Given that many found the 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot to be a breath of fresh air for the franchise, there were a lot of disappointed voices when we learnt that Microsoft had obtained a timed exclusivity deal for the game. That fact alone puts the game and this review in a slightly different light, depending on whether you’re an Xbox owner, eager to hear of Lara’s latest adventure, or someone biding their time for release on other platforms. Either way, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a refinement of what worked last time around, alongside new features that borrow from other franchises.
Once again penned by the ever talented Rhianna Pratchett, Lara’s newest adventure takes her to a remote location in Siberia where she believes a lost relic may be found. Having survived an encounter in Syria with Trinity – a shadowy organisation covering up the events of the previous game – she is separated from her friend Jonah and must continue onward to find the Divine Source and its ability to make people immortal.
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s plot is gripping from beginning to end, but the performances of the voice cast and the quality of the facial animations in cutscenes add to this greatly. Expressions seem human, thankfully without descending into the so-called uncanny valley, as you can see the desperation in a character’s face. As for the voice cast, they’re all great; Camilla Luddington in particular does an impeccable job of being Lara, and is a rising star as a voice performance artist.
The main game itself has fantastically dramatic musical scores, but it looks great too, showing off just what the Xbox One can do. Particle affects in the snow, fire, and rain are icing on the cake for a game that has grand views, epic scenery and all at 1080p. Running at 30FPS might put a few people off, and there are times where aiming isn’t as responsive as one would like, especially when trying to deal with fast moving targets.
It’s really the gameplay that counts, and Rise of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay can be best described as being largely more of the same. There’s lots of climbing up things, shooting goons, and hurriedly escaping desperate situations. Lara does at least feel more like an archaeologist this time around, using the many relics found in the field to improve her knowledge of ancient and modern languages in order to unearth more secrets.
One thing to note is that the map of Rise of the Tomb Raider is mostly interlinked, so you can return to the large and open areas full of treasure to uncover and challenge tombs to explore. An exception to this is the Prophet’s Tomb area that was shown off in preview builds, which serves as a tutorial section and, while narratively important to the introduction, is disconnected from the main game. This isn’t to say there are no ruins in the main plot. There are, it’s just not quite the globetrotting adventure I was hoping for.
Tomb Raider has historically had historical ruins to explore and puzzles to solve, and while that does return in Rise of the Tomb Raider, their placement is still somewhat sporadic. You can undertake the optional challenge tombs and side quests, similar to the 2013 reboot, but these now also appear as part of the main thrust of the story, and the puzzles really ramp up towards the end of the game. They’re perhaps the best part of the gameplay, challenging you to manipulate the environment to solve them, and they make for a great change of pace which is very welcome after battling through quite a few firefights.
You can always shoot your way out of tricky encounters, but taking advantage of the stealth mechanics and crafting single use tools seems to be the direction that Crystal Dynamics wants you to go. With the new stealth orientated perks that you can unlock, the stealth kills that Lara can enact are enough to make Ubisoft and Warner Bros. blush. Having said that, there were plenty of times where I felt I was re-enacting scenes from First Blood with Ms. Croft – albeit with all the gory brutality of more modern cinema – and it was gloriously satisfying.
Really, the most effective way of getting through large hordes of enemies is to craft items to throw into a group of foes. These makeshift items are highly destructive, allowing you to then pick off any stragglers with well-placed arrow shots. A few interesting set pieces here and there break the flow, so that it rarely feels like you’re just going through the same motions time and again.
Lara’s not exactly lacking in firepower to start off with, with her arsenal of bows, handguns, machine guns, and shotguns that are upgradeable using items found lying around and the loot from kills. This is largely unchanged from the previous title and works just as well here, with experience gained through play contributing to gaining perks that can help create new equipment.
Instead of competitive multiplayer, Rise of the Tomb Raider has a challenge mode entitled Expeditions, which take sections of the campaign and allows you to play through them for points, competing against the high scores set by others. While the majority of modes like Chapter Replay Elite are self explanatory, you also have Remnant Resistance mode, which gives you a selection of objectives to complete ranging from recovering salvage, saving hostages, and killing bears. This mode is a good diversion once you’ve completed the main campaign, if you haven’t had your fill of the game, but the appeal is somewhat limited.
You can tweak the challenges to your whim, and this is where cards come in. Progress in the campaign and various modes unlocks booster packs of cards, with more gear, mission objectives for Remnant Resistance, and other goodies within. One flagrant design choice in Rise of the Tomb Raider is how its microtransactions work. Players are able to buy booster packs of multipliers and “cheats” for use using either in-game or real money. It’s not as bad as Dead Space 3, for example, but the amount of in-game currency required to unlock boosters is relatively high, and acts as a potential barrier for people to get the most out of these extra game modes.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is an action-packed tour-de-force that, while derivative at times, is a fantastic romp from beginning to end. This sequel learns some of the lessons of its predecessor by making the game more like a recognisable Tomb Raider game, while at the same time implementing some new features and impressive visual design. While not quite the globetrotting adventure some were hoping for, Rise of the Tomb Raider is well worth playing.