Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration Edition Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox and PC
It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since Lara Croft first showed up and made not just a huge impact on the games industry but also an impact on pop culture in general. It felt like you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing or hearing about Lara Croft or Tomb Raider in 1996. Over her 20 years in the games industry we have seen Lara go through many highs, Tomb Raider: Legends, and lows, I am looking at you Angel of Darkness. But in 2013 Lara got a reboot that some felt like it would change everything for the worst. Fortunately for us Croft fans Crystal Dynamics took everything they learned working on the previous Tomb Raider games and created an experience that breathed new life into the franchise. In 2015 Xbox One and PC owners got their hands on Rise of the Tomb Raider in a timed exclusivity deal with Square Enix. Now a year later and Lara has finally come home to the console she is best associated with. It is time to join the second worst archaeologist of all time - Indiana Jones will always hold that mantle - and raid some tombs.
Lara has arrived home after her awful vacation on Yamatai Island to an empty home and a mystery left unsolved. Her father, the inspiration behind her adventuring lifestyle, had an obsession with immortality and now Lara has picked up the research he left behind to chase the legend of the Source and the Prophet. This, once again, is a personal story for Lara, more so than her first outing. From the very beginning you can see her willing to risk everything around her to clear her father’s name and show the world that he was not a crazy old man. Her father’s obsession on finding the truth is reflected in Lara herself throughout this game as you can see her putting her need to find the Source before the needs of the people around her. It is magnificent to see this story unfold and just to see Lara deal with the situation she finds herself in. From the opening moments in Syria to the ending you see Lara finally grow into the tomb raider we know and love.
Another factor that really drives the whole adventure is just how amazing Lara Croft and the world she inhabits looks and feels. I just want to talk about how short Lara Croft is for a few seconds. I know this is a weird thing to talk about but given the fact that most women in other video games are sic feet tall and the same size as the rest of the characters, Lara Croft is a foot shorter than her counterparts. It makes her feel unique amongst all the walking behemoths that the rest of the cast are. Anyway Lara’s facial animations are some of the best I have seen in video games to date. From the subtle gestures you notice in cutscenes to her really expressing pain and anger at certain situations, her facial animation really showcase the emotions she is feeling. The rest of the game and its world also draws you into the whole experience. The Prophet’s Tomb in Syria is a beautiful opening setting and really juxtaposes the harsh and cold snowy lands of Siberia that the majority of the game takes place in.
While the 2013 title focused more on combat over puzzles, Rise of the Tomb Raider finds that balance between the two. No longer are puzzles simply restricted to secret tombs and caves. They are now integral to the story with a large majority of the opening of the game dedicated to puzzle-solving with little combat in between. It once again feels like Lara is back to raiding tombs and not shooting psychotic cultists in the face. One particular puzzle stands out as a highlight during the Baba Yaga DLC that has you using a series of ropes to solve a puzzle. The joy from these puzzles comes in the form of Lara never straight out telling you how to solve them. She will give you ten minutes of silence to take in the scene in and if you are struggling she will then give you a small hint through dialog. The system works great and it never feels like the game is practically handing you the solution. I personally applaud Crystal Dynamics for taking this approach with their puzzles.
Survival makes a return with more of an emphasis on the collection of resources. Unlike the previous instalment that had you collecting one resource, Lara has to now look for multiple resources to craft items. Crafting is no longer exclusive to upgrading weapons and equipment either but also comes into play during combat. If you want flaming arrows you will have to craft them. Want a Molotov cocktail to burn your enemies? First you will have to find an empty bottle and then make sure you have enough materials to craft one. In theory I thought this would be a pain but the game rewards you with enough resources through the environment and looting enemies that it never really becomes a problem.
Combat is still great fun with each weapon serving a certain purpose. The bow makes a welcome return along with the single pistol, assault rifle and shotgun. You are no longer confined to one version of the bows and guns either this time around, they now come in a few different styles and settings. For example you can have the recurve bow that looks more traditional and sacrifices accuracy for speed. Or you can choose the compound bow that has higher accuracy but is slow to draw. The game really allows you to customise your play style with lots of different weapon types and upgrades. The only one factor that lets combat down is the fact that Lara never gets to dual wield pistols. I know with this current version of Lara she is more of a bow user but the dual pistols really were an iconic weapon for her and given the ending of the previous game I figured she would have taken them up again.
For people looking for a reason to pick up Rise of the Tomb Raider again, not that I haven’t given enough reasons already, the Blood Lines DLC came out the same day as the 20 Year Celebration Edition and it is one huge nostalgia trip. Blood Ties takes Lara back to the ever stunning Croft Manor and unfortunately it has seen better days. If you have played previous Tomb Raider games you will know that Croft Manor is usually full of trophies and grandeur but to see it in such a broken state is actually kind of shocking. Unlike previous instalments of the property, this version comes with a goal that has the player with finding the code to a vault. To say any more would spoil the whole experience but it is a great ride. Nods to previous games and in-jokes make this feel like a great celebration of Lara’s twenty year history. A personal favourite of mine is the subtle inclusion of a dinosaur that makes a reference to the original Tomb Raider’s iconic T-Rex battle.
The DLC however doesn’t stop there. Oh no, Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Celebration is the game that just keeps giving. You have a zombie mode that has Lara fighting through a nightmare version of the Croft Manor. Endurance mode sees Lara fighting for survival as you try to track down treasures while also staying alive by finding food and healing items. A whole card system that allows you to customise your endurance experience with new skins, enemies, weapons and - if you are feeling very nostalgic - big head mode. As another bonus, you also get the original skins from original Tomb Raider trilogy in their glorious polygonal stylings.
I honestly can’t stress enough about how amazing Rise of the Tomb Raider is. It looks amazing, plays like a dream and has a story that will pull you in and not let go until you are done. The base game on its own is worth your time but throw in all the content that comes with the 20 Year Celebration Edition and you can see why I praise this game so much. Happy Anniversary Lara, I hope we get to have many more adventures together over the coming years.