Having had a taste for the adventurous life in 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, Lara Croft is back for more. Based on the numerous perilous situations she found herself in I think I’d have called it a day but Lara is clearly made of stronger stuff than me.
Rise of the Tomb Raider caused quite a stir when it was announced that it was an Xbox exclusive. All hell broke loose at Playstation Fanboy HQ and Crystal Dynamics were struck off the Christmas card list instantly. This period of exclusivity should have seen Lara Croft go head to head with Nathan Drake but sadly the delay from Naughty Dog has put an end to that battle; it would have been an interesting face off though.
As much as I enjoyed it, the previous game seemed to forget its roots and favoured Uncharted style action over tomb raiding. This drew some complaints which, based on the title of the game and its heritage, are perfectly justified. With a title of Rise of the Tomb Raider, surely Crystal Dynamics have addressed those complaints?
While Rise of the Tomb Raider is not a full shift back to the games of old, it does feature a lot of what was missing from the previous game so wannabe tomb raiders can relax. What we have on offer here is a nice balance of the classic tomb raiding and the modern action scenes. There is enough of both to satisfy people on both sides of the fence and the tombs are proper tombs this time, not token gestures.
It is evident that Lara has grown in confidence from the last time we saw her. In Tomb Raider she was full of doubt and often tried to convince herself by saying “I can do this”. This time round she takes everything in her stride with no sign of uncertainty no matter what the odds are and despite my disapproving “hmmmmm” sounds at the prospect of what lies ahead. It also seems Crystal Dynamics has grown in confidence too when you compare both games.
The story revolves around Lara trying to finish her dad’s work in seeking out the lost city of Kitezh which holds the secret to immortality. And wouldn’t you just know it but some untrustworthy types are also very interested in this secret. The story matters little as Tomb Raider is all about the sight-seeing journey rather than the why.
It is impossible not to notice how strikingly good looking this game is. With all the fuss over Xbox One resolution it is often forgotten that it is a very capable machine and Rise of the Tomb Raider is certainly a looker. The scenery is simply stunning and I can’t help but stop and admire the view on many occasions. Lara herself comments on the view at times which is a nice touch that reinforces this idea that she is becoming the tomb raider and hasn’t seen scenery like this many times before.
There are various nice attention to detail touches which I like. Lara will always wring out water from her pony tail after a dip and hugs herself to try and stay warm. She does have a habit of announcing “so cold” when I plunge her into the icy water which is probably a lot more polite than I’d say if the roles were reversed. The ice needs to get a special mention though. If there is an award for best looking ice at the end of 2015 then this is a contender.
The environment isn’t always stable and Lara will have to contend with avalanches and collapsing walls and floors. It is all very impressive and a bit of an adrenalin rush at times. I can’t help but think it is a shame to see the ancient structures that have stood for hundreds of years collapse after Lara passes through. At least she doesn’t spray “Lara woz ere” on the mess afterwards.
The standard sequel formula has been applied here; more of the same but bigger and better. There has been some fine tuning rather than any revolutionary changes which means it will feel very familiar to those that have played the previous game. One thing that hasn’t gone but has been scaled right back is the quick time events. These are never popular among the masses and now they only appear when you need to press quickly to ensure Lara gets a proper grip; certainly less annoying than those in the previous game.
Lara’s means of traversing the landscape will be very familiar and as before, the sections that can be scaled tend to be visually obvious. The days of studying rock faces trying to work out if they can be climbed are long gone. Underwater swimming has been added which comes with the added pressure of finding an air pocket or reaching the surface in time. Later on in the game Lara gets access to a rebreather which sorts out any air concerns whilst underwater. She also gets her hands on a wire which she uses with her ice axe to make a grappling hook. As well as helping with progress from that point, the grappling hook also opens up previous areas that seemed impossible to reach; all that head scratching for no reason.
The combat is the same as before with the choice of a melee or firearms. There is a choice of weapon for each class with varying stats. The shock of that initial kill in the last game is long gone and Lara, like Nathan Drake, can leave behind quite a body count and not think anything of it. Considering she is up against mercenaries, it does still feel a little silly that these soldier types get dispatched with ease by someone who is primarily an archaeologist. But this is a video game so we let that slip and just enjoy the ride. The bow still plays a pivotal role in combat, hunting and general progression.
Lara’s options for stealth return with some added tweaks. The hub areas tend to be larger so there is a bit of freedom to how you approach enemies. It is possible to sneak past enemies without laying a finger on them, bump them off quietly or just go guns blazing. To aid the stealth, Lara’s survival instinct will show enemies in red if they can be seen by others. This allows for a spot of tactical planning which is a welcome addition. Cans and bottles can be thrown to create some noise in order to completely distract or to break up a crowd.
The crafting system has had a bit of an overhaul and you can now craft health and arrow heads at any point provided you have the ingredients. The crafting uses resources you have found so it pays to explore. The poison arrow head is useful for taking out a few enemies with one arrow and it tends to be relatively silent despite the choking sounds. Fire and explosive are the other head types. Once you are able to make explosives you can make the cans, previously used to distract, a bit on the volatile side.
All actions lead to XP points which can be used to buy perks for Lara. This has grown somewhat from the previous game but the categories are the same. One of my favourites is the ability to rig a dead body; quietly bump off enemy one, rig him with an explosive and enemy two comes along. And if your stealth is anything like mine, the rest of them you didn’t notice now know you are about.
Searching the environment is essential as there are all manner of items to be found. There is so much waiting to be discovered in this game. Weapon parts can be found, updates to the map can be added to help with the exploration. Languages can also be learned which is a new addition. Lara is a little rusty but finding various items will help refresh her memory meaning she can translate text and discover the location of various artefacts and tombs. In order to get everything you will need to revisit areas later. A new addition to the formula are side quests. These are completely optional but talking to certain characters will lead to extra missions to perform. There is a lot to see and do in each location and it is worth exploring everywhere.
The hunting aspect has had a little addition in the form of exotic animals. As well as killing deer, rabbits and birds you’ll come face to face with big cats and bears which present a bit more of a challenge.
Tombs are back. Proper tombs. These do feel like they have been lifted from the old games and I didn’t realise how much I missed them until I saw them. They make you work for your treasure but there is nothing too taxing, especially with the use of Lara’s survival instinct. The water tomb where I had to raise the water level to access the upper section and then raise it again to access the part over the other side felt like it was an HD version of a puzzle of old; I don’t think I’ve been nostalgic about a puzzle before. The puzzles could perhaps be a little more varied but I don’t think people are going to be disappointed with what is on offer this time round for the tomb raiding.
It is worth mentioning that there is an Expeditions mode which seems to be a time trial and score based mode with some booster cards to apply. I may dabble at some point but it isn’t something I have felt the need to try yet.
Microsoft wanted a head to head with Uncharted but it didn’t quite happen. Having played all of the Uncharted games through at least twice each, I can safely say Rise of the Tomb Raider is right up there with the best of Uncharted. The Tomb Raider cast lacks the personality and charm of Nathan and co but that is the only part in which it is behind. A very enjoyable game with some return to form with the tombs.