Raiding tombs with a more mature and capable Lara.
In the first Tomb Raider reboot from Crystal Dynamics, we were introduced to a young and inexperienced Lara Croft and boy, did we put her through hell. Not only did she squeal with pain, question her own abilities and and fight for her life, but we even left her re-evaluating what was actually real in this world.
Now, with Rise of the Tomb Raider, we see not only an evolved game, as you would expect from a sequel, but also an evolved Lara. She has seen things that normal people wouldn’t see and survived events that would leave the average person pushing up daisies. Lara has lost her sense of naivety and is chomping at the bit to take on her next adventure.
And what better adventure than following in the footsteps of her dead father. In his later years, Lara’s father became obsessed with finding an artifact called the Divine Source, which can basically cure all ills and pretty much give immortality. Of course, the archaeological world all thought he was completely crazy, which left the Croft name as a bit of a joke.
Now, with everything that she has witnessed in the first game, Lara believes her late dad may have been onto something, and so begins her latest adventure which, after a couple of pit stops, ends up in a geothermal valley in Siberia. Equipped with steely determination and plentiful abilities, Lara sets out to find the Divine Source and clear the Croft name.
But she is not alone in searching for this powerful artifact. Over the years, a mysterious religious cult known as Trinity have also been searching for the Divine Source, and they are hot on Lara’s heels. While mostly made up of the sorts of mercenaries that no one else would hire, which make for excellent target practice for Lara, their leader Konstantin is a much more formidable foe. Armed with a fervent belief that his mission is of utmost religious importance, Konstantin is an unpredictable and ruthless antagonist.
There are plenty of twists and turns in the story, and multiple collectibles that reveal yet more back story along the way. The writing is brilliant and the main story will quite easily keep the player engrossed for the duration of this lengthy quest. Despite her experience and new found confidence in her abilities, it is easy to see that Lara still has a way to go before becoming the tomb raiding powerhouse that we all know she can be, and this tale is only part of her journey as we see her evolve even further towards that goal.
Of course, the story would be irrelevant without some decent gameplay to back it up, and here Rise of the Tomb Raider also manages an evolution. Without moving too far from Tomb Raider, all aspects of the gameplay feel as though they have been tweaked or added to. The platforming aspect, whether moving around a dark tomb or clambering up a cliff side, is fluid and feels more involved than before. Players will find themselves jumping great distances to grab a lip by their fingers, jumping into nothing before throwing out a grappling hook at the last minute, and throwing themselves at walls and getting their climbing axes out at the last minute to catch hold. It is really enjoyable, and any failures can easily be put down to the player.
The combat is also incredibly satisfying. Lara is equipped with here standard bow to begin with, but quickly amasses a collection of guns that can be easily switched to on the fly with the d-pad. The guns and bow can be upgraded by collecting various items found throughout the environment, and parts can be found for new weapons. The items gathered can also be used for crafting various different pieces of equipment, such as to hold more ammo, and the player can craft special arrows, such as poisonous or explosive, and bandages on the fly with a simple button press.
Firing the weapons feels much more solid this time around, perhaps as a result of Lara’s increased proficiency, or maybe just due to better mechanics.The melee combat feels a little hit and miss, which is perhaps the only criticism I can aim at the game.
While running in, guns blazing, is always an option, the game suggests stealth more often than not. Again, this is very well implemented, with Lara moving through the bushes and taking out guards with her silent bow or by sneaking up behind them and using here climbing axe, feeling both tense and enjoyable.
Aside from following the main story, which is always easy to find with Lara’s survival instinct that also highlights all other objects of interest within an area, there is plenty to do in this open world environment. Along with hunting animals or finding all of the collectibles, there are side quests offered up by some of the valley inhabitants, and there are the hidden tombs to find and conquer. These tombs are incredibly varied, offering both environmental puzzles in the same style as older Tomb Raider games, and nice rewards.
Once the main story is finished and all of the collectibles have been mopped up, the play doesn’t end. In place of the competitive multiplayer from the last game, you now have Expeditions. In Expeditions, the player can replay various chapters of the main game with modifiers which are represented by cards. These can increase the difficulty or give the player certain perks, and these Expeditions can then, once the player has completed them, be offered up for friends to try and leader board bragging rights.
Visually, the game is simply stunning moving at a solid framerate. The environments are lush and varied, and the characters all look and move realistically. Little details have been added to bring yet more immersion, such as when Lara gets out of the water and wrings her hair out. Rise of the Tomb Raider really is as much of a joy to watch as to play.
The Tomb Raider reboot was a very good game, and the sequel has managed to improve upon it in every single way. The story is engrossing, the characters are believable and the actual gameplay is smooth and easy to slip into. Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best games of the year, and deserves to be played by all. I am left looking forward to Lara’s next adventure.