Release Date: March 5 (worldwide)
Platforms available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action Adventure
Not long after Sony revealed the PS4, it's only fitting that we should see the return of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider, a series that made its home on the original PlayStation.
The gaming equivalent of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, the latest Tomb Raider is a gritty franchise reboot, exploring the origins of everybody's favourite female adventurer in a new environment.
Is Tomb Raider once again a franchise to treasure, or is Lara Croft a relic of the past?
Shipwrecked and separated from her crew on a lost island and fighting off deadly cult-like scavengers, Tomb Raider is tale of survival and self-discovery.
However, to its detriment, the origin story takes a few unexpected turns, veering off into strange and unforeseen territories around the halfway mark.
In the spirit of gritty realism, we might have preferred it if the game had stayed the course and focused more on Lara's increasing maturity and relationship with her crew, but at least what happens is pleasingly unpredictable.
That's not to say that relationships and characters aren't well developed, however, because the supporting cast are for the most part well written and memorable, especially cowardly celebrity archaeologist Whitman and foul-mouthed Glaswegian helmsman Grim.
Lara's interactions with her cohorts are undoubtedly the highlight of the narrative, outshining the somewhat outrageous central plotline.
Fortunately, whatever your preference when it comes to plot, the delivery is superb. Highly cinematic, the effective use of cutscenes coupled with a wonderfully detailed visual style and slick production values, sometimes gives the impression that you're participating in an interactive movie.
The graphics, in particular, are superb, pushing the ageing console to its limits. The game features a wide variety of stunning environments, including dense forest areas, dimly-lit caves and crumbling shanty towns.
Combined with the detailed and expertly animated character models, Tomb Raider's visuals breathe life into its heroes and villains, as well as the mysterious island of Yamatai itself.
- Similar to Assassin's Creed, the platforming is incredibly smooth, with Lara jumping, shimmying, climbing and sliding her way through section after section of platforming gold.
This is achieved through the use of claustrophobic camera shots, bone-crunching sound effects and continued commentary by Lara. It all adds up to one incredibly immersive experience.
You really do feel every sore landing and setback as you move from one location to the next in search of your group and new items to aid your survival.
The level design also helps make Tomb Raider a thrilling experience. Similar to Assassin's Creed, the platforming is incredibly smooth, with Lara jumping, shimmying, climbing and sliding her way through section after section of platforming gold.
Unlike its open-world counterpart, however, the much more linear Tomb Raider always points you in the right direction, meaning that outside of combat scenarios and moments at fast-travelling between camps to find items, Lara is constantly moving forward, whether escaping from a flaming building, or recovering a part for her ship.
While linearity has become something of a dirty word in video game terms, here it helps to provide a much tighter gameplay experience.
Unfortunately, the blending of cinematics and gameplay occasionally goes too far, with quick-time events used in moments where standard platforming or combat would suffice.
There are also a few dodgy camera angles, particularly with some of the zipline approaches and close-quarter combat. However, these are relatively minor complaints in what is otherwise an incredibly well put-together release.
Slightly less cinematic is the inclusion of hidden items and artefacts, which offer more information about the island, its history and current inhabitants.
While the inclusion of hidden journals and items sometimes feels like a lazy way to pad out a game, it actually makes a lot of sense in Tomb Raider, especially considering Lara's profession.
Whatever your view on the plot, there's no denying that the unsettling nature of these hidden documents and items will pique your interest.
Finding them will become an obsession for completists, and gives players a chance to better explore the island outside of the linear campaign, giving the impression of an open-world experience, even though strictly speaking it's not.
In a nod to titles such as Metroid and the more recent Batman Arkham games, some items, areas and challenges are only accessible with item upgrades, including rope-based arrows, which enable Lara to pull down structures and set up ziplines, or shotguns which can be used to blast through certain structures.
Tomb Raider's finest secrets can be found within hidden tombs, taxing areas protected by fiendish puzzles. So good are the hidden tomb sections that it's unfortunate there aren't a few more puzzles littered throughout the main campaign.
While a solid platforming base was to be expected, we were pleasantly surprised by the game's combat.
Tomb Raider features four weapons and a smart cover system, which means that Lara automatically primes herself for combat when encountering enemies, scuttling between cover and rolling out of danger with a press of a button.
We were sceptical about the automatic cover system when it was first announced, but it actually makes combat much less clumsy than many other third-person titles on the market, which is good news because Tomb Raider isn't a dedicated shooter.
- With a well written cast of characters, mightily impressive production techniques, sumptuous visuals, tight platforming and surprisingly enjoyable combat, Tomb Raider is most definitely a release to be treasured.
With brawling abilities to unlock, explosives and environmental hazards littering the scene, players can also go in all guns blazing, which isn't as much fun as using stealth, but does add some much welcome variety.
Gun fights are a little too frequent at times, particularly towards the end of the game, but compared to the original Uncharted, for example, shootouts never outstay their welcome.
Outside of the hugely successful single-player campaign, Tomb Raider contains a fairly substantial multiplayer hub. Beyond the usual deathmatch modes, the game features the intriguing 'Rescue' mode, which pits scavengers against Lara's crew in a race to find medical supplies.
What makes the multiplayer mode stand out is the way players can set traps to snare enemies, use the environment to climb their way out of danger, and take advantage of environmental hazards, such as sandstorms which blind one team while highlighting enemy positions to the other.
While we were unable to enjoy extended multiplayer sessions prior to its release, Tomb Raider's online mode contains enough good ideas to guarantee a decent following, even if it's unlikely to pose a long-term threat to heavyweights of the multiplayer genre.
While it's a little too early to gauge the success of the Tomb Raider multiplayer experience, the single-player campaign alone is well worth the price of admission.
With a well written cast of characters, mightily impressive production techniques, sumptuous visuals, tight platforming and surprisingly enjoyable combat, Tomb Raider is most definitely a release to be treasured.