I’ll openly admit that I’m normally the first to complain when a reboot of a classic game is announced. There are just so many bad ones. Bionic Commando, Sonic Boom, Turok and (in my opinion the most egregious of all) Syndicate are all examples of game series that have been given a shoddy reboot to grab money from an established franchise. Thankfully, in recent years good reboots seem to be outweighing the bad ones, and 2013’s Tomb Raider was certainly a pleasant surprise. I didn’t have much interest in it as I was never really a big fan of the Tomb Raider games, but it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable game. An origin story for Lara Croft with a semi open world to explore, although the shooting felt a little floaty and there was the curse of last generation’s tacked on multiplayer.
It sold well enough in spite of what Square Enix might have said (apparently just shy of 4 million units is a failure) to earn a sequel. And here we are with Rise of the Tomb Raider, which has been on Xbox One and PC for some time now, and will soon be coming to PS4. We find Lara in pursuit of an artifact known as the Divine Source, said to conquer death, with the aim of restoring her father’s name. Before long we find a shadowy religious organisation also searching for it because…reasons. I felt that the villains’ motives were very unclear during the game. They seemed to be no more complex than “to rule the world” which is about as generic as they come. The key members of Lara’s opponents are not all that well fleshed out, although how she relates to them in cut scenes is well done at times. Overall, the story is a little weak, but what there is of it is told well, in spite of something of a plot hole towards the end. Collectable logs from different eras of history add depth to the areas you’ll be exploring and how the Divine Source has effected various groups over time.
As has been the case with a lot of games I’ve played recently, this one looks great. The ice and snow effects are gorgeous, and little details like footprints in deep snow and Lara wringing out her ponytail after swimming add to the look of the game. Cobwebs in caves blow gently in a breeze and wildlife go about their business, looking up suspiciously when they hear you pass by. There are some oddities in the environments though. This game is far more linear than the previous installment, which is fine, The environments seem to go from snowy, mountainous peaks to sun-drenched forest in a very short space of time. Maybe this is something that happens in nature, I’m no expert, but I found the shift somewhat jarring. There is something to be said for keeping you environments varied I suppose.
Those environments would be meaningless without something to do in them, and Rise of the Tomb Raider has plenty of activities without overwhelming you (take note, Assassin’s Creed: Unity). You’ll find the aforementioned logs, historical relics, animals to hunt and challenges to complete. Best of all are the return of the challenge tombs, hidden deep inside caves. These act as large environmental puzzles that reward you with new skills for Lara. These are by far my favourite part of the game, forcing you to use the abilities you’ve gained in creative ways to navigate hidden temples and stranded ships. This is where the game is at its most creative and it’s a shame that there aren’t a few more of them, or those that are there aren’t a little longer.
Combat is enjoyable (although it lacks much depth) and doesn’t overstay its welcome, although it does get a little tedious towards the last half hour. Stealth is an option in most cases apart from the odd set piece, allowing you to hide in tall grass and snipe with your bow or stealth kill enemies. Makeshift grenades and Molotov cocktails allow for some diversity through the game’s crafting system (which pretty much every game needs these days apparently). Different arrow types can also be crafted to alter your strategy somewhat, as well as upgrades for your other weapons and equipment. All these materials are found in the various environments, by searching, hunting animals and looting enemies. Crafting elements in games are becoming the new modern military FPS: absolutely everywhere. But they make sense in this game world, and aren’t overly relied upon. The combat itself isn’t too challenging, you’re far more likely to die due to the occasionally wonky platforming. Most of the time it works very well, but sometimes your just doesn’t go quite where you expect, or you can’t grab onto the ledge you thought you could. The game has plenty of checkpoints though, so it won’t set you back far.
After the game ends, you can go back and replay sections for chasing high scores. This wouldn’t really be worth mentioning in most cases, but there’s a good system of altering the game for these which adds a lot of fun. You earn points throughout the game that you can use to buy card packs that can be applied to your next replay, adding big head mode, stronger weapons, reducing your health and so forth. These will add score modifiers to your run, either more points for cards making it harder, or fewer if they make it easier. It’s a fun system that makes replaying levels far more enjoyable than in other games. Sadly it comes at the expense of the inclusion of micro-transactions for buying card packs. You can earn them in game, but I do find this sort of micro-transaction irritating, especially when you have a full DLC package involved too.
Rise of the Tomb Raider was developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend it as a solid action adventure game in spite of a couple of flaws. There’s plenty to do here without feeling like an Ubisoft collectible party. Another series reboot that’s working well? Maybe that will be the theme of video games in the 2010s.