Game Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

Regardless of whether it’s running from pillar to pillar as it crumbles beneath my feet, or scaling a glacier wall to get the shimmering artifact at its peak, Rise of the Tomb Raider is nearly the perfect sequel. Where most franchises fail in crafting a worthy successor, Crystal Dynamics took what worked in 2013’s Tomb Raider and evolved it just enough that while it is more of the same, it’s more of what worked. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a fantastic game in its own right, while also paying tribute to its past and the series as a whole.

Lara Croft is haunted by the death of her father, and that in his death, his life’s work was unfinished. A search for a lost city is tied to a mysterious figure known as the Prophet, and the Divine Source: a relic of untold power. Lara wants to follow in the footsteps of her father, a man of which was everything to her. Much like writer Rihanna Pratchett, the parallels are striking. Her father was acclaimed author Terry Pratchett, and much like Lara would, she too followed in his footsteps. It was the basis of which this tale would be constructed from, and it works.

Rihanna Pratchett was ideally the best suited to bring Lara somewhat back from obscurity, as the popularity of this character had dwindled over the years. Unsuccessful sequel after sequel, reboot after reboot did nothing to better the character and people just lost interest. Rihanna took a character much had viewed as a polygonal sex symbol and made a real person out of her. Lara has never felt so real, looked and moved so real, and conveyed emotion as real as she has since her debut in 1996. In a way, this turned out to be the Tomb Raider movie we always wanted, just in video game form.

In the first game of this new reboot, Lara found herself to be far stronger than she ever realized, suffering through torture and tragedy to become the Lara Croft we all pretty much grew up with. Becoming capable with protecting herself, and dealing with the consequences of taking a life, Lara was not the same character we started that adventure with by the time the credits rolled and while the sequel doesn’t have that same growth for the character this time around, it completely delivers on everything the sequel should have been. There is growth for Lara by this adventures end, it’s just not as significant as 2013’s Tomb Raider had been.

Told mostly in the present, the game does shift to flashbacks occasionally, letting you view the relationship with her father, and what overall lead to his death. You’ll follow up on clues and continue his research to locate the mystical, and religious artifact called the Divine Source. You’ll be treated to wonderfully voice acted lore that talks about the mysterious Prophet and what became of him. The voice acting through the entire game is some of the best and convincingly emotional acting I have seen in this medium.

As you progress and explore each area you will stumble upon, and discover, items that relate to one of a few languages Lara will learn throughout the game. Mongolian, Russian and Greek will level up when you find a document or item that is written in one of those languages. When you level up these language skills, it will allow you translate ancient stones to discover more treasure and lore. These discoveries, as well as collectible maps you will find, show locations on the in-game map to where these treasures are, making it less tedious to gather them all. You can set way points on the map to highlight where the collectible is. At the end of the game I had about 94% completion and will definitely jump back in to wrap up that 6% by collecting the rest of the items I have missed.

This highlighting of items and treasure is through the survivor vision that marks collectible and mission way points as yellow, and item way points as blue. Much like the detective vision in the Batman games, Lara has her own vision mode here, and I was constantly using it. It was just too helpful not too.

As you trek from place to place in the wilderness of Siberia, you’ll come across challenge tombs. These wonderfully designed subsections of the map have basic to complex puzzles to solve to gain access to treasure that will boost your stats, or give you a new ability. These areas are fantastic and some of the real high points in the overall level design. I only found 2 of the 9 tombs to be really challenging, to make me scratch my head and be puzzled from. My favourite, by far, was finding ways to roll mining carts through a large blocked door.

Graphically Rise of the Tomb Raider is gorgeous. Lara and her supporting characters look fantastic, as does each and every location you will explore and discover. There are some stutters in a few of the animations, and some used far too often, like her checking her pony tail after every swim or passing between a narrow door. It’s such a trivial thing to criticize, but it does stand out each time you see it, and it’s often.

Lara is back at being the very skilled killer since the last iteration of this rebooted franchise with a variety of stealth kills, poison tipped arrows and stellar gun play. It’s extremely easy to pull of some cringe inducing kills while also bearing witness to the equally cringe worthy death scenes. Taking a bear down with poison arrows is an astonishing feat and seeing it drop just mere feet from you is almost stress inducing. The ability you get later to jump from up high and stealth kill with a dagger is incredibly satisfying.

Exactly like the previous game in the series, Lara will stop at camp sites to upgrade her gear. You can upgrade your
weapons and gear after you have accumulated the resources to do so. These can be found all over the wilderness. As you gather in-game currency you can buy new items at the shop, and some items will be unlocked via the side missions and story. I felt access to some items, like the re-breather came at the exact time it felt appropriate. You’ll have access to 3 categories to upgrade Lara: Hunter, Survivor and Brawler. Each has it’s own skill set that will boost things like firing more arrows, better damage radius on throw items, or better attacks when stealth killing an enemy in your way.

One of the most innovative items you will get is the Broadhead arrow as it allows you to puncture soft wood and make a platform. I wish this was used more often in the early game as you don’t get it until much later on.

As you enter a few of the larger areas in the game, you will come across a few NPC’s that will have a variety of quests for you to complete. These side quests will have rewards upon completing them. The first of such gives you the lock pick, which after you gain access to it, you’ll remember a locked room just an area back. It’s this overall thinking that will make you revisit areas that were previously locked from you. The time of which you gain access to this gear is timed in such a way that it really makes you feel like you are earning this new equipment at just the right time.

There is no multiplayer mode this time around, and they have included a challenge mode where you select variables to increase or decrease the point calculation you use to compare to your friends score. These variables are in the form of cards. You can use in-game points and rewards to earn packs, or just pay real money for them. The outfits and guns you unlock are only for this mode and will not affect your single player game. This mode offers a fun distraction as some of the variables, like big head mode and chicken arrows, are just hilarious. I don’t see a real need to spend actual money as the cards can be earned by just playing the single player game.

The shooting, the jumping and each of the control mechanics in this adventure are near flawless. Lara in her 1996 debut, handled like a tank. It was so easy to die or get frustrated in how she controlled. While that can happen in this game, it’s hardly the games fault and is mostly just user error. Lara controls how she should in a game of this era. Animations like I’ve said are sometimes hit or miss, or just way over used, but never get in the way of making this one of the best action adventures games ever made.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is the best example of a sequel I have seen in some time. The writing is superb, and it even has a fantastic villain, a feat that is very hard to do. Constantine is written in such a way that makes you almost feel for the guy, and his connection to Lara’s past is well handled. However, the final confrontation between you and him is sadly over before it really begins.

The conclusion to this epic adventure clocked in for me at 29 hours and 43 minutes, this included watching the scene after the credits, and going back in with the ‘continue’ option to be treated to an extra ending. As you progress around the end game, you’ll hear NPC’s talk about what happened. I never expected Rise of the Tomb Raider to have anything after completion, so this was all a nice surprise.

Like that shimmering treasure you found tucked at the back of an ancient tomb, Rise of the Tomb Raider is something worth holding on to. It’s just damn near flawless.

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