'Tomb Raider'

'Tomb Raider' was released March 5.

After they graduate, most students plan on finding nice, quiet jobs with well-paying salaries and insurance benefits, and having nice, quiet lives with their nice, quiet families.

Lara Croft planned on finding adventure.

Finally, we get the opportunity to understand where the legendary tomb-raiding heroin came from with Square Enix’s “Tomb Raider.” With this prequel to all the adventures we have ever experienced as Lara Croft, we get the chance to watch Lara evolve from an inexperienced archaeologist just out of college to the kickass, deadly explorer we gamers grew up admiring.

Lara’s story all begins in the search for Yamatai, a mysterious island lost somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. With her best friend, Sam, her mentor, Roth, and a crew of friends, Lara discovers, or is discovered by, the island. Their ship is toppled and wrecks on the island, and Lara finds herself lost and alone in a terrifying land. For years, a cultist group known as the Solarii have roamed the island, and they welcome Lara and her friends with bullets and death. The Solarii are brutal and cruel, and once Lara gets used to it, killing them isn’t a big problem.

In the beginning, Lara gets tossed around like a rag doll, beaten and bloodied by the many dangers of the island. Surviving is a bit of a learning experience, and you find out how human Lara really is early on. She has to escape death over and over again, and we feel the pain of her wounds, understand her fear and emotions and can relate to her evolution.

The island is basically a tomb itself. Human skulls are scattered everywhere, mummified bodies hang in bags and on stakes and crucifixes, and blood and bones cover the floor. The island isn’t a happy place — Lara didn’t pick the easiest location to begin her tomb raiding career. That being said, the island is still beautiful. “Tomb Raider” has amazing graphics, and the lighting effects, especially with flames and shadows bouncing off the wall, are some of the best in any game to date.

The game is a constant thrill ride. Lara is always faced with some sort of challenge, whether it be combating against unfair numbers of enemies or traversing the treacherous obstacles across the island. The island is covered in ruins and wreckage that fall apart at Lara’s feet, and she is always sprinting and hurdling to avoid falling to her death. Quick time events play a major part in keeping Lara alive, and if you aren’t on your toes, Lara might get crushed by a few boulders or impaled by a few tree branches.

Combat is central to “Tomb Raider,” with the Solarii patrolling everywhere. Early on, Lara discovers her signature weapon is the bow and arrow, which she can use to string together silent, stealthy kills. Most battles begin with Lara sneaking up on unaware enemies, but if discovered, Lara also has a small arsenal of guns to add some firepower to the fight. And if the enemy cultists get to close, Lara can learn some deadly brawling skills to ruin their day.

When not disposing of anyone stupid enough to stand in her way, Lara is climbing her way up mountains, over ruins, through tunnels and everything in between. Platforming has always been a major part of “Tomb Raider” games, and Lara’s innate climbing skills show themselves in this game. As you progress, Lara finds new equipment to help her platform, and it adds even more dimensions to the exploration.

Lara’s most important skill is her “survival instinct.” By activating her instinct, Lara is able to view the world for a brief period in black and white, but with important objectives, points of interest and enemies highlighted in gold. This helps Lara solve puzzles, find areas to climb and get an upper hand on her enemies. You will undoubtedly find yourself using it about every five seconds while exploring.

The island has many distinct locations for Lara to traverse and explore. Each new area has its own set of collectibles, including relics, character narrated journals and random challenges, which range from stealing eagle eggs out of nests in the mountains to harvesting mushrooms in the woods. However random they might seem, though, they motivate Lara to fully explore each area and discover items she might not have found otherwise.

There are also small tombs (for her to, you know...raid) scattered throughout the island which act as short, challenging puzzles. These puzzles usually involve timing and platforming for Lara to reach the inner treasure chambers, and are a nice set of side objectives to give the game even more variety.

Each area has one or two camps to give Lara a bit of a rest from her adventure. At camps, Lara can level up after gaining experience and unlocking new skills. These skills give Lara plenty of worthwhile bonuses to combat and explore, but they don’t provide any sense of choice in deciding how Lara evolves. In the end, as we know, Lara does become a distinct figure with a certain array of skills, so I suppose it makes sense. By the end of the game, you should have easily unlocked every skill available.

Lara can also upgrade her weapons at camps using salvage she collected throughout the island. Aside from her bow, Lara also finds a pistol, sub-machine gun and shotgun for her to wield. At first, these weapons are only old World War II models, but throughout the game Lara can upgrade and craft them into super weapons (she must have taken a weapon smith class in college). Upgrading guns visibly alter their appearances and stats, and being able to evolve a simple trench gun into a dragon breath-firing combat shotgun is very rewarding.

After you are finished with your island adventure as Lara, “Tomb Raider” also has an interesting multiplayer. Multiplayer has four modes pitting the Survivors against the Solarii, including the usual team death match and free-for-all, and two objective-based modes “Rescue” and “Cry for Help.” Each faction has its own set of characters to play as and weapons to unlock as you level up, which give you to sides to experiment with There are only a few maps (DLC will be adding more), but each map is very detailed, has multiple levels that promote platforming and exploration and has its own dangerous traps. It’s not an incredibly amazing multiplayer, the main story is much better, but jumping around shooting players off of zip-lines will entertain you for a few hours.

Even with all of its cool features, it’s “Tomb Raider’s” story that really pulls it all together. The voice acting is fantastic and makes the characters believable, and the mysteries of the island along with the atrocities and death that surround it make Lara’s adventure tense, emotional and intriguing. “Tomb Raider” has beautiful graphics, exciting gameplay and continuously keeps you interested in the adventure. And of course, despite her ragged edges, Lara Croft is as beautiful as ever.

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