Reboots can be the subject of much worry to the sensitive discerning gaming public. Just look at Dante in DmC, when the slightest change in hair colour kicked up a whole pile of misplaced hormonal temperament. For myself though, I worry that the increasingly apparent trends of HD remakes and reboots are a harbinger of the impending apocalypse. Why? Because these topics present perhaps the only time that the cynicism of Post-Modernism noticeably rears its head within the Games industry. When I see titles of old making a reappearance, or classic franchises starting again, a tiny voice of despair screams inside ‘My God! We really have run out of ideas, haven’t we!?’ And if we’ve run out of ideas, then surely that means that we can’t progress as a world? And if we can’t progress, then surely that means our destruction is near?

Yet all this worrying is in vain, since titles like Tomb Raider prove that sometimes it requires taking a step backward to make a leap forward. Last week’s contentious first part of Feminist Frequency's Damsel In Distress video may have got some people’s goat, but one thing it did undeniably prove is that staple game franchises are a sucker for reinforcing old ideas through repetition. This might be simple things like over-used experiences and mechanics, or it could be an outdated relationship to certain issues such as gender representation. The old Tomb Raider titles were great games, and some might even say synonymous with 90’s girl power, but now, it’s difficult to look at classic Lara Croft as anything more than tits with guns. Enter 2013’s Tomb Raider and we have a reinvention that reduces the boob size, humanises Lara and in the process redefines a classic hero for the new age.

 photo tomb-raider-01_zps16db0223.jpgThis is done in the form of an origins story, that explores both literally and figuratively how Lara becomes the ‘Tomb Raider’. It is essentially the first archaeological expedition of her career, but it is also her journey from a slightly naïve graduate to an instinctual and creative survivor. After a series of unfortunate events involving the wrecking of their ship, a pretty Deliverance styled encounter with the local inhabitants and several brutal executions of the ships’ crew, Lara Croft is feeling a bit down in the dumps. The first two hours are pretty gruelling stuff, focusing on Lara traversing the deadly environment of the island of Yamatai, injured and terrified, in order to find somewhere to keep warm. Not one to give up, she takes it upon herself to hunt animals for food, learn to use a bow to protect herself and rescue her friends, all whilst solving the mystery of this seemingly supernatural island.

 photo tomb-raider-03_zps3464e572.jpgThe experience is masterfully designed, well-paced and brought to life by a careful attention to environmental detail and character interaction. Yamatai is a varied and rich expanse of lush forestry, craggy rocks and feudal Japanese architecture, but its most notable aspect is just how overwhelming it is. Lara truly feels lost in the woods, which is also a result of some remarkable performance capture that creates a great sense of Lara’s response to the environment. This isn’t just the way she hurls against cliffs, or crawls out of the way of an attacking wolf, but in more subtle aspects such as a casual glance at an inscription on a tomb wall or lighting a torch. In addition, Camilla Luddington is a great choice as voice actress, matching the quintessential Britishness brought to the series by Keeley Hawes, but it is in her convincing and audible delivery of the more challenging, sadistic moments of the game that she truly impresses. I actually found myself wincing at one moment in which Lara cauterises a wound with a hot arrow tip.

 photo tomb-raider-02_zps0367f6b2.jpgTomb Raider isn’t just about ‘feelings’ and ‘environments’ though, it’s also about how they work with the gaming at its core. Essentially, the game takes the action/adventure of its roots and ups the adrenaline, providing an incredibly cinematic experience that finds its creativity in its ability to interact. Button bashing and scripted stick twiddling are often a foe rather than a friend in many games, but here it is employed with the pacing of big story segments to push the player into feeling the same stress and immediacy as Lara. Combat is also very tight, there’s a limited choice of four weapons, but they are made very effective for particular situations. In spite of the eventual ass-kicker she turns into, Lara does actually seem quite vulnerable. Not just because she dies easily, but because attacking requires precision, in which naturally only headshots seem to be the quickest and most effective way to dispatch enemies. As a result, shooting with your bow and pistol take a lot of patience, and a quick succession of headshots feels very satisfying. Later, the shotgun and assault rifle make things a little simpler, but there’s nothing quite like shooting a fire arrow to the face is there? Enemies are mostly human threats, but there is a clear variation on their types and attacks. The most entertaining of these are arguably the zip-liners, who use the locations’ many ropes to slide down and come at Lara with rudimentary sword based warfare. It’s entertaining countering their attacks with an arrow to the head, or blasting them off ledges with a shotgun.

 photo tomb-raider-04_zpsa7c8f5a3.jpgThe well-designed upgrade system also adds a depth and experimentation to combat. By getting kills, exploring the world and finding relics, GPS sticks and documents, Lara gains XP for obtaining skill points to enhance abilities in different areas. There’s not much customisation, but the gradual addition of new abilities both nicely emphasises Lara’s growth as a character and provides some lovely new tricks. Salvage is also scattered across the island in bags and chests, which provide parts for improved weapons and can be used to upgrade your new ones. In addition, hidden tombs are found in certain areas, which provide some of the more challenging puzzles of the game and reward you with a lot of salvage. They’re great fun to solve, and in combination with the more exploration elements of the game, provide a nice nod to the classic investigation of the old Tomb Raider and also keep the epic combat firmly rooted within the adventuring context of the series.

The game does have a few minor setbacks though. While the action sequences are without a doubt impressive throughout, towards the end there is a clear pattern of events that form in each one that don’t refresh the formula enough. Likewise, head villain Mathias is an awful voice actor, who instead of providing sinister fanatic, ends up like he’s starring in a GCSE drama project as the bag-guy from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Finally, the story ultimately succumbs to an emerging trend in our more blockbuster titles, in which the central character story is not matched by the overarching narrative. In Far Cry 3, Jason Brody’s survival story was undermined by a drawn out plot, while the issue of the Master Chief’s humanity in Halo 4 was far more interesting than the cliché alien threat of the Didact. In Tomb Raider, Lara’s progression as an individual is dealt with impressive grace and art, while sadly, the over-arching supernatural plot is noticeably lacklustre and predictable.

Fortunately, in many games it is about the experience of a character that provides the most meaning, and in Tomb Raider, Lara’s is told convincingly and with the pacing, passion and effort that it deserves. Back in the 90’s it was just assumed that only boys played video games, and therefore male power fantasies were incorrect, but maybe understandable. Now, it’s down-right ignorant to not consider the wide female gaming population and as a result Tomb Raider corrects the implied sexism of 90’s gaming and turns Lara Croft into a female hero we can all respect and admire.