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(Tomb Raider has been selected as one of MacLife's 25 Best Mac Games Today!)
Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider reboot (newly ported to Mac by Feral Interactive) is a game about searching: for ancient relics, forgotten tombs, and undisturbed grottoes, yes, but also for the self-assurance necessary to transform from a shy archaeologist into a brutal killing machine. Lara Croft's baptism in blood — her own and, often, her enemies’ — takes place on a fictionalized Yamatai, a hidden Japanese island full of pristine forests, snowy mountain ranges, and a sect of violent cultists who worship the shaman-queen Himiko.
The first several hours on Yamatai are tense and painful: shipwrecked, alone, and impaled by a piece of stray rebar (the first of many graphic injuries she'll sustain during her sojourn), Lara searches for food and shelter before taking her first human life defending herself from a disturbingly touchy-feely scavenger. Tomb Raider's introspective sobriety doesn't last, though: it soon turns into a full-scale action-adventure, complete with gunfights, explosions, and undead samurai. The combat is fun, but the game never thematically recovers from the abrupt tonal shift and exaggerated body count.
Tomb Raider is at its best when its focus is on climbing and exploration. Each area of the island is dense with nooks and crannies, extensive cave systems, and sprawling vistas, hiding any number of collectible ceremonial fans or tribal masks. Lara has an armory of climbing tools at her disposal, but it's the sheer wealth of ledges, handholds, rock faces, rooftops, and zip lines that give Tomb Raider its sense of wonder and momentum. It's easy to get lost in the simple joys of traversal and movement, and the game's action sections — a chase scene set in a burning temple, for example — greatly benefit from the solid framework of Tomb Raider's climbing mechanics.
When fighting becomes necessary, it's anarchic and desperate: Lara can't shoot from the hip, has limited melee options, and her dodge-rolls are graceless and haphazard. There's a sense of unwieldiness to Tomb Raider's mechanics that gels with Lara's revised origin story, but extended fight sequences dominate the second half of the game and wear out their welcome. With Tomb Raider's eye for dramatic camera work and punchy set pieces, Crystal Dynamics could have cut half of the fight scenes and still come out with an action-packed game. Thankfully, Lara's stealth abilities are both safer and more satisfying, the chaos of battle replaced with the sharp twang of a taut bowstring.
Curiously, the traditionally single-player Tomb Raider sports full-featured multiplayer options as well. Paired with a full compliment of modes, characters, and unlockable upgrades, Tomb Raider's loose combat makes multiplayer combat frenetic and chaotic, but it's competently executed and fun. Good luck finding matches, though: the multiplayer is Mac-to-Mac only — plus the Mac App Store version doesn't offer it at all — and just a couple weeks out from release, the servers are deserted.
The bottom line. Tomb Raider doesn't always play to its strengths, but even its weakest moments display a developer with a keen eye for fusing stealth, exploration, and gunplay. Most series would do well to be rebooted in such fine fashion.
Mac OS X 10.9.1 or later, 2.0Ghz processor, 4GB RAM, 512MB VRAM; does not support Intel GMA series, Intel HD3000, or NVIDIA 7xxx/8xxx/9xxx/3xx cards. Intel HD4000 cards require i7 processor or better
Sharp camera work and beautiful environments make exploration a joy. Combat is dynamic and unpredictable. Tons of content, even after the game is completed.
End of the game is padded with extra fight scenes and plot. Multiplayer is hobbled by platform limitations. Be aware that Lara's deaths are particularly graphic.