I know the exact moment when I realized Tomb Raider was easily going to be on my top five games of 2013 list. Main character Lara Croft was making a run for a helicopter and as I pressed the jump button, I rooted for her to fall. Not for her to die of course – because her death scenes can be quite gruesome in the game – but because I was afraid the game would be over soon after that moment and I didn’t want it to to end.

I was enjoying Tomb Raider so much, I was actively rooting against my character so I could keep playing. Happily, she made the helicopter, but it didn’t matter, since I still had another 3 to 4 hours to go.

Tomb Raider is another franchise I’ve missed over the years having only played bits and pieces of some of the titles. But I was quite excited for the reboot that would show the origin story of Lara Croft. My expectations for the action/adventure title were not only met, but they were increasingly exceeded throughout the game.

This is a confident game—it’s as if the developers know how good the systems they’ve built are and focus on telling an engaging story within them. Lara shipwrecks on an island with a variety of friends and crew members, all of whom are incredibly fleshed out with unique and different personalities. Over the course of the game, she uncovers a supernatural presence that may be keeping them from escaping the island.

More important, the game is an excuse to show how Lara goes from a frightened young woman to the hardened survivor and hero gamers have known her as for years. Just after you defeat the final villain, there’s an incredible shot of Lara holding two guns, one in each hand. It’s the first time the game has allowed her to hold two guns in both hands and not only is it an incredible callback to one of the most iconic visions of Lara throughout the franchise’s history, but it’s a moment that shows how far Lara has come through the game.

(If I could buy that image as an art print, I would.)

The game consists of a detailed, vibrant island that never needed load screens should you choose to go off and do whatever you want. Use Survival Instinct to find your next mission objective in the story campaign or choose to run around the island hunting animals, collecting the various collectibles (of which there are many) or exploring optional tombs for relics.

Platforming is fun and allows you to take in just how gorgeous this game is. You’ll climb a variety of cliffs, buildings and more. The various locations are distinct enough, however, that you’ll never feel like you’re just climbing things to get somewhere—you’re truly interacting with the environment around you whether it’s a stronghold for the enemy, a variety of cargo lifts or your half-destroyed ship.

You’ll need to solve a variety of environmental puzzles which are easy to figure out. Even if you have trouble, Lara will periodically think something out loud to give you a hint as to what to do next. (Or, in a pinch, use Survival Instinct to see the various things around you that you can interact with.)

The combat is fluid and the various tools and weapons you pick up along the way are seamlessly integrated into the gameplay. To upgrade your skills or gear, you’ll visit various “base camps” (little fires) where you can rest and use the “salvage” you recovered to upgrade your stuff or the XP you earned to level up Lara’s abilities. You can even fast travel from base camp to base camp to pick up on collectibles you might have missed.

If you enjoyed the Uncharted franchise, you’ll feel right at home in the Tomb Raider reboot. (Like that game’s main character, by the end of the game, you might feel a bit like a murderer since I easily killed hundreds of bad guys. This is a minor quibble, of course.)

If I had the time, I’d go back and explore some of the optional tombs I missed, or pick up the relics I missed. Just to spend more time in this world. If you enjoy fun gameplay, an incredible story and dynamic characters, this is a must buy. Tomb Raider will be out tomorrow on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

* Disclosure: An Xbox 360 copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. *