Rise Of The Tomb Raider Review: This Is My Lara Croft!
I make it no secret that I was a huge fan of the 2013 Tomb Raider reimagining. Crystal Dynamics took their most popular IP and reinvented it for a new generation. Gone were the dual-wielding pistols and long ponytail, as well as the other “endowments” that defined Lara Croft. The developer stripped that all away and presented the world a younger, more vulnerable Lara, and then put her through absolute hell. It was gorgeous to look at and a true pleasure to play. And now, Crystal Dynamics is back with a new adventure for the hipper, younger Lara in the Xbox One timed exclusive, Rise of the Tomb Raider.
A year has passed since the events on the island, and Lara Croft (wonderfully voiced by the returning Camilla Luddington) now sees the world differently. She is no longer the entitled little girl who would “play adventure” with her friends, she is now a true survivor. When her father’s life-long quest reveals the secret of immortality — a secret that ultimately ruins him — Lara becomes determined to prove to the world that her father was right, and she sets out to finish what he started.
Standing in both of the Crofts way is the mysterious entity known as Trinity. This religion-based group of crusaders will stop at nothing to ensure that their beliefs are the only beliefs, and if obtaining immortality aids in that cause, they will shed blood to make it so.
This race to the prize between Lara and Trinity makes up the crux of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s story. While not entirely original, what Crystal Dynamics — and Rhianna Prachett, the game’s writer — have come up with in terms of story is very solid, as the fringe elements are fleshed out, and we learn by playing that Trinity has been around a very long time, and they’ve been seeking this “divine source” for centuries.
Rise of the Tomb Raider opens with four distinct location changes in the first hour, from icy mountain tops of Asia, to the arrid caves of Syria, to the rainy streets of London, and back to the snowy wilderness of Siberia. Each location is a sight to behold, as Crystal Dynamics has truly topped themselves visually. The blowing snow slowly builds on Lara’s shoulders as she climbs the mountain, and again as she’s forced to survive in the dangerous wilds of Siberia. And the gameplay and action pieces in that first hour are incredible. I often found the palms of my hands damp as I made jump and after jump, running from avalanches, helicopters, and wild bears. It was incredibly intense, and that intensity rarely subsided throughout the game’s 30-plus hour story.
Once Lara is forced — yet again — to find a way to survive, the wonderment of Rise of the Tomb Raider really begins to shine. Playing solo, and being forced to scavenge for supplies and to think on how to get past adversaries, is only one small part of the RotTR experience. The varied regions in the game switch back and forth from action-based shoot-em-ups areas with cover and plenty of ammo dumps, to an almost open world, fully explorable region that contain so many secrets and things to discover that I found myself spending hours tracking down documents and caches, hunting animals for skins and supplies, and occasionally coming across some bad guys to take out. These regions offer so many different ways to traverse, and as Lara progresses, she unlocks new skills and weapons, which begs the player to come back later and find new discoveries. It’s as if this particular iconic game heroine was taking a page out of another legendary bounty hunting heroine’s play book.
Rise of the Tomb Raider also sees the return of actual tombs to raid. Nothing against the 2013 Tomb Raider, but those “tombs” were more like caves that Lara stumbled across in her journey. Here, there are nine distinct puzzles that can be solved, with the prize being an ancient codex that give Lara new abilities, making them worth pursuing, even if the majority of them are optional. There are also secret crypts to discover which are actually more like the tombs in the first game of this rebooted series, but again, the reward for finding and completing them makes Lara stronger — one way or another — and they are worth seeking out to complete. Regions also have a handful of challenges that can be completed. These are completely optional — like, “destroy 10 red laptops to disrupt Trinity’s communications,” — and the rewards are massive XP and coins that can be used in another area of the game.
Lara has her “survival instincts” which can be used by pressing a button, which highlights secrets, animals, enemies, and many times, the true path forward. In particularly difficult areas, initiating survival instincts allows Lara to think out loud, nudging the player toward the solution without saying outright “shoot that there.” This near-perfect balance in gameplay — both in the quiet exploration and in the heavy action episodes — really defines Rise of the Tomb Raider, and sets it apart from other games in the series, as well as the genre itself.
The action in Rise of the Tomb Raider is some of the best I have ever played. The way Lara is allowed to climb, dive, crawl, squeeze, run, and slide over any obstacle gives the player a unique freedom of motion. I never felt like I was being forced into something (like QTEs), and they seamlessly blended in with the story as I was living it. It gives RotTR a very cinematic feel, without breaking the suspension of disbelief too much.
Combat has been slightly revised from the previous game. Lara seemingly has more options here to end her enemies. She can rely solely on stealth attacks, or she can run in guns/bow ‘ablazing. Or a mixture of both. Crystal Dynamics peppered each area with enough ammo and materials so the player can honestly choose the best way to do what needs to be done. And there are a few incredibly fun combat scenarios later in the game, like one that has Lara playing “hide and go seek” using holes cut into the ice and the freezing water below.
Lara has four options for weapons (not including her pick-axe/melee), and each weapon (bow, rifle, pistol, shotgun) has multiple varieties (standard bow, to recurve, to compound…) that are unlocked as the game progresses. On top of that, each weapon is upgradable. In fact, I spent a good amount of time customizing nearly everything, including the outfits that Lara wears. When I was exploring an old Soviet camp, I wore my thick red coat (this IS Siberia, after all), but if I was in a geothermal cave, I switched out to her commando gear, or tank top ensemble. There is a slight advantage to certain outfits, but I did it purely out of aesthetics. I was really, really into this game.
On top of the excellent gameplay and story, Rise of the Tomb Raider looks absolutely fantastic. This is the best looking game on the Xbox One to date, hands down. The character models look and move realistically, and the environments are near-photo quality. Even the fauna looks amazing, as wolves, bears, deer, and rabbits (among so many other creatures) are spot on. Even the little things, like Lara’s iconic ponytail, flow in a life-like manner, and the character animations are as realistic as they come. When Lara exits water, she will adjust her ponytail, wringing out the excess water. This attention to detail is astounding.
Thankfully, Crystal Dynamics opted to lose the silly, out-of-place multiplayer mode for Rise of the Tomb Raider, replacing it with “expeditions,” which allows the player to replay levels for time, earning scores. The scores are then put in a worldwide leaderboard, so you can compete with friends to strangers to see who is the best at each level. The player has the option of using collectable cards to help/hinder the experience. In using cards that hinder, the score is modified higher upon completion. These cards can be purchased in packs using in-game coins, or with real money in micro-transactions. The cards vary in what they offer, including some very strange cards like shooting chicken arrows (yes, it is just what you imagined) and both Lara and enemies having big heads. A number of packs are awarded just by completing levels, and completing the campaign earns you 100,000 coins that can be used to buy packs.
Crystal Dynamics has done an amazing job of breathing new life into Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise. This new Lara Croft is younger, faster, and as she experiences the events that are shaping her up to be the globe-trotting antiquities-lover that we’ve all come to know and love, a new generation of fans get to see how it all came about. Rise of the Tomb Raider is not only the best Lara Croft game yet, it’s easily one of the best games of 2015 — and though a timed exclusive — it is currently the best game on Xbox One. And if the post-credits scene is any indication, Lara’s story is only just beginning, and there will be many more adventures to come.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is available exclusively (for now) on the Xbox One starting on November 10th. This review is based off a review code provided by Microsoft.
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