Raider definitely exceeded my expectations. So much so that writing this review is making me want to play it again. Yeah, I'm going to do that. You should too, and you can probably pick it up for pretty cheap about now.