Rise of the Tomb Raider is the Empire Strikes Back of the Lara Croft saga. It takes everything the original did and improves on the formula, delivering a compelling, adrenaline soaked experience that only leaves you wanting more.
To say that the game had a burden to bear would be an understatement. It was revealed at E3 2014 as a Microsoft “exclusive”, then not an exclusive, then back to an exclusive. Sort of. Instead of giving the game the attention it deserved, Microsoft managed to screw up the messaging entirely, delivering a mixed message about whether it would be a console exclusive. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be for long, coming to PC and PS4 next year.
But Rise of the Tomb Raider manages to confidently soar above all the controversy and the mixed messaging, further establishing Lara Croft as one of the cornerstones of the gaming industry. The action is fast paced and brutal, and a fantastic performance by Camilla Luddington and great writing by Rhianna Pratchett only go to solidify the game as a breathtaking experience.
The game wisely puts the focus on Lara at all times, which really pays off towards the end. Croft is traumatised, perhaps a little less so than the adverts would have us believe, but she’s still struggling to cope with the ramifications of the great reboot two years ago. The story also challenges Lara’s moral conflict: is it really worth putting hundreds of lives at risk to prove a point? This question compels Lara, ultimately evolving her into an emotionally layered character.
Aside from Lara, Rise of the Tomb Raider features an intriguing ensemble of characters. Jonah returns from the reboot, similarly scarred from past experiences, while a pair of sibling villains give a dynamic edge to the game. Villains are something that videogames frequently struggle with, so it’s great to see a pair of them with solid motivations and some psychological issues here.
Croft also encounters two new characters along the way, both of which have equally sympathetic motivations as the villains. This only goes to further the already great storytelling that the game does, and Lara is constantly torn between pursuing her own agendas and putting these aside to help those in need.
There’s not even a mention of Sam however, something I find particularly annoying for a few reasons. Sam was one of the big focusses of the reboot, and you’d imagine she’d be even more scarred than Lara considering what the villainous Mathias put her through, but she’s nowhere to be found in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Her story prior to this game, as it turns out, is buried in a comic book series.
This I find particularly problematic, as although there was a fairly big marketing push from Crystal Dynamics and Rhianna Pratchett for the series, I guarantee you at least 80% of people playing the game won’t have even heard of the limited run. This means unknowing players returning from the reboot won’t have a clue what happened to one of the main focusses of the original game, something that makes Rise of the Tomb Raider feel slightly disjointed from its great predecessor.
Not that the game can’t stand on its own two feet however, because it definitely can. The combat is largely unchanged from the previous entry, something I can only attribute to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality. It’s still a blast to play with, and goes to make the game feel incredibly grounded, something that “high adventure” games often struggle with.
A new addition is that Lara can now craft ammo and health on the fly, which makes scavenging around the environments feel even more rewarding than before. Practically anything gathered, be it wood, leaves or oil, can now be used in some way for crafting items, and this gives a new dimension to combat. When backed into a corner by enemies, can you quickly craft a molotov cocktail to even the odds? This addition makes combat even more tense and fast paced, proving it to be a selling point of the series.
Another new inclusion is the variety of weapons that can be found throughout the game. Whereas the reboot had a single weapon for each type (rifle, shotgun and pistol), you can now find different weapons for each slot. There are SMG’s, assault rifles and bolt-action rifles for that respective slot for example, which really allows you to choose the exact play style you want throughout the game.
The traversal mechanics are also solid, something that a few other games could take particular notice of (hello, Assassin’s Creed). The fast paced nature of the game coupled with the ability to swiftly manoeuvre around truly go hand in hand, barely ever slowing down long enough to let Lara catch her breath. I could barely find a bug or a glitch after hours of trying, and in today’s video game industry, that’s truly a great accomplishment.
The tombs are also back, only this time, there’s even more of them! One of the main complaints of the reboot is that there were barely any tombs to be found, and so Crystal Dynamics have gone above and beyond to provide the player with hours of challenging, and rewarding tombs. You’ll have to stray off the beaten path to find them, which further rewards the player for taking time out of the main story to explore the beautiful surroundings.
Players can also come across NPC characters that will offer side quests to undertake. While these are admittedly trivial in some areas, they do give an atmosphere to the environments, populating them with characters that you’d otherwise take no notice of throughout the main game.
There are also new hub areas, three of which I encountered throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider. The design of these areas is really smart, giving players a big, but not too big area to roam around and scavenge in. This is where you’ll find most of the challenge tombs and the side quests, effectively giving the player solid motivation to explore and spend some time in.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is huge, confident step forward for the franchise. Lara is elevated to new heights as a character, while the story is propelled by both her and other great new characters combined with a solid script. The combat is just as invigorating as it previously was, while crafting and more weapons add a layer of choice for the player. This game solidifies Tomb Raider as one of the leading gaming franchises, and I’m all the more happier for it.