This was hands down an absolutely gorgeous game. Tomb Raider is something I remember playing on the original playstation, the very first installment was a breath of fresh air, as I recall playing over my friends place where the discovery and puzzle elements were complicated to solve if you don't pay attention to all of your surroundings. Then there were the aliens, but this isn't to recall prior experiences with the original this is about the definitive version of the game that was played on the Playstation 4.
The overall story remained in the vein that we know of Tomb Raider, however this story plays a bit as a prequel in a sense the growth of the Lara Croft we know and love today. Lara Croft is with a group of her peers and mentors as they ship out to investigate a mythical legend the lost kingdom of Yamatai near the coast of Japan.
It's a look at Lara's genuine passion for archeology, as she sets out on her first expedition aboard the ship Endurance. Along for the ride are a welcome diverse cast of characters that make up the documentary film crew along with a former Royal Marine turned adventurer who appears to have a close connection with the Croft family and serves as a mentor to Lara.
Flashbacks take place throughout the story and gameplay highlighting the relationship the characters had with one another. Serving as backdrop and understanding of Lara's connection and allegiance to those that have accompanied her on the trip to investigate the island. Eventually all hell breaks loose and Lara becomes stranded on an island in the Dragon's Triangle separated from the others that are a part of the expedition. The island has a wealth of dangers that will be experienced throughout and there are moments that definitely cause a moment of pause to realize what just happened. And Lara is by no means a damsel in distress which is great in every possible way, she also isn't developed as being a terminator of sorts, she is a survivor and uses her knowledge, training, and tools available to do just that.
In a way this has the feel of Batman Begins, (try to resist the eye roll), truthfully as much as many may discredit and dismiss a video game having an engaging and thoughtful story, based on what I've seen over the years the story of the game has become vital and in many cases a lot of these games have more fleshed out characters and stories than many films in theaters today. All one would have to do is watch various game cutscenes on youtube (many of which are stitched together to formulate an actual cinematic run-through of the game) to get an idea.
It isn't difficult to get the hang of gameplay mechanics as the start of the game provides you with an acceptable amount of guidance, there's no practice field as you're thrown into the chaos of the island the moment you wash ashore. You learn about Lara's capabilities of survival as you arrive to certain situations where her skills are put to the test.
This method of understanding the mechanics seems to be typical of games coming out today a bit of learn as you go approach which is fine with me personally. From the weapons available and how that weapon system is developed, for example you can't walk around carrying unlimited ammo, you carry the amount that Lara is essentially able to carry, her weapons and tools are visible in terms of where and how she can carry them.
Wall scaling with the ice pick and transferring from one mountain to the next can be tricky and can definitely cause some moments where you miss your mark resulting in a long fall to the bottom of a chasm. "Survival Instincts" come in handy, a system that shows you key elements relating to the solving of a puzzle and activating certain ancient mechanisms to achieve the goal of advancing to the next cliffside or campsite for building up and advancing skill-sets.
Learning the best weapon for specific occasions can be tricky, you have the ability to go in guns blazing or approach things silently with the bow and arrow (my preferred method). But each weapon has it's tradeoffs, example the shotgun is best when a swarm of enemies are approaching at close range, the bow and arrow is an excellent weapon from a distance.
Look & Feel
The game looks absolutely beautiful, from the textures, and effects of various elements flicker sparks from a fire, liquidity and flow of water elements, snowfall, fog. Each weather pattern has a texture that stays true to it's natural element.
Lara and the other characters have a consistent texture, seeing individual strands of Lara's hair, torn and frayed material from clothing. The fact that this game is essentially an improvement of the graphic fidelity from prior generations and wasn't built up from the beginning to look this way is ridiculously impressive and one can only imagine what the sequel will look like, as the video below gives us a glimpse that the next Tomb Raider will without a doubt look absolutely stunning.
The physical limitations of the character and interaction with the surrounding elements remain true to it's realism. With a multitude of games that have their protagonist performing super human abilities this is a refreshing touch.
The end result is a female protagonist who does her best to survive at all costs, who has a deep vulnerability to question whether she can make through the hostilities of the island, who isn't over-sexualised as she has been in past incarnations, but a young woman coming into her own as an adventurer.
The game provided elements of discovery, action, not as many puzzle elements in the past but enough to make you consider how objectives are to be approached. This is truly a 'Batman Begins' type story as the trailer for the sequel (seen below) provides a few clues that we may see and experience more maturity and acceptance of who Lara Croft really is.