Rise of the Tomb Raider’s development and release were marred by controversy and annoyance over its timed exclusivity to the Xbox One and Xbox 360. However, depending on your platform of choice, that exclusivity is coming to an end, as the game is set to release on PC this week.
The first stand out is just how good this game looks. The 2013 reboot was no slouch in the visuals department, especially when played on PC or current gen consoles, but Rise of the Tomb Raider takes this even further.
The snow effects in particular look gorgeous, as it glistens and twinkles in the sunlight, and Lara leaves dynamically created trails behind her in the snow, as it gives the satisfying crunching sound underfoot. Aside from a brief jaunt to Syria, Lara’s journey sees her battling with mercenaries and struggling with the shady elements in Siberia.
Admittedly, it soon returns to a familiar set up as the 2013 series reboot, with Lara largely isolated and working alone, and fighting through an abandoned and decaying military installation. However, Lara feels like a more assured and confident character. This is still an origin story of sorts, as flashbacks to her childhood explore some of her relationship with her father and her motivations, but this is a Lara Croft that’s well versed in exploring.
She’s actually prepared for this journey, for one thing, with clothing to suit the freezing conditions – though when the wind kicks up and the snow gets heavier, she still shivers. She also doesn’t have to relearn basic skills like the two-stage clambering up a wall to reach a higher ledge, though there is character progression to be had in reacquainting her with advanced combat techniques and acquiring new weapons and improving her equipment.
Comparisons to the Uncharted series and it’s high body count are inevitable, but excepting the upcoming fourth entry in that series, Tomb Raider has its own spin on proceedings. This isn’t quite the same linear action romp, and with a world map and camp fires that you can return to, it doesn’t have to be played like one. With barriers to your progress that require certain abilities or upgrades to break down, there’s a touch of the Metroidvania sub genre that passively encourages you to track back and forth.
Certainly, the body count is still high, and try as you might, you’re often pushed into situations where you have to kill several enemies, but there are also other situations where you don’t have to. With a little determination to do so, there are points that you can sneak through without spelling any blood, timing your move from one piece of cover to the next and avoiding detection.
As with previous entries in the franchise, the game’s puzzles are largely environmental, urging you to find a route to your ultimate goal via leaping and clambering alongside explosives and winches and pulleys. Notably, there are puzzles that are now part of playing through the main storyline, in addition to the optional challenge tombs which will reward you with enhanced abilities or weaponry to help you on your way. They’re not teeth-gnashingly difficult, but will at times give you pause for thought at the very least, with a solid sense of satisfaction at making your way through.
On the whole, it performs very well on my PC – an overclocked Intel Core i5 3570K alongside a Radeon 280X. Running with a solid 60 frames per second and more than 1080p is beyond my set up, but even with the graphics settings at their highest, including the AMD specific Purehair feature, it can stay above the 30fps point most of the time. My GPU was considered high end in 2012, but now sits firmly in the £150-200 mid-range bracket, so more recent and more powerful designs will easily be able to handle this at the highest levels of detail.
Update: A launch day patch has just been released which fixes the below motion blur issue, so gamers probably won’t ever see this! Be sure to grab the latest graphics drivers for your PC as well, as there have been reports of poor performance on NVidia cards with unoptimised drivers.
However, there was one minor hiccup that I experienced with the introductory cutscene to The Syria level. Put simply, the motion blur effect went into overdrive, smudging the entire screen in the process. It’s an effect which doesn’t seem to be in place on Xbox One, the image of which can be matched by temporarily turning motion blur off. Chances are this will be patched out in short order.
Even with that minor issue in mind, it’s another feather in Nixxes and Crystal Dynamics’ caps that it’s largely a very smooth port to PC, which goes beyond the console versions where possible. With the Xbox One version capable of a 1080p image, with dynamic resolution downscaling during the most intense moments, it bodes well for the PlayStation 4 version of the game, when that’s finally released later this year.
Regardless of how you feel about the timed exclusivity deal – and let’s not kid ourselves that other manufacturers don’t indulge in these deals in one way or another – Rise of the Tomb Raider was one of the best games of last year, which followed on from and evolved much of what the reboot did right. PS4 gamers will have to carry on waiting, but alongside this week’s release of the Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch DLC, it’s well worth playing or returning to on an Xbox or a gaming PC.