RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER Review
November was a crazy month for video games. It saw releases for COD, FALLOUT 4, and even the much anticipated STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT. There has been much discussion about these huge releases and many opinions shared back and forth about them. Unfortunately, I find that there is one game that has gone under many people’s radar and simply isn’t being talked about.
And, frankly, I think it’s the one game everyone should be talking about.
The future is bright for the Tomb Raider franchise
Back in 2013, Crystal Dynamics rebooted the long and historic Tomb Raider series, showcasing Lara Croft’s origin story and exploring the beginning of her transformation into the treasure-hunting veteran we know and love. It was a story of isolation, survival, and exploration on a harsh, secluded island, where Lara Croft needed to learn and master skills quickly to survive. Now in 2015, RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER continues the evolution of Lara, hardened from her time on the island. She has been changed by her adventure, scarred from her experiences, yet also instilled with greater drive.
RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER follows Lara and her obsession with hunting down the fabled Divine Source, a mythic source of eternal life, that her father spent years hunting, a fruitless endeavor that left him labeled as a failure. Not only will discovering the Source validate her father’s belief, but also Lara’s account of what happened on the island; that there are supernatural forces that cannot be explained.
This complex, emotional motivation drives Lara Croft across the world, from Syria to Siberia, hunting for clues and artifacts to paint the tale of an undying prophet and his people who worship the Divine Source as a gift of God. All of this globe-trotting is further complicated by the presence of Trinity, a shadowy organization with intents on finding the Divine Source for their own personal gain. Headed by Konstantin, these guys mean serious business, and are willing to kill for their prize.
“At least all this fire will keep me warm…”
All of this thrilling adventure is cemented by the standout performance of actor Camilla Luddington, who perfectly portrays the shifting emotional state of Lara Croft throughout the game. Lara has been through some serious events and this new adventure has its share of trauma as well. This is a powerful woman who has been beaten down, again and again, and Luddington perfectly crafts a portrait of a fearless woman, endlessly rising back up and pressing forward. The rest of the cast does an equally fantastic job. Special credit goes out to the portrayals of the antagonists, the heads of Trinity, who come across more nuanced than the typical “evil bad guys.” They have motivations that are clear and emotionally centered. Their goal isn’t world domination, but rather a quest as personal as Lara’s. That the antagonist’s plight is sympathetic is something few other games can claim and is a testament to TOMB RAIDER’s writing.
RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER is gorgeous. From the opening shots of mountain vistas, to the dark dungeons illuminated only by Lara’s orange glowstick, the environments look phenomenal. Colors pop and light fills every image. I spent way too much time pausing and admiring the landscape, looking around for awe-inspiring screenshots. This attention to detail crosses over to cutscenes, where character models look fantastic and facial animations display incredible depth and nuanced movement.
“Artifact, artifact in my hand, who’s the prettiest girl in all the land?”
But this is still a video game we’re talking about and fortunately, gameplay is excellent as well. Much like its predecessor, RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER plays like an Indiana Jones film, with an emphasis on exploration and survival skills. Much of Lara’s power is derived from her ability to scavenge resources from her environment, traversing mountains to hunt wildlife and using what she has found to upgrade her gear. All of these enhancements boost her combat effectiveness, which is something Lara will need to overcome Trinity’s soldiers.
Speaking of combat, RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER plays much like a traditional third-person shooter, which incentivizes players to move throughout the environment taking advantage of cover, elevation, and line of sight. Lara is continuously outnumbered and outgunned, so by using her stealth skills to silently take out her foes with bow and arrow, or building a explosive from a tin can, she can hopefully level the playing field. Outside of combat scenarios, the game incorporates platforming and traversal as Lara must scale mountainsides, climb towers, and attempt leaps of faith to different platforms. It’s incredibly fluid and later sections of the game test all of Lara’s skills to their fullest.
Chaotic set pieces do a lot to amp up the intensity of the adventure. Nothing really compares to sprinting down a temple hallway as the walls crash down, floorboards shattering with each step, all while dodging a hail of bullets. These moments are placed strategically throughout the campaign, typically catching players by surprise, much like Lara herself.
The campaign is lengthy and has many twists and turns, but it’s best discovered at a player’s own pace. Additional content is provided in the form of a myriad of collectables and optional challenge tombs. I found the tombs themselves to be fantastic challenges, and some of them are genuinely head-scratching. Thankfully, completing each tomb will reward Lara with valuable skills. Lara’s buddies will also offer optional side quests, tasking her with various objectives around the environment. These also typically offer upgrades for her inventory, further encouraging exploration.
Who taught them how to park a ship?
Outside of the campaign, the game offers a series of challenges in Expedition mode. These scenarios utilize all of the skills and environments in the main campaign, but in a fun little diversion. They can all be modified by cards to change the experience, such as Big Head mode and others. These cards can be purchased through microtransactions, but players can earn them through the campaign mode as well. This wasn’t my favorite aspect of the game, but with its leaderboard functionality, it’s definitely a nice addition.
I have played a lot of games this year, including standout titles like FALLOUT 4 and HALO 5, but RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER is probably my favorite experience of them all. It bundles action and emotion, adventure and adrenaline into a gorgeous package that left me wondering how it could possibly get better. This is what a sequel should be; an expansion of its predecessor and an advancement in every category. Do not let this game slip by without consideration. It is a fantastic title, and has cemented Lara Croft as one of my new favorite heroines.
Reviewed on Xbox One