Lara Croft is back for a new adventure, but this time an adventure that, for the moment anyway, can only be played by Xbox One and Xbox 360 owners.
Rise of the Tomb Raider follows on from 2013’s very successful Tomb Raider reboot and is set a year after Lara Croft’s escape from the mysterious island of Yamatai. This new adventure has a young, but slightly more seasoned Lara embark on an adventure to clear her father’s name.
Having played 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot across a range of formats from Xbox 360 to PC, including the new-gen definitive editions, I was a bit apprehensive at hear that the follow-up, Rise of the Tomb Raider, would be an Xbox One exclusive (initially, anyway). Don’t get me wrong, the Xbox One version of the Tomb Raider reboot is very nice, but I’d had been spoilt by the PC version, and to some extent, by the PS4.
Thankfully, Rise of the Tomb Raider looks absolutely gorgeous on the Xbox One. The visuals are clean and beautifully lit. Crystal Dynamics really seem to have harnessed the power of the Xbox One now. Even the Lara Croft 3D model is a vast improvement over the one in the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition. The environments, as well, are absolutely stunning.
The developers seem to have really upped the scale of the levels, no doubt due to the extra processing power of the lead console, the Xbox One, over the old-gen consoles that the last game originally catered for. A few times I found myself just panning around to take in the view.
The gameplay is very similar to the previous game, if a little more refined. It’s still a third-person action adventure game, neatly divided into exploration, puzzles and combat. I can’t stress enough at just how masterfully designed the gameplay is, with some superb pacing and a great balance between the action sequences and puzzle-solving.
Lara starts out with just a mountaineering axe for climbing and a pistol. Considering just how useful she found it last time, you’d have thought that she would have bought a compound bow along with her. Still, during the course of her adventure she procures all manner of weapon and equipment so as to never overwhelm the player and slowly ease you into the game’s mechanics.
Initially, Lara’s climbing abilities are limited to jumping and grabbing ledges and climbing rock faces and ice walls. Later on, as you gain extra equipment, she is hoisting herself up walls, swinging across chasms and jumping onto climbing arrows.
Combat has changed very little from the previous game, which isn’t a problem at all. Lara can sneak about in the bushes, stealthily removing enemies one by one, or go in guns blazing. Harder difficulty settings promote stealth, but the easier settings are quite forgiving, allowing for a frantic mixture of melee combat and gunfights.
As you progress Lara’s weapon’s improve, with tougher opponents requiring more ingenuity to beat. Lara’s equipment also improves allowing access to areas previously blocked. The additional equipment forces you to think a little more as traversing through the environment becomes more complex.
The game has the same upgrade system and crafting system as before, which is fine—don’t fix what’s not broken. At base camps, which are also save points, Lara can upgrade her skills using available earnt skill points and her equipment using materials gathered in the field. This could be pelts from skinned animals or scrap and components found scattered about. Once unlocked, Lara can also craft some items on the go, like Molotov cocktails from bottles and even proximity mines made from enemy radios.
Base camps are also the place were Lara’s skills can be upgraded as she earns XP. Skills are split into three types: Brawler, Hunter and Survivor. Mastering these skills makes Lara a more efficient killer, able to better scavenge from the environment and craft better item. The skill tree is huge, allowing players to customise Lara’s abilities based on their play style.
Veteran fans of the series will welcome the inclusion of even more actual tombs to raid this time. The completion of optional challenge tombs offers Lara new perks and abilities like quicker healing and new weapons.
I’ve got to say, though, the puzzles are still nowhere near as difficult as in the original games. Not one of them had me pausing to think about it. Most of them almost solve themselves with the player unknowingly stumbling on the solution.
As you locate base camps you can fast travel between them allowing you to backtrack and get those missed collectibles or find that illusive tomb. Revisiting regions later in the game with better equipment upgrades allow new areas to be accessed. As with the previous game, once the main campaign is complete Lara is free to comb the maps for any undiscovered tombs and collectibles.
Rise of the Tomb Raider, like it’s predecessor, is full of collectibles and optional activities. Scattered about the environments are adventurer’s packs, coins and artifacts, maps and ammo. Written notes and tape recorders add optional backstory that can either be taken in or skipped. By translating text written on objects in the world, Lara’s language skills increase unlocking more of the background story.
For some of the more intense areas during the campaign, revisiting post-game to clear out collectibles and allows you to really appreciate the level detail. Even though I’d finished the game I found that there was still much to discover and many allied missions to complete.
For the most part the game is set in the Siberian wilderness with Lara looking for the lost city of Kitezh, the home of the divine source, the search that that seemingly cost Lara’s father his life. Trinity, the shadowy organisation that should be familiar to fans of the Tomb Raider comic book, led by a deluded madman that thinks he is the chosen one and his devious sister, are also after the artefact. During her search Lara finds some incredibly unlikely allies in the, interestingly American-accented, Siberian tribe tasked with protecting the divine source.
This is still the “little girl lost” young adult adventure version of Lara Croft that was OK for the Tomb Raider rebooted origin story, but offers up very little in the way of character development considering the horrendous trials that she had to undertake to survive the island of Yamato. It would be nice to see the sassy, confident Lady Croft from the original games, once more.
Whilst the general premise is interesting and the plot interesting enough for me to want to find out more, the story does seem a bit off at times. I found this surprising considering what a great job scribe, Rhianna Pratchett, did with the last game and the success that she is currently having writing the Tomb Raider Dark Horse comic book.
The plots McGuffin is an overused cliché, sending Lara on a quest to vindicate her dead father. It’s a bit of a lazy way to give Lara the personal drive to embark on another quest and one that we’ve seen before. Maybe next time we with see a Lara that is happy to go on an adventure just because, rather than because of a sense of duty.
I found Camilla Luddington’s breathy delivery of Lara’s lines really grating this time, as she puts on a very forced faux British received pronunciation accent. The Tomb Raider voice and motion-capture actor is British by birth but has spent many years living in the US. Her real accent is actually bit “mid-Atlantic”- a bizarre mix of southern English and LA valley girl.
To be fair, all the above can easily be overlooked, as overall the gameplay is actually superb. If you do find the plot a bit much, you can easily skip to the next bit of exploration and ignore the story.
As if the game wasn’t big enough, the games fresh addition for this year, Exploration, adds near infinite replay value. Rather than include a multiplayer game that nobody cares about, Square Enix have added a card-based mission generator that is an interesting mix of EA Sports’ Ultimate Team and the Hitman Contracts feature from Hitman: Absolution.
As players progress through the game they earn credits which can be used to purchased packs of cards. Using the initial gifted set of cards or the additional cards purchased from the in-game marketplace, the cards can be used to modify either pre-created challenge levels or to create your own. These challenges can then be posted for other players to try.
Cards can strengthen or weaken Lara or the enemy by adding special abilities, outfits or weapons. You can even give Lara or the enemy big heads. Each card has a positive or negative multiplier depending on whether they make the game easier or harder.
Using environments and levels from the game modified using cards, players can create thousands of different challenges, making Rise of the Tomb Raider a game that is very difficult to put down.
Narrative-style adventures tend to suffer on the replay, unless they are REALLY engaging. Rise of the Tomb Raider joins a limited number of games, that includes the Tomb Raider reboot and the likes of Uncharted and The Last of Us, as being a game that I’m likely to return to again and again.
The engaging, if uneven, story and fun levels are complemented by tons of collectibles and a large number of impressive optional tombs that are craftily hidden away. The game looks beautiful, really showing off the under-used power of the Xbox One. The inclusion of the Explorer mission generator is absolute genius and cements Rise of the Tomb Raider as one of the year’s best games yet.