First off, let me say I’m going to try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible, since Microsoft was able to land Rise of the Tomb Raider as a timed exclusive, with the game arriving on PC early in 2016 and on the PS4 during the holiday season next year. So for those who may read this but don’t have the game already and want to know if it will be worth their while once it arrives on the platform of their choice I’m going to keep story details to a bare minimum. Understand there may still be some details given that some may regard as spoilers, but I will do my best. Let me just say this: Buy this game.
Rise of the Tomb Raider picks up a few months after the incident on Yamatai, which was covered in the 2013 reboot of the franchise. Lara has become a bit more seasoned as an explorer as she follows up on notes left behind by her father. The elder Croft had been searching for the lost city of Kitezh, which is said to harbor a source of power that could grant a person immortality. Lara’s adventures take her from Syria to Siberia, where she must use all her wits and survival skills to combat the shadowy group known as Trinity. I won’t say more about the story’s plot than that. Over 15-20 hours (depending on your play style and ability) the story will take you through action packed sequences that are quite thrilling to play along with some nice twists. Definitely watch after the credits roll, as an extra scene plays out. The ending was very satisfying, and has me eager to play the next installment.
But your gameplay doesn’t end there. Addressing some fans complaints that the 2013 Tomb Raider didn’t have enough tombs, Crystal Dynamics upped their game this time around, giving you plenty of optional tombs to find and explore, along with various challenges to meet as you trek across the harsh wintry landscape of Siberia. The tombs are quite interesting and offer some clever puzzles to solve. Some are inaccessible when you first pass by them, as you won’t have the skills or equipment necessary to tackle them. Once again campsites provide fast travel points, making backtracking a breeze and allowing you to explore the game world at your own pace. While not really an open world sandbox, there are still plenty of ways to get through the levels and enough open areas that are ripe for exploration. As in the previous game you’ll acquire skill points as you complete tasks or defeat enemies. And your enemies come in various forms, from tough soldiers wearing various levels of armor to dangerous wildlife such as wolves and bears. Resource gathering is a must, as it aids you in crafting ammunition and other equipment along with modifying your weapons. Three skill trees- Brawler, Hunter, and Survival- increase Lara’s abilities, allowing you to tailor make her to suit your own individual play style. The game allows you to be stealthy or go in guns blazing. The gun play is quite satisfying, with less red barrels to destroy enemies, making you be a bit more precise and creative in how you deal with foes. As a trade off you can craft specialized ammunition for both your guns and your bow. Certain upgrades for your bow, like the rope arrow, are necessary to traverse certain areas. Each upgrade builds on the one before it but is never jettisoned in favor of a new ability. By the story’s end, you will be needing and using your full repertoire of moves for both combat and getting around the environment. It’s a terrific system, and makes for some very exciting gameplay, especially in later stages. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a thrilling game and you need to keep on your toes at all times to keep Lara from plunging to her death. Cut scenes are blended in nicely, and the game never has you doing anything extraneous. This adventure is all meat and no filler, and that serves the story well.
The game isn’t perfect, however. Lara will occasionally jump in an undesired direction (still the bane of the Assassin’s Creed series), and the story, even though it is very well told and does pack some emotional weight, is a familiar one, as a similar story has been told in both the Indiana Jones and Uncharted franchises. Still, Lara does make this her own, and Crystal Dynamics does it by paying attention to detail, especially in Lara’a face. Camilla Luddington again delivers a fantastic performance as Lara Croft, giving her a vulnerability and heart beneath her resolve and survival skills honed in very dangerous areas of the world. You know Lara is capable, and yet each jump, each crumbling ledge can put butterflies in your stomach as you know one slight misstep will lead to tragic consequences. By giving us a Lara we can fear for and have us want to keep safe just add an emotional connection to the character. We feel her wonder as she steps into some long forgotten ruins and share her pain when enemies bring death to innocent people. This is Lara at her best, and Luddington and Crystal Dynamics bring her to life wonderfully. The depth of character doesn’t end at the game’s lead. Other characters whom you’ll meet as you make your way through the story have a similar depth, including the villain of the piece. The villain delivers on being menacing, and yet we gain enough insight into the character’s motivations to make him more than just a one dimensional bad guy. This gives the story the pull needed to keep players going as you just need to know what happens next. And it can happen at your own pace, as you can choose to take those detours to explore during the playthrough of the story, or you can choose to wrap up the main narrative and then go exploring. The nice thing about the game post credits is it does acknowledge what has gone before, as Lara will hear characters dealing with the aftermath of the game’s events. It’s a nice touch, and keeps a nice continuity going instead of having extra things happen at a period somehow squeezed in before the events the end the story. It makes for a cohesive whole, and in hearing Lara’s thoughts at the campfires it’s also a nice touch in having the previous game’s events on Yamatai referenced. It makes you feel more a part of Lara’s world, and the game is the better for it.
In all, Rise of the Tomb Raider proves to be an excellent sequel, topping its predecessor in all the meaningful ways. More tombs have been added to explore along with plenty of collectibles to find and resources to gather. Its 15-20 hour main story is well told, even if it’s not wholly original, and does pack some emotional weight, and gives you an ending that will leave you anxiously awaiting the next installment in the franchise. While it has some minor issues (Lara jumping occasionally in the wrong direction, enemies that can be grenade happy), there is nothing that detracts from the overall experience. Lara Croft has never been better, and this game delivers the best outing in the franchise so far with its challenging puzzles and thrilling gameplay. This is an adventure worth exploring, and is one of 2015’s best titles. Buy this game, and enjoy the thrill ride. I can’t wait for the next adventure to begin.
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