It was a bold step for Crystal Dynamics to take the popular Tomb Raider franchise back to its origins, when Lara Croft was just a young vulnerable girl who would eventually toughen up to become the heroine she's become known as today. But the development team pulled off quite a feat with Tomb Raider, a reboot that's already qualified to be one of 2013's biggest hits.
It's not just about the dynamic gameplay, which involves plenty of action and puzzle-solving, nor the presentation. The story actually plays a good part as well, leading into Lara's upbringing as an explorer and eventually introducing her to dangerous elements that will force her to kill in order to survive. Hey, nobody said the life of a treasure hunter would be easy.
For our latest Spoiler Alert, we break down the story for you. As always, we advise you that there are spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk…
We first meet Lara at a young age aboard the Endurance, headed up by a crew led by former Royal Marine Conrad Roth. Despite some hesitation, Lara believes the crew should sail into the Dragon's Triangle to find the lost Japanese kingdom of Yamatai that was ruled by legendary shaman queen Himiko. They get caught in a hazardous storm, one that separates Lara from the rest of the crew. She manages to survive the wreck, but washes onto an island where a madman takes her and ties her up.
After breaking free of her restraints and killing her captor due to the cave-in of his dwelling, she tries to catch up to the others while finding equipment (including a bow and arrow set) in the process. She runs into her best friend Sam and fellow shipmate Mathias, but passes out and loses them again when she recovers.
She's nearly killed by wolves when a majority of the crew arrives and then separate into groups, with the archaeologist Whitman partnering with Lara to find Sam. They come across a shrine and discover the native islanders that aren't taking too kindly to the survivors. Separated from Whitman, Lara manages to escape only to have the a scavenger find her and try to kill her. She turns the tide and kills him instead and escapes.
She later catches up with an injured Roth, who informs her that she needs to try and signal a plane to rescue the remaining crew. She manages to subdue a few adversaries along the way (developing her killer instinct) and reach a radio tower, signaling a plane to come around. However, a sudden storm comes out of nowhere and downs the plane. A mysterious Japanese voice yells "no one leaves", adding a bit to the mystery.
Following the plane's crash, she learns Sam was taken to an ancient Japanese palace, where the deceitful Mathias leads a cult that pays tribute to the Sun Queen called the Solarii. Lara is ambushed, but manages to live as a group of strange warriors known as the Oni slaughter Mathias' men and capture her. After escaping from these slow but powerful creatures, she finds the body of the Sun Queen and learns that a fire ritual was used to choose the next successor.
On her way to the palace, Lara fights through a settlement where many gunmen try to take her down. They even forcing one of her crew members – Grim – into captivity to get her to lay down her weapons. Grim sacrifices himself and Lara continues on her way to the temple, where she finds Sam in the midst of the ritual. Before she can be burned, a wind gust blows out the flames that indicates Sam is the rightful heir to the Sun Queen's throne.
After saving the rest of her crew, Lara sees Mathias take off with Sam and goes after them. She does save Sam, but Whitman gets captured in the process as a result. Lara signals a helicopter to come around and save them and tries to get the the pilot to turn around and try to save those left behind. Unfortunately, the storm returns and brings it down. Roth saves survives, but Mathias ambushes them and kills Roth as he sacrifices himself for Lara.
Following a brief emotional moment, she learns that Himiko, the Sun Queen and the island are all connected to the storms, which prevents anyone from leaving. She finds her colleague Alex and reunites with the crew, along with Whitman, who makes up a flimsy story regarding escaping that raises Lara's suspicion. Following an ambush by islanders, Alex is killed, and Lara escapes with parts needed to repair the ship. She later finds remains of a soldier in the queen's Stormguard (part of the Oni group that took her earlier) and learns that the Sun Queen remained trapped in a body instead of moving on to a successor years before, leaving it enraged and causing storms around the island until it could find a successful way to move – in this case, Sam.
Lara reunites with the crew discovers and her assumption was right about Whitman, who kidnapped Sam for Mathias and left the others for dead. She guides them to a secret river entrance where she catches up with Mathias and the others. Lara finds herself in battle with the Stormguard and Whitman is killed in the process.
She then stumbles into a chamber with all the statues of the Sun Queens and learns that the spirit of the queen herself is actually Himiko, who's been trapped in other vessels after all these years. She learned from what was said by Mathias earlier that only by destroying the remains of Himiko can the Sun Queen be set free. The Sun Queen has other plans and wants to be reborn through Sam.
Mathias tries to start the ritual again, as he's wants to complete it so he can escape the island. After dealing with both Stormguard and islanders, Lara struggles with Mathias, shooting him and forcing him to fall from the monastery (where the ritual was being held) to his death. Lara manages to reach Himiko's remains, destroying them and freeing her spirit so the storms around the island can end.
The remaining survivors from the wreck – Lara, Sam, Reyes and Jonah – are picked up by a cargo ship and are ready to return home. Reflecting on her adventure – and adjusting to everything she's learned from it – Lara feels that more myths are just waiting to be explored. And so a legacy begins…
As you can see, the story's a bit on the mystical side, but it's well realized by the Crystal Dynamics team. It sets the pace for an extraordinary adventure that you should definitely check out if you haven't already.
Tomb Raider is available now for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.