Rise of the Tomb Raider
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Microsoft, Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Price: $59.99 US – Available Here $99.95 AUS – Available Here
The name Lara Croft has long been iconic in the game industry ever since the first Tomb Raider debuted back in 1996. After struggling to find its place in the late 2010s, Tomb Raider was rebooted in 2013 to resounding success. Now with Lara surviving her initial encounter with the dangers in the world and the various puzzles that fans are all too familiar with, what happens now that she is a bit more prepared for the world and is ready to set out on her own in Rise of the Tomb Raider? Let’s find out.
Roughly a year has passed since Lara and a few of her friends managed to survive being stranded on the island of Yamatai. Despite losing a number of people she cared about, Lara managed to overcome even the supernatural elements that were brought forth by the islands cult inhabitants. Thanks to witnessing these impossible acts in person, Lara is persevering despite many doubting the events that took place on Yamatai and is continuing the work of her father, Lord Croft, who was denounced by the rest of the historians and called insane due to his obsession with the Divine Source which is said to grant eternal life.
In an effort to prove that her father’s obsession that drove him into the grave wasn’t for naught, Lara begins searching for the Divine Source but she is far from the only one. A secret organization that has existed in shadows named Trinity has begun to track Lara and through her actions find the rough location of the Divine Source, causing the heavily equipped force to invade the rural mountain regions of Siberia in order to obtain the power for themselves.
Rise of the Tomb Raider marks the first time that Lara isn’t simply trying to survive a situation that she has been thrown into or rescuing a friend, instead she is there for her own goals and this shows with how she acts throughout the storyline. She is far more confident than before when interacting with the natives and talking with the main antagonists whenever they come face to face. Thanks to her experience it also appears that she is more than willing to reference past failures as well as not panicking in the face of extreme danger which really helps make her character shine this time around as she struggles under the ghosts left behind by her father.
As for the enemies, they are left far less vague than in the first title as these antagonists really do have an evil air about them and are willing to do whatever it takes to reach their goal, even if to them it seems like their goal may be the best thing despite having to murder whoever gets in their way. Of course to go into the leaders of Trinity would reveal some interesting twists and spoil various developments but let’s just say that they are handled far better than in the previous title. The story as a whole benefits from these enemies since, once again, the story really does play itself off as rather simplistic for the majority of the game as players will need to rely on gathering various documents, deciphering monuments, and finding other artifacts to help fill in the storyline since far more detail is provided through these collectibles than what Is generally presented to the player.
Many of Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s elements will feel very familiar to those who played the reboot back in 2013 as Crystal Dynamics hasn’t altered the core mechanics too much but they have provided plenty of new options and expanded upon previous elements. Lara is given a number of new tools to navigate the beautiful but highly dangerous world that she finds herself in and even familiar tools have been given a bit of an upgrade. As players progress they will find a spool of wire for Lara’s climbing hooks, allowing her to swing and throw the hook towards a ledge to reach further heights, as well as the ability to launch arrows into certain walls and use them as temporary platforms.
Of course the various mechanics such as the rope arrows return and in fact these ropes are used far more than ever before when it comes to puzzles. While they have previously been used primarily for creating zip lines or to drag something, they are now implemented into puzzles in a refreshing way that often requires the use of a knife to properly complete. Another element that has been expanded are the way tombs are handled. While there are a number of puzzles that are scattered throughout the core storyline, those who really want to challenge themselves will find a number of “challenge tombs” available in Rise of the Tomb Raider that range from a bit simple to those that require a bit of outside the box thinking to actually complete.
Just like before Rise of the Tomb Raider places certain collectibles, including a few tombs, behind obstacles that can only be cleared later on, such as when Lara obtains a shotgun or a rebreather, to encourage players to revisit areas that they have cleared already but this time around it is used in a less annoying way than before by offering such a large number of collectibles scattered throughout each area of the game, and various items to find that will reveal the locations of certain collectibles, that missing a few here and there won’t bother the player too much, especially since returning a bit later is a great way to show off how Lara has improved since that spot.
These various navigation mechanics and the way that new tools come into play create some exhilarating action packed sequences that rely on the player’s sense of timing to accurately complete as Lara often finds herself about to die from collapsing buildings, avalanches, explosions, and far more that lead into some of the most satisfying sequences I’ve seen in a title like this in quite some time.
Navigating the world and delving into the depths of some highly varied tombs is only half of what Lara is known for however and the other half, combat, has also been kept to the same formula with a few touch ups here and there. Lara still obtains experience points for the various actions she performs, such as killing enemies, hunting animals, completing story missions and side-missions, and of course gathering collectibles, and by leveling up players will be able to expand Lara’s skill set to become incredibly deadly to the point that playing on the normal difficulty will feel like a breeze which means that playing on something above normal would be recommended.
Gathering items and crafting have been emphasized more in Rise of the Tomb Raider than before as players now will find themselves picking up numerous items from the environment , hunted animals, and fallen soldiers in order to not only craft various improvements to Lara’s weapons, which are now presented in a tiered format that requires certain items to unlock, but also to heal herself quickly in combat, craft new arrows, and even craft various special ammunition on the fly. You see, Lara is now capable of taking items such as poisonous mushrooms, some cloth, and an arrow to create a poisonous arrow capable of silently taking out a group of foes and can do so anytime she has the ingredients on hand. This allows for a fast and varied playstyle that Lara a number of ways to tackle her foes, especially since cans can be made into makeshift explosives, bottles that previously were only useful for a distraction can now be made into molotovs, and other deadly items can be created during combat.
This does mean that the enjoyable stealth mechanics can take a bit of a backseat since players are given a plethora of options when it comes to taking down opponents, though it is worth noting that stealth is a highly valuable option on harder difficulties. Outside of a few specific areas players will find that the environment has been designed to give Lara a strategic advantage over her enemies since they will not know her location until she is either spotted or gives herself away by using non-silent lethal attacks. By climbing up tree branches or hiding in bushes players can avoid being detected while drawing enemies to their location for stealth takedowns that provide more experience than simply slaughtering everyone and offers a unique feel, especially with water takedowns now being a brutal new way to eliminate enemies.
While they aren’t the brightest of enemies, since they will investigate noises made by an arrow hitting a wall or a tossed object, they aren’t stupid. Enemies will quickly seek out cover if they are under attack or spread out and search for Lara if they find a body and once she is discovered they will hunt for her and make liberal use of explosives to try and flush her out of cover. Take some nice enemy tenaciousness and combine it with not only the tight gunplay that players are familiar but also a number of new weapons at their disposal and you have plenty of intense combat sequences awaiting Lara whenever she isn’t exploring ancient ruins.
As mentioned, players will find plenty of side activities to take up their time as they gather collectibles and hunt down animals in what is a surprisingly large semi-open environment that allows players to hunt a decent variety of enemies down, complete certain challenges in each area, and take on missions from the natives that often provide worthy rewards. Even the tombs provide far better rewards than before as players will now automatically unlock a new specific skill when they clear a challenge tomb rather than simply obtain a weapon part which are now spread around in sensible locations.
Outside of the core story, which lasts about thirty hours if you wish to gather nearly every collectible and solve every tomb, Rise of the Tomb Raider has dropped the lackluster multiplayer mode. Instead players will now find Expedition Mode. This mode allows players to play through certain areas in the game again but this time either spiced up with various modifiers to increase difficulty to compete against your friends to see who will score the best. The Expedition Mode offers various card packs that can be used to make things easier in these challenges, a bit funnier as some do provide humorous alterations to the way things work in the game, or even boosting the amount of items gained.
These can be bought with credits earned in the game or with real money though I wouldn’t really recommend that option since this mode is more of a side-activity that does nothing to detract from the great experience of the core game.
Visuals & Audio
Outside of the first brief location spent in a flashback players will be spending all of their time in Syria and while most of it may be a frozen tundra thanks to it being up in the mountains, there are some gorgeous valleys to see here as well. Every area that players explore has been lovingly detailed with little secret designs hidden everywhere. Tombs feel like the real thing as ancient carvings and long-deceased bodies are prominently displayed.
The character models themselves are also very impressive looking as Lara’s own model features a high level of detail as well as a number of different outfits available, with a few offering some special bonuses. It is worth noting that the only time that I experienced noticeable slowdown with the game occurred whenever I was by, or in the middle of, some of the massive waterfalls that are located in certain environments.
The voice work for Rise of the Tomb Raider remains as impressive as fans will remember as Lara’s voice actress does an amazing job with her character here, making her sound far more experienced with certain elements than she used to and really pulling off the emotional appeal when needed. The rest of the voice acting is also rather fitting, though only the primary antagonists really stand out among the rest of the rest of them.
Rise of the Tomb Raider manages to take every element that fans loved in the first title and make it even better. Every time that Lara manages to escape from an incredibly close call it always feels like she is doing so by just a hair’s breadth, firefights are intense moments that can be tackled any number of ways, and exploring the beautifully detailed lands of the Syrian mountains while also delving into the widely varied tombs that contain interesting puzzles this time around offers practically everything a fan could want. Put that together with a storyline that does a great job pulling things together and you have Lara Croft making a new mark for herself in Rise of the Tomb Raider, making it very interesting to see what exactly is next in line for her.
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