Tomb Raider has had highs and lows, controversy, excitement, attention, fandom, disinterest, and pretty much anything else that can be levelled at a video game.
This new Tomb Raider is an "origin" story. It's about Lara Croft before she made a name for herself; a young woman in the shadow of her father. She's on an expedition to locate a mythical Japanese island, as part of a team supporting a reality TV "archaeologist". They end up shipwrecked. It's a good set-up.
Lara's world goes from charts and maps to shotguns and murder, and her transition from scholar to slaughterer is a brief one. In respect to the canon, this is completely acceptable. Lara has always dispatched her foes without hesitation.
Here, the disconnect is amplified by two things: one, enemies can often be overheard talking reluctantly about their roles, and two, Lara is markedly different from the aloof monster Angelina Jolie portrayed in the movies. She just doesn't seem the type.
The game's violence is brutal. It's unrelenting, bloody, often gory, and certainly not a game for the younger members of the family. The general gameplay is not just shooting things and quicktime events. The rest of the game is packed with exploration and environment traversal.
It's new and somehow it's also still Tomb Raider - and that's no small achievement. The puzzles and exploration are fun. You can see how things fit most of the time and when you can't, a little lateral thinking will get you to that eureka moment.
Lara reacts to everything. She puts her arms up to fend off the wind, she recoils from flames, she runs her hands along the ceiling of a cave, she pulls her feet up to get through a narrow gap. Smoke and mirrors this may well all be, but you never have reason to doubt it. Lara is real; you feel her pain.
Tomb Raider dares to go big. It looks great, plays well, and is fun from beginning to end. Even more than that, it does all of those things with more skill and finesse than almost any other game before it.
It feels dynamic, lets you tweak your experience, and is full of optional exploration for completionists - and those who can't get enough of the world.
Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics mean business with Tomb Raider. No one in their right mind would spend the kind of time and money making a game like this as a one-off, and the game's ending, too, hints at things to come.
That's no bad thing in my book; if the sequels are anything like this, I'm all in.
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3