November 09, 2015
Rise of the Tomb Raider - Review
When Crystal Dynamics decided to reboot the Tomb Raider series there were a lot of questions about how good it could be, but when it came out it shocked everyone by recreating Lara Croft as a relatable person and not the super acrobat we knew beforehand. When the sequel was announced, it posed a lot of questions, how does someone move on after experiencing what they did, it turns out pretty easily.
The story of Rise of the Tomb Raider is so different to what was promised when the game was first unveiled, it could be a different game altogether. Lara and her trusty pal Jonah are climbing towards the summit of a mountain to discover a lost city in the hopes of proving Lara’s father correct, but as they climb closer a storm kicks into high gear and separates the two of them, leaving Lara alone in a harsh wilderness. But before we can explore this new area, we are given a flashback to help fill players in with everything that has been going on since we last saw Lara with the events of her time in Syria leading right into where we first started. The disconnection between the two parts is really odd, we never flashback to those events again, with the ones we do get being really small, why they are put in that order is strange, but that is the least strange part of it all.
Throughout the story, you will only meet a handful of characters that will leave an impact, they are also the only ones critical to the story. While there are a lot of people you can interact with, most of the remnants are pretty one dimensional and of course the bad guys want nothing more than to turn you into swiss cheese. The big bad of the game is the organization Trinity, who it turns out was responsible for the events of the first game, the island not the giant storm and their man on the ground here is Konstantine, a man who believes himself to be doing the will of God. As an enemy he does a solid job, but he is too removed from events and when he does put in an appearance, he does not do anything especially villainous. You will have more to fear from some of the animals that inhabit the game world than him.
As far as locations go, Lara stumbled upon a pretty nice one this time and while the first few missions are all about surviving the wild snowy reaches of the Siberian wilderness, the middle sections of the game have you exploring a valley teaming with life. As the first game, in the rebooted series, Lara needs to hunt in order to get upgrades, skinning deer will allow you to craft better quivers and things like that, but you will also need to scavenge for materials to use in the construction of arrows. Other upgrades, like to your guns can be accomplished by finding materials inside of manmade locations, you won’t randomly find a gun piece in a hidden tomb this time. Upgrades are important as without them, you will find enemies are able to hurt you a lot and its not just the human ones, early on, like within the first hour, you will encounter a bear and all you can do is run from it, that is not a joke, Lara has nothing so running is all you can do, but in order to progress further you will need to defeat the bear, which requires you to gather resources and when you have enough, you can tackle the bear. Defeating the bear will feel like a real victory and it is, but at first I thought the game was harder there to prove a point, but about 14 hours in I discovered another bear and it proved to be just as formidable as the first one.
That is where the game does things better than the first, at no point can you feel safe when you are wandering around the wilds, even when you discover a village filled with people who will help you, there are still animals lurking around the village that will do you harm. The Tombs themselves are similar to the ones from the first game, with players forced to use the various tools at their disposal in order to solve the puzzles and reach the prize at the end, which is usually a codex that will reward you with an advanced skill of some sort. But even as you explore the above ground world, you will find challenges all around, like shooting all of the targets in the village, disabling a series of warning bells and alike, these are not shown on the map and you will only find them when you first complete one of the challenges. While fun distractions, they are not relevant to you progressing through the world, one aspect that can help is when you help out the people of the valley, they will task you with things like disabling radio towers, collecting supplies for the people and even rescuing some of their warriors, these will help you with new parts and gear, so they are worth doing. They are however about the only thing new to the gameplay.
Throughout the entire game, there was no point where I felt the thrill of experiencing something new like I did when I played the reboot, sure the scripted sequences are fun, but overall the gameplay is still very much like the first. Some tombs are locked away until you acquire the right tools in order to open them and solve the puzzles within and while not an issue per say, it just seems odd to repeat what was already done. As you can use the base camps to level you gear, you can also use them to fast travel, which you will need to do if you want to 100% the game, or even your gear. Some of this repetition is alleviated by the Expedition mode, which will give you a chance to do things like speed run or score attack the levels, which can be modified by the various cards you will get as you play the game. These cards can do things like making Lara have a massive head, which gives enemies an easier target to shoot at or have the bow that is equipped maxed out with its upgrades. Using these cards will impact the score, using ones that give Lara a boost during the run will detract a set percentage from the score you get, which means that you can apply more of a challenge depending on the cards you use, which you can purchase using the credits you get from completing the challenge.
Lara herself looks good, even when she is battered, bruised and dirty as heck, the team did a great job the first time around, but thanks to the added power of the consoles this time around, elements like the hair, snow and water all react and behave even better. The world looks believable, with the creatures of the woods running off whenever you or anyone else gets to close, the tigers are especially hard to spot as they like to make their way through the grass at a slow pace and its hard to spot, just as you would expect it to be. There are times when things don’t work and a lot of the time it is when Lara is running on auto, diving into cover or moving between small gaps, there is a lot of clipping to be found here, with her Bow being a very large item, you will see it passing through walls and what not quite often. While all the characters that have significant speaking roles are well detailed, the enemies and the inhabitants of the village are less so, with character models repeating often and the lack of detail can be quite apparent when you see them in the same scene as Lara.
Lara is still voiced and modelled off Camilla Luddington and sounds great still, there is a noticeable disconnect however with Konstantine, which was explained with the credits that the motion and voice were not the same person, there are times when the sound just does not match the movement and its jarring. The world itself is alive with sounds, animals will make a range of noise as they skitter off into the scrub, water will bubble or trickle depending on the source and when the weather changes, the trees can be heard creaking and cracking as they sway in the wind. The music feels right for the atmosphere, with it ramping up when the moments can be tense or when Lara discovers something of utter amazement.
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s biggest problem is that it does not do enough to separate itself from the previous game, while it is still an excellent game it just feels like more of the same and at the same time the tortured Lara we were shown when the game was announced makes no appearance at all, which is a shame.
Thanks to Xbox Australia for supplying the game for review.