Searching for an artifact called the Mirror of Smoke, Lara Croft accidentally leads a local warlord and his band of mercenaries to the lost item.  After foolishly playing with powers they could not comprehend, Xolotlawakens from his tomb along with Mayan warrior Totec (leader of the Army of Light and imprisoner of Xolotl), steals the mirror and runs into the ruins with it causing a whole shit-storm of problems in the path.  Blaming Lara at first for the whole situation, Totec realizes the only way to stop Xolotl before dawn is to work together.

I remember being no more than 13 years-old the first time I played a Tomb Raider game.  As an impressionable young male at the time it is no surprise what I saw in the character of Lara Croft; she was smart and tough like an 80’s action hero while simultaneously being sexy and approachable like a Playboy bunny or high-brow hooker.  This being said, I don’t remember ever liking the games very much at all as if they weren’t repetitively boring they just had very little to hold my interest story-wise at all.  There have been ups and downs in my mind with the title “Tomb Raider” with an unfortunate emphasis on the downs over the last 10 or so years and it wasn’t until Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune that I was able to break myself away from the stigmatic thinking that all treasure hunting action rpgs were tired with a predictable story-line.

This is NOT your grand-daddy’s Tomb Raider.  It becomes blatantly obvious the reason those terrible two words have been left out of title the minute the game loads up from it’s rather cliche intoductory story cinematic to an isometric viewpoint and all my preconceived notions of what I was in for began to take a 180-degree turn to something that felt familiar again, like a hug or playing Diablo 2 for the first time.  Sure the scenery is straight out of “Tomb Raiding 101” and there is the collecting of treasure and weaponry that is common with every game in the genre, but it is amazing what can be said about good pacing in a video game.  What would usually feel like a drawn out, over-the-top excuse for taking up game-play time was sped up to have a natural flow that is easy to get lost in and there wasn’t a single point that I felt was boring.

Being a huge fan of co-operation in video games, this game struck a particularly good chord with me although getting off at the wrong foot.  Hearing that this was to be released without online multi-player until a month after gave me a sour taste in my mouth that I was sure would be the kill shot of any hope I had to have fun, but this wasn’t so.  Admittedly, online co-op would have been welcomed with arms open (and the overall score suffered with the lack of thus far) but local play was surprisingly well done.  Whether taking down giant enemies, traversing landscape otherwise impossible without help or fighting for treasure, it was nice to have another person around to enjoy the experience and a small learning curve with forgiving game-play make it easy to find anyone able to keep up with even hardcore gamers.

Only playing through once so far (since it was released only today, give me a break) it is still easy to see how much replay value is in this title and how it was an objective to make the player want to go back.  Every chapter has mini objectives that unlock a variety of things from power-ups to heavy duty weapons that are easy to miss but not hard to achieve, a true staple of inciting addictive behavior (there were, in fact, a couple of times I even found myself stopping progression of a level for a few more treasures to boost my score to one of the objective scores).  There have been some great games to come out of the Xbox LIVE’s Summer of Arcade event this year, but I don’t feel any of them come close to the replay quality that this game has and in addition to a strong end is a quality purchase, if not now definitely in a month when online support is patched in.

Without the burden of trying to pretentiously live up to a name that people for better or worse have grown up with for years, Crystal Dynamics succeeded in simply creating a nice experience for two people to have together that doesn’t involve taking any clothing off.

Rating: 7/10