With the PC release at the end of January and the PS4 version anticipated for ‘holiday 2016’, myself and Joesephyr thought we should put our heads together to review the Xbox One timed exclusive of the second installment of the new and somewhat revitalised Tomb Raider series. Our very own Gary has been playing the PC version and has kindly shared all of images throughout this review from the game to show you what you can expect.
Within 5 minutes of loading up Rise of the Tomb Raider, you know you are in for a treat. With an opening sequence not unlike that of Uncharted 2, watching the snow crunch underneath Lara Crofts’ feet, the snowstorms, the mountains in the background, both of us were taken aback at how beautiful the scenery in this game really is. This is something that stays with you during the playthrough of the game. The settings are beautifully varied, with attention to detail on every corner. It may sound strange for a review to open with commentary on the landscapes of a game, but it really had to be mentioned first!
Lara herself has clearly grown a lot since 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, which I did a little review of way back when, in which she was flung into a situation she had to escape rather than one she enters willingly looking for answers. Joe admits, there was a part of him that missed the vulnerability of 2013’s Lara, as he felt she was a lot easier to relate to, and there was something about the sheer panic she put on display that made her feel raw and exposed as a character, which isn’t something you see very often in video games. This isn’t to say that Lara has completely changed as a character in Rise of the Tomb Raider, but she’s definitely come into her own with a bit more sass and confidence than she had before. She still gasps and swears whenever something doesn’t quite go to plan, (and we always giggle every time she does, as it reminds me of hearing a teacher say a naughty word, and we doubt we are alone in taking a guilty pleasure from that!) and the odds are heavily against her again in this story, giving us a different reason to root for a more hardened, mature Lara than the previous game, even if it’s slightly less powerful.
The motivations in this game come from Lara’s father in this game, who we are given a much wider insight into, with flashbacks and journals telling us more about his life and his search for the Divine Source; an artifact said to grant immortality to any who wield it. Lord Croft died however while trying to uncover it and his drive to do so caused the world to think him insane and disgraced his name. Lara, having already driven off a Sun God and an army of Oni demons in the last game is now somewhat less skeptical of her fathers’ research and opens the game continuing what he started. While the last game gave us characters Lara was already well acquainted with, Rise of the Tomb Raider gives us a pleasant mix of characters both from Lara’s past, and her present, meaning we can develop relationships with newer characters at the same time she does.
The story is very good. Linear in nature with the occasional dash of side missions that will give you a little break from the almost relentless action that follows Lara where ever she goes. By deciphering clues about The Prophet, Lara is determined to stop the baddies from taking this dangerous and powerful artifact before they meddle with forces they cannot know about. A new allegiance develops with the people sworn to protect the relic and the ancient lost city as Lara proves her quest is for the greater good and not selfish endeavors. Along there way there are Tombs to explore (more than before), relics, collectibles and even artifacts which help improve Lara’s Greek and Russian so she can tell you about the history of it all. Similarly to Tomb Raider, there are some darker moments in the game which might give you a little chill. I find that they do have an affect on the story rather than just throwing in a bit of gore to shock the player but to show how absolutely crazy the situation is. All very enjoyable though.
There’s lots to do and see to help you make the most of to the experience, which in all honesty is pretty amazing on the Xbox (damnit!) and is looking to be incredible on PC… Therefore, I have high hopes for a Definitive Edition on PS4 later this year. As well as the stunning visuals we mentioned at the start, there is also a nice score (if you listen out for that sort of thing), great sound effects and lots of exploring to do. It’s all very atmospheric. I’m personally a fan of when Lara has to go for a swim and she rings out her hair as you exit the water. You believe Lara is cold when she is outside in snow storms and her inappropriate sounding grunts and groans as she climbs and leaps. The fight sequences can get very intense at times and you get lost in the action a little, so it’s worth having a look around once the chaos dissipates to make sure you don’t miss anything. There are more traps this time around and it’s always good to have a slow motion sequence as a giant spiky block of death slowly falls from the ceiling as you get a few moments to shoot it before being impaled. Luckily this doesn’t happen all the time as I could imagine it getting a little tiresome if it was at every corner. I felt there were fewer quick time events but they are still lurking in there during some combat sequences and whilst climbing, other than that, it’s all up to you.
The attention to detail looks to have taken a step forward since 2013 and so have Lara’s deaths. I have to say, I hate accidentally killing Lara. Once you get through the first couple, you are just waiting to see what horribly graphic way the developers will off her next! The worst one for me is Lara being mauled by… well, any animal really but prior to release, there were some YouTube videos showing the various deaths if you wanted to see what you’re in for. But the aspect most gamers want is the puzzles! Rise has included more of these with the challenge tombs and certain points of the game but I feel that there was room for a few more during the main story. The puzzles can be pretty quick to solve, but if you’re finding it a little tricky like I did at times (because I suck at puzzles), then using Lara’s instincts you can work it out after looking for anything glowing.
Improving your Lara is similar to 2013’s Tomb Raider as you have to keep getting that all important XP to put into the Survivalist, Brawler and Hunter slots. While everyone has different approaches to the skill tree areas, I was quite keen to improve Lara’s fighting skills and crafting skills to ensure that I could take less damage, heal quicker and craft all of the things to help me through the trials ahead. While some incendiary devices aren’t available to you until you find them during gameplay, it’s came in handy when I needed explosive shotgun shells and the like in a hurry. Overly complicated crafting and upgrading can seem more like a chore rather than a benefit in some games, and although there are a few skills that most people probably won’t bother with (because they aren’t that useful unless you want 100% completion and trophies) the majority will assist you as the game gets tougher. Both the 2013 and more recent Tomb Raiders handle this pretty well in my opinion to a point. Significant weapon upgrades come from raiding some of those all important tombs so if you miss them, you’ll have to go back to get them. Due to just trying to get through the story before I inevitably got it ruined for me, I missed a lot of tomb and weapon parts so I look forward to playing again just to make my bow or shotgun completely badass! My only criticism is that I felt Lara already knew a lot of the skills because she would have technically accumulated these in Tomb Raider. Even if you hadn’t played the reboot and jumped straight into Rise (which I just wouldn’t understand) it would make sense that Lara already has mastered some of these abilities. I personally would have already had certain things pre-purchased as it were and made the XP grind a little harder or just added in some different skills in order to mix it up a bit. Maybe even some skills that have a detrimental effect of current abilities until you upgrade enough for it to balance out. It’s just a thought!
Combat wise, it is pretty much the same as the previous game, which for me isn’t a bad thing. You can choose the gun-ho or stealthy approach to combat in this game. I personally liked throwing grenades at people, but not so much walking through the burning hell fire it sometimes produced so watch out for that. There is a particular area after you pick up a handy tool for breathing underwater in which you have to take out lots of people while under the ice… I died a few times doing this and it tends to take you back to the checkpoint at the start. So basically, if you’re going to be good at stealth… don’t get killed! As in the 2013 reboot, there is a small range of enemies Lara will face. From dial-a-henchman to armor plated chaps and crazy ass sacred warriors, you will need to be quick to avoid getting taken out. This also applies to the animal kingdom. Bears, wolves and big mountain cats roam in particular areas so watch your back! I wasn’t ravaged by a deer and didn’t come across the famous killer bunny but I certainly used skinned some for materials to help me out on occasion. The format is simple, yet effective. Search for relics, explore, take out bad guys, explore more, oooo a tomb with a puzzle, discover ancient lost cities, fight more and more baddies before you reach the revelation and ultimate conclusion. It does work well and the cut scenes fill in the gaps of what has happened since Tomb Raider and how Lara has gone from the innocent explorer to the hardened, determined fighter she is now. These are also visually stunning and assist the story telling without being irritating. Crystal Dynamic and Eidos Montreal have succeeded in producing a beautiful, fun, adrenaline packed action adventure for one of our favorite gaming heroines.
I was blown away by Tomb Raider in 2013. I’m pretty sure it was even my game of that particular year. I was so happy when Rise of the Tomb Raider was announced, but less so when Microsoft stated it was their timed exclusive for a console I didn’t feel would do it justice. I was very wrong in that aspect. Rise of the Tomb Raider plays very well on the Xbox One and I realised this when I played the demo at EGX 2015 and was very grateful when Joesephyr kindly let me borrow is Xbox One so I didn’t force myself to wait a year or try and wrestle Kuniku for some PC time even with the steep requirements to run the game to perfection. It looks beautiful on PC and Xbox. The sights, the sounds, the atmosphere, the action. This game has it all. It doesn’t give you much time to catch your breath and right from the outset you are thrown into a dangerous and exciting scenario that you’ll be itching to make it through and I would say it’s almost the perfect length for the main story of around 14-15 hours but dare say if you did everything in the game you would be doubling that. I want to be Lara Croft more than ever now and I want to play more Tomb Raider games. I will be very interested to see what the future will hold for the series. Will it follow in the steps of Uncharted and take a longer break between games to keep the fans wanting more? Will they attempt to bring back the original games? Either way, I sincerely hope that we see Lara again soon.