It had been years since I played a Tomb Raider game. The previous entries were scoring very poorly and sounded incredibly tedious. So I found other action/adventure games to satisfy my jumping-and-climbing desires. This latest version, however, was getting good press, so I decided to give it a shot. Turns out it was a good shot after all.
Isn't this the core of any game? Sound and graphics are meaningless if the game doesn't play well. And TRL plays very well. The controls are sharp and responsive - you won't miss many jumps because of overly-picky timing. In addition, combat is effective and more than manageable. There's a nice lock-on system that allows easy switching between targets and is a lot less frustrating than gunplay in similar games.
Overall, the game is not overly difficult. Generous use of automatic checkpoints means you won't endlessly replay long stretches when you miss a jump or mis-time a key move. Even the requisite boss battles are manageable within the first few trial-and-error attempts. In fact, I got through a late-game boss battle without any medkits AND without taking a single hit. Boss battles have turned me off from many similar games - I find them contrived and tedious. However, these battles are actually fun and can be completed by mere mortals - a refreshing change.
There are a couple of motorcycle-riding sequences, where you're racing down the scenery dodging obstacles and shooting bad guys. It's fun and certainly not too challenging, but it feels like a deliberate attempt to spice up the action, despite being a bit out of character for the game.
In addition to the standard get-through-the-level objectives, you can spend extra time searching for treasure items. These don't add anything to the actual gameplay, but collecting more of them will unlock more extras, such as object models, extra costumes for Lara, etc. They're nice, but not worth a ton of extra effort.
A nice touch are the semi-interactive cutscenes - during a particularly dramatic sequence, you'll have to punch the correct button at the correct time. If you don't, Lara buys the farm, usually in a quite spectacular fashion. If you pull it off, Lara will manage some incredible moves and dramatic action, in ways that would have been near-impossible during normal gameplay. There's usually a checkpoint immediately before each of these scenes, so you'll get it right without too much frustration. Complete the game, and you'll get to watch a nice video showing all the "unfortunate mishaps" one after another. Some of them are quite funny, in a disturbing, "that's-gotta-hurt" kind of way.
Graphics and Sound
The visuals on my standard NTSC Xbox and paltry 27" television were nothing spectacular, but nothing that detracted from my enjoyment. Lara Croft retains all of her noteworthy physical features, if you get my meaning. The levels are well-textured, well-lit, and credible - just not exceptional or mind-blowing. Sound effects follow pretty much the same pattern: plenty of grinding mechanical sounds, sliding rocks, basic gunfire, etc. Nothing amazing.
What does stand out, however, is the voice acting. It's all remarkably well-done. Lara's voice is performed by British actress Keeley Hawes, best known as "Zoe" in the BBC series "Spooks", shown in the States on A&E as "MI-5". She provides Lara a nice, steely edge with good inflection and emotion. Her counterparts are similarly well-voiced, just not as memorable.
It's a very good game, but not a great game. It's a bit short; you'll probably only need a dozen hours or less to complete the main storyline. You can repeat the levels on a time-trial basis or to search for every last bit of treasure, if you wish. Not entirely my thing, but to each their own.
Overall, I'd score the game a solid 4 out of 5 stars. There are more complex, longer games in this genre, but TRL is more than entertaining and not insanely challenging.