Rise of the Tomb Raider – Review
Lara Croft returns in her latest prequel adventure. Rise of the Tomb Raider; set after the 2013 reboot, but still before all the games that came before, takes place after Lara’s return from her traumatic experience on Yamatai. A timed exclusive for the Xbox One, Rise of the Tomb Raider has ruffled a few feathers amongst fans and the gaming community in general but it has finally arrived.
A group called Trinity have gone above and beyond to squash Lara’s Yamatai story, and the threat persists. Determined to prove to the world that she isn’t insane and give the Croft name some credibility once again, Lara finds herself in a race with Trinity to track down the ancient city of Kitezh, with the goal seeing Lara travel from London to Syria to Siberia. Tunnel-vision has consumed Lara, placing strain on all the important relationships in her life. The memory of her father, his death and everything he endured still sticks with Lara, and serves as another driving factor for the many decisions she makes. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a story of redemption, not because Lara has done wrong, but it has been perceived that way, and she wants to restore the reputation of the Croft name. The story, though relatively by-the-books, is not as simple as you might expect, with a number of twists playing out throughout the game as Lara intervenes in Trinity’s trek for immortality.
We all know what Lara becomes, we know that in time she turns into a confident, sassy, badass, but as the rebooted Tomb Raider shows, she wasn’t always this way. In 2013 Tomb Raider game was rightly criticised for the ludo-narrative dissonance that Lara’s initial weakness created, the issue being the disconnect between narrative and gameplay, where Lara was presented as a weak, fragile adventurer, but when combat took place she was an unstoppable powerhouse. Though not yet the force that she is in the older Tomb Raider games, you can see Lara’s confidence growing, and her unshakeable determination makes you believe that she would do anything to find the city of Kitezh, with every decision she makes feeling much more believable.
Rise of the Tomb Raider feels very familiar to those who played the prequel. Lara’s primary weapon is her bow, allowing for stealthy takedowns but when forced to face an overwhelming number of enemies (man or beast) you can whip out the guns and unleash the pain. Linear pathways connect to a handful of open expanses packed with collectables, side-missions and optional tombs to explore. Notably, much more than its predecessor, Rise of the Tomb Raider entertains the concept of verticality. Lara will spend more time scaling the face of cliffs, climbing on top of large buildings and diving underwater through caves and tombs than she ever did in the previous game, granting us more platforming diversity than ever for the franchise. Crafting has been introduced with Lara needing to collect branches, animal skins and more to build upgrades for weapons, outfits and ammo pouches.
One of the queries over the rebooted game was that it was quite lacking in number in tombs, something that has been responded to by Crystal Dynamics in the most definitive of ways. Rise of the Tomb Raider is packed with approximately a dozen elaborate tombs that superbly balances the challenge, ensuring success comes after a suitable amount of time. Tomb Raider 2013 made a number of headlines due to the game’s intense death animations that you would encounter when Lara reached an unfortunate end. These still rear their head in Rise of the Tomb Raider, though they perhaps aren’t as gratuitous as the previous game. There’s still the sickening sound of bones breaking when you fall off a cliff-face, but in general the gory deaths have reduced in number this time around.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a beautiful game. Technically it’s not a powerhouse, but some incredible world design has meant that the environments look stunning. I caught myself on numerous occasions doing the slow camera pan to take in the entirety of the environment, whether that was the snow covered peaks of Siberia or the slick sands of the Syrian deserts. There’s incredible detail to the environments, both the linear and more open-ended locales. You’ll find plenty of well-trodden paths, overgrown forests, an abundance of wildlife, crumbled soviet structures and mysterious caves to explore. These open environments are your playground to explore and can consume a couple hours each time you encounter one as you will quickly find yourself attempting to tick off every box in the area. You’ll need particular gadgets to reach certain objects so some backtracking is required at times but thanks to a large number of campsites littering the world which facilitates easy fast travel, it’s hardly much of an inconvenience.
One of the first things players will notice is the lack of multiplayer mode, not that many will take issue with that. For players seeking an alternative to the main game, you’ll have the chance to replay the games many chapters that you’ve completed to set the best possible score in a mode called Expeditions. Within the Expedition mode you can also get into Remnant Resistance, which allows you to create and play custom missions which see you and the Remnant fight to reclaim a patch of dirt in the valley. I would have liked to have seen Crystal Dynamics take some time to craft some extra tombs, not necessarily fitted with the games setting, but thrown in for players as a bonus to play through. It’s a shame something like this wasn’t there because Expeditions is a bit light on for content overall.
Rise of the Tomb Raider ups the ante previously set by its predecessor but doesn’t do much to drastically shake up the formula. An engaging character narrative, mostly recycled but still very enjoyable combat, impressive use of vertical terrain, sensational vistas and a new crafting system are all highlights in an excellent follow up to 2013’s surprise return to form for the Tomb Raider franchise. Lara’s latest is well worth your time.