Rise of the Tomb Raider Review
Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on Microsoft Xbox 360
Rise of the Tomb Raider picks up around a year after poor Lara was stranded on a supernatural island chock full of all types of danger - from standard mercenaries to wild animals, all the way to an ancient civilisation with a series of mystical beings in tow. Unfortunately for her the events of the original Tomb Raider reboot (2013) left her scarred having witnessed the truly supernatural along with watching the majority of her friends die. Her adventure this time around is more grandiose, in both size and the scope of story that is being told - this time it isn’t about character progression, wherein which we previously saw Lara change rather quickly from innocent little adventurer to stone cold killer in a few hours. Here she is who she is and it’s a go from the beginning. Lara is thrust, via her late father’s work, into a race to find something known as the divine source deep in the heart of Siberia, as well as fending off and ultimately ending the shady organization known as Trinity. Along the way she encounters huge puzzle-filled tombs, a whole host of bad guys that need shooting, collectibles galore, text to translate, guns to upgrade, caves to explore, rare animals to skin and a massive amount of well constructed environments to traverse. The comparisons to Uncharted when the reboot of Tomb Raider was released were reasonable but deep down everyone knew that the reboot was a nice effort but it wasn’t on the levels of Uncharted 2. Rise of the Tomb Raider however...
Wasting no time at all the game thrusts you into its world through the use of epic Hollywood-style cinematics and moderately interactive game play sequences, all of which were very nicely done in the reboot, but are cranked up here tenfold and grab you immediately.
Comically every-one will quote how it is exactly like Uncharted 2 yet Tomb Raider clearly inspired the Uncharted series in the first place so the whole discussion is cyclical and if used negatively, completely moot. What people should mean when they say something like this is, think Uncharted 2 in terms of cinematic, grand scale, Hollywood blockbuster-type storytelling mixing crazy set pieces, straight forward traversal, loose but fun gunplay and stunning graphics. Rise of the Tomb Raider is all of these things!
Visually the game is for the most part breathtaking. The wild expanses of the hillside towns and villages in the mountains, all the way to the snowy mountain peaks there is so much love and attention on the screen it’s tough to not be taken by it. It’s interesting also that, unless the old eyes are playing up, it looks at its best during the in engine cinematic sequences, particularly those Hollywood style set pieces with environments crashing in around you as opposed to the actual cut scenes themselves. In engine it’s the little touches that help everything just pop, crackle and fizz - from the physics on Lara’s clothes to the way running is effected by explosions or falling debris, the steadying of oneself against a wall when close by, the snow, the wind, the hair blowing around Lara’s face, it’s all stuff that would grace a ‘nice to have’ list within a development department but not here; here it isn’t just a nice to have, everything is in. The level of polish on the visuals and the animations is fantastic throughout
As well as looking and sounding top drawer, there is a lot more to Lara’s adventures this time around, marking quite significant progress from the 2013 reboot. Working alongside the new campaign is a series of fairly straightforward side missions, each of which add a new variety to proceedings, working alongside the traditional linear adventure and providing you with some nice weapon upgrades for your troubles. The variety of these missions isn’t something that will make The Witcher 3 sit up and take notice but they do add some excellent variety to proceedings. They usually take the form of helping to find certain items for people dotted around the map and in one instance, bolstering defences for an oncoming attack. If you are a bit of a hoarder it’s likely you will already have what is required in your inventory so these missions provide some quick and easy XP!
As previously those lovely XP points allow you to upgrade Lara’s plethora of skills via three core skills trees. Little has changed here if you are familiar with the reboot; three trees, survivor, hunter and brawler. Utilising these you can, to a degree customise Lara to suit the way you play as well as unlock key items (well make them easier to find) within the environments. Add to this the ever present raft of weapon crafting upgrades and there is plenty to keep the player feeling that LEVEL UP buzz which drives so many forward.
A series of key additions/changes to the formula of the first game really do help to push the franchise forward, along with the items we’ve already mentioned. The areas in general throughout the game are now much bigger, as well as bigger hub areas. Caves are plentiful, usually hiding massive rare beasts which will take a clip or three of your rifle to put down and within which you can mine for a new unique currency. Tombs are back in a big way, presenting you with brain teaser after brain teaser - they are also plentiful this time around with some areas containing three to five, none of which are clearly marked; most of the time the entrances are sneakily hidden but there is nothing here to make you want to break a pad. There is an excellent new language deciphering mechanic - the world is littered with items that require translation but sadly Lara cannot translate some of the core items due to her lack of knowledge with certain languages, which include Greek and Russian. As she finds more and more items her translation level per language levels up, until you eventually reach the point that all secrets on an area map can be seen, helping towards that elusive 100% completion target.
Speaking of collectibles...there are a ton, bordering on the ridiculous, but for the most part they don’t really interfere with the experience. They will however if you are one of those gamers who cannot resist something shiny as there are so many of them you will likely (and often) miss an important story beat or some background dialogue as you decided to check out a new relic cutting into the already playing audio, replacing that with a detailed verbal description of a golden cup (or similar). Frankly though, whilst the game does have a crazy number of collectibles; relics, strongboxes, documents, murals, survival caches, coin caches you don’t have to keep grabbing them as soon as you see them.
Finally, the aforementioned new currency can be spent at a new vendor within the hub camps in which you are helping to fight the good fight and whilst really really expensive, the items on offer are often streets ahead of what you are currently packing, so stockpiling currency is a great call early on.
As a package Rise of the Tomb Raider is sublime pure Hollywood blockbuster entertainment with the only real negative that some could level is that the minute to minute gameplay presents very little that would be considered groundbreaking or new and at times it might feel similar to the previous iteration. This is really clutching at straws though. Looking at the package as a whole, as a cinematic adventure experience none of this stuff matters. Lara took it up a notch!