Published on December 1st, 2015 | by Philip Bethel0
REVIEW: Rise Of The Tomb Raider
With the release of the Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 the franchise took on a whole new direction, veering away from its exploration and puzzle roots to a new action-based format. Rise of The Tomb Raider is essentially an upgraded version of that game with even more action, more tombs to raid and a lot more gear to upgrade. Lara’s quest this time around does not fall on her by accident. Rather she takes on an adventure to retrieve a priceless artifact which contains a piece of God’s soul that grants immortality. It all sounds a bit cliched but, as far as the story goes, Lara is back where she belongs and that is chasing the supernatural, slaying wild beasts and finding lost ancient tombs.
The game definitely panders to the fans requests following the lack of actual tomb raiding in the previous game. It has a very well realised villain who has his own twisted reasons for chasing the artifact and Jonah, Lara’s best friend, makes a welcome return to the action to help Lara’s plight. On a negative note though, the whole concept of having ‘hidden tombs’ kind of defeats the whole idea of what people’s notions of Tomb Raider are. The fact that they are hidden and essentially only side quests in an otherwise action orientated game means that the purists should be a tad disappointed with the direction Crystal Dynamics have taken. Maybe we can all blame Nathan Drake for that one.
Lara herself has grown up quite a lot since the last game and has taken on the mantle of an archeologist. Her goal is to realise the dreams of her dead father by finding the one thing he spent his whole life in search of. And, against all odds and the will of the people closest to her, she is determined to see this through. At its heart Rise of The Tomb Raider is about survival and Lara has acquired many skills as her years have progressed that enable her to stay alive. This means new game mechanics, new abilities and weapons. She starts the game with only her wits and as things progress she grows stronger, more powerful and by the end of the game she has acquired an arsenal with so much fire power that she can take on a small army of Trinity meat heads. The standard guns are all here, the assault rifle and the pistol, the shotgun and the bow. The bow being the most diverse and useful weapon of all not just for combat but also for traversing the rugged landscapes. New additions include the swing rope and the grapple rope which can latch onto a high ledge when Lara is in mid-air for a last second save. Campfires make a return and it is here where Lara can upgrade all of her gear, like making poison and explosive arrows with all the resources you can find whilst foraging in the wilderness.
The whole adventure will take Lara to many different types of open landscapes including the freezing white snows and ice of Siberia to more lush and alive places on a semi-open world map that is laden with loads of treasures, caves, wildlife, side quests and crafting materials for Lara to hunt down. Completionists will have a field day scooping up all the content that is in this game in order to achieve 100%. In fact, the game has so much content that is not essential to the main story that it would be a shame not to explore as much of the maps as you can. And that is the point. The developers have given the player the choice – play Tomb Raider as a linear action based third person shooter or play it as it was originally conceived, an exploration-based puzzle game. You would really be missing the point and a whole lot of fun if you did not try and do the latter.
My advice to anyone playing this title who has even the slightest bit of gaming integrity is to play on one of the higher difficulty levels. On normal mode it is quite possible, and easily achieved, to defeat all your enemies by opening up with the array of weapons at your disposal. On survivor, which is the hardest difficulty mode, the battlefield becomes a lot more tactical and stealth becomes paramount. The strength of the enemies health will not allow Lara to simply shoot everyone in sight with the amount of ammo she has. Instead, she will rely on silent head shots and sneaking up behind the enemies to silently take each one of them out without being detected by anyone else. It plays out a lot like the combat in The Last of Us, and not by accident I would I would guess. Cover plays a really important role too. It enables Lara not to be detected and that is key. When she has 8 or 10 enemies to face before she can progress to the next stage the player really has to think about direction, enemy patrol patterns and what tool to use to make the right kill without being seen. It’s dynamic and very enjoyable but has taken pages out of other successful stealth games like The last of Us and even Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell.
Traversal as always is an integral part of the game and it is as enjoyable as ever. There are many ice and rock walls to clamber up. There are the ledges to shimmy across and jump from, giving you that two-second window to quickly press the right button to catch or latch onto the next ledge or wall. Death is always just a button miss away. The rope slide is back giving Lara the ability to effortlessly get from one high point to another. It’s all very fluid and well animated and starting at the bottom of a cliff face making your way up treacherous rock walls and steep inclines to get to that tomb entrance is really satisfying. Of course, to stay alive, Lara will have to hunt as well.
The animal life in the game ranges from small marsupials to enormous wild bears and mountain lions. Deer and wolves also occupy the terrain which makes hunting and skinning easy at times and also very dangerous at other times. To enter a cave without being prepared for an attack is reckless. More times than not they are the homes of wild cougars or even a pack of hungry wolves. Overcoming nature at its most dangerous will yield rewards for Lara though so every piece of exploration is worth it in the end. Lara can also craft and heal on the fly now, providing she has gathered the right amount of resources. Without it the game would be very unforgiving. It doesn’t make things easy but does give you piece of mind in the knowledge that, if you use that last arrow or your health is at its lowest, you are just a button press away to being back in the fight.
Stylistically and graphically, the game really shines, especially on the Xbox One. Particularly in the latter half of the game where Lara will find herself in the more classic Tomb Raider scenarios, there are really stunning vistas and massive indoor areas that are beautifully rendered. It makes panning with the camera a joy taking in all the gorgeous architecture and statues. As a whole package combining the level design, the exploration aspects and the story Crystal Dynamics have achieved a much more refined game since the reboot. Lara’s model has many more animations and looks the part no matter what outfit you decide she wears. She is definitely the star of the show and it is her who guides you through the game giving you the odd clue, speaking in wonderment of the treasures she finds and psyching herself up for the next danger she must face. Lara has become more than a treasure hunter. At her heart she seeks the supernatural for moral reasons always keeping the well being of her friends and the memory of her loved ones paramount. If you played the 2013 Tomb Raider you will understand how much she has grown mentally and physically in this game. Her obstacles are greater and so is her desire to overcome them. Although she has not yet become the fully fledged thrill seeker we knew from the original games, Lara is well on her way to realising her ambition of becoming the world’s best Tomb Raider.
Although the game is stuffed with Hollywood-style high-intensity action sequences when you must avoid avalanches or burning buildings, the game shines at its brightest when you discover that entrance to the hidden tomb you were searching for. At first there will be a short sequence of climbing or squeezing through craggy rock openings until you reach the tomb and it’s then you realise this is why Tomb Raider made such an impact in the first place. You will stare in awe at the ancient architecture and then begin to try and figure out how to get to the prize. The puzzles in the game are a lot more sophisticated than the last and harder to solve. Luckily with a press of the right thumbstick Lara can scan the area showing objects of use and she may give you a clue of what to do next. A cop out for some but this is the generation of videogames we live in where there is a hand to hold at every turn. Saying that, not too much is given away and it will take some trial and error, general poking about and a lot of savvy to solve the puzzles. I found myself spending near enough 40 minutes trying to figure out some of them and feeling the time I spent was worth it after getting the codex at the end of the tomb. They tend to strengthen your resolve and justify who Lara is and what she will ultimately become.
Rise of The Tomb Raider is a very sophisticated game. It has all the elements of every Tomb Raider game that came before it and more. It does this and at the same time tells the tale of the second chapter of Lara Croft as an adventurer, how she deals with the death of her father and how she deals with becoming a grown woman. The player will not only get a wonderful world to explore and action packed story to be part of, but an insight into the mind of a young woman who is essentially trying to figure out who she is. It opens up the franchise now to more games that should see Lara focusing on being that relic hunter we all grew to adore. Maybe Crystal dynamics can stop making the tombs a side note and begin making Tomb Raider games where Lara becomes synonymous with them again. I think the reboot and now this title have not only given the franchise a new fan base but given the veteran Tomb Raider player a far greater idea of who Lara Croft is. It has sprung new life into a series of games that were not bad by any standards but needed a new beginning. And this is just the beginning. As we have seen with so many other great game franchises, they burn out. It takes a really special game to revive the dwindling interest in a tiring legacy and Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider are those games. Maybe not making the tombs a main component of the two titles was a deliberate stroke of genius for Crystal Dynamics, considering it is very hard to see an end to the still brilliant Tomb Raider universe. Lara still has countless amounts of stories to tell and now we know her just that bit better. It has never been anything but a joy to be part of those tales, especially now more than ever.
This review is based on a review code of "Rise of the Tomb Raider" for Xbox One, provided by Microsoft Ireland.