GREATNESS FROM SMALL BEGINNINGS
Note: The following review is SPOILER FREE!
There are moments within Rise of the Tomb Raider where you feel like a real archaeologist, moments where you happen upon Mongolian artifacts, Soviet-era installations and Greek murals inside ancient labyrinthine tombs. And the best part is that these instances are frequent and present throughout the campaign. It’s these regular instances of exploration, deduction and wonder that make Rise of the Tomb Raider one of the most memorable and polished campaign experiences I have played this year.
The stuff of legends
Rise of the Tomb Raider is Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal’s second foray into Lara Croft’s universe, and picks up very closely after the ending of their first game. Players immediately find themselves in the shoes of Lara mourning the loss of her father and attempting to come to grips with her traumatic experiences. These internal struggles lead her to obsessively dive into her father’s research on eternal life, eventually pushing Lara to the mountains of Syria in search of the lost city of Kitezh (Ka-tesh). The story is incredibly fast paced, quickly uncovering secrets and legends within the Syrian mountain passes.
Trailing Lara on her 15 to 20-hour journey is Trinity: an Umbrella-esque corporation with a large global reach and an affinity for shooting first and asking questions later. In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Trinity is driven by the psychopathic tendencies and religious fervor of Konstantin, their leader. Konstantin’s character contains just as many mysteries and buried skeletons as Lara’s, which, when combined with good voice acting and a well-written narrative, make Konstantin a truly terrifying antagonist within the game. As Konstantin hunts Lara throughout the Syrian wilderness, Lara finds refuge from the Remnant and their leader Jacob. Jacob and the Remnant are well realized, and their stories are fleshed out through collectibles and relics. Jacob, like Konstantin, is a man heavily motivated by faith and loyalty, making him the perfect counterpart as both men wrestle with similar internal conflicts in drastically different ways. There are also moments within Rise of the Tomb Raider where the writing hints at the negative consequences of imperialism and the enforcement of Western ideologies on foreign cultures and peoples. These moments were a nice touch. They felt like they solidified the essence of the Tomb Raider franchise as an action game that recognizes the importance of history and the value in cultures other than our own. That is not to say that the campaign is deeply cerebral, though. It has its moments, especially in the relationship between Lara and her stepmother Ana, but it is an action game at its core.
It’s got everything but monkey bars.
If you played 2013’s Tomb Raider, there are no new gameplay mechanics within Rise of the Tomb Raider that will have you saying, “Whoa dude, this is, like, way different now.” Moment-to-moment gameplay includes exploring vast wilderness spaces and defending yourself with the use of grappling hooks, rope arrows, makeshift explosives, a bow and arrow and a few guns as you make your way towards Kitezh. However, unlike the previous Tomb Raider, these areas feel deep and justified. All of the larger regions within the game are littered with a host of mechanics and quests that can be used to upgrade Lara’s three distinct skill trees.
Crafting extends to the combat this time around. Like The Last of Us, Rise of the Tomb Raider lets you craft explosives, molotov cocktails and ammo during combat. Unlike The Last of Us, which had players dig in their inventory to find the resources for crafting, Rise of the Tomb Raider makes crafting tied to whatever specific item the player has equipped. The result is a fast and fluid crafting system that lets Lara react to combat situations as quickly as possible. This makes the combat feel visceral and rewarding, especially on harder difficulties. Essentially, Rise of the Tomb Raider turns the incredibly hostile environment of the Syrian mountains into an adult jungle-gym, begging to be explored. What’s even better is that as you progress through the story and unlock better gear, new areas in already completed sections open up for exploration, adding a level of replayability to the already extremely engaging environments. All of this combines so that by the end of the game, with enough upgrades and the right skills, Lara turns into an almost invincible, death-dealing juggernaut on a mission, and it’s fun as hell to play.
Hey, thanks for reading this far. Below is a Let's Play of me playing the start of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Check it out.
There is no multiplayer component to speak of in Rise of the Tomb Raider, nor is there any type of cooperative play. Crystal Dynamics went all in on their commitment to a single-player campaign experience. While that may be disappointing to some people, the decision is admirable as more and more games shift towards multiplayer-only formulas. Replayability within the game is found in the form of expeditions and challenges. Expedition mode allows the player to replay previously completed segments of the game with modifier cards active. These cards are acquired by completing challenge tombs, crypts and side quests for Lara’s several NPC allies, which are then used to buy booster packs of cards. Many of these modifiers make the game easier for Lara by leveling up her weapons or skill trees, but others make the game extremely difficult. One card I saw caused enemies to remain on fire, causing them to deal additional damage to me if I tried to melee them. Other weirder cards included things like making enemies have enlarged heads, or allowing me to wield a gun that shoots chickens with explosives taped to them. Though I haven’t experimented with them too much, the expedition mode and modifier cards seem like welcome additions to a single-player-focused experience.
I didn’t even know ice could look that good.
Environments and set pieces within Rise of the Tomb Raider are absolutely gorgeous. Whether you’re looking at skeletons entombed in pillars of ice, snow-covered Syrian mountain tops or crumbling structures decorated with murals and paintings from the ancient Near East, the places you see and explore are some of the most atmospheric environments in any game in recent years. Snow in particular looks amazing in this game and is used in pretty unique ways. Your character and NPCSs actually leave distinct marks in the snow depending on their actions. Ice and water are stunning as well as each reacts to variations in light and distance within the environments. At times I caught myself simply staring at the ruins and woods around me and choosing to walk instead of sprint on my way to destinations. This is true even of the sprawling hub areas of the game set in mountain valleys.
Throughout my 17 or so hours with Rise of the Tomb Raider, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Indiana Jones movies (except for the most recent, of course—no offense Shia). That’s not a slight at the game, that’s me saying that the game so accurately captures the mood and tone of those movies. I felt like an intelligent, adventurous badass the entire time I played it. Crystal Dynamics and their version of this rebooted Tomb Raider universe is quickly becoming one of my favorite franchises. Whether the game is pitting Lara against armies of immortal guardians or having her climb decaying ice walls along a cliff face, Rise of the Tomb Raider constantly gives the player tense new experiences. The third-person action genre has a new primary contender. Watch out Nathan Drake; Lara’s playing for keeps.
How do you feel about Eidos Montreal and Crystal Dynamics’ take on the ‘Tomb Raider’ universe? Do you like the game’s decision to get rid of multiplayer? Tweet me @FlagCap. And be sure to follow us @YouNerded.
*This review of Rise of the Tomb Raider is based on playing a digital copy of the game on the Xbox One console.
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