“Lara is back and on perfect form…”
It feels as though it has been an age that we have waited for 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider to transition from Xbox exclusive title to its PC release. Fans of the game have been anticipating Square Enix’s second title in the rebooted series with high hopes following the game’s first run of positive reviews. As ever, PC gamers will be expecting something special from this version of the game, looking for the best graphics and performance the developers can offer to make the experience the best it can be. Personally, I am just happy to finally be able to pick up the latest Lara Croft adventure.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is set just one year after the intense events of the previous game, which saw Lara and her cohort of academics and close friends shipwrecked on an ancient and dangerous island by a freak storm event. It soon became clear that this was not an isolated incident, and that mystical powers were at play. Former victims of these storms had formed a cult on the island, worshipping a powerful figurehead, previously thought to be only of myth, named Himiko. It transpires that the island is in fact the lost kingdom of Yamatai; the location which Lara and company had been searching for and attempting to prove the existence of. After finally foiling the dark desires of the cultist leader Mathias, the surviving members of the group manage to escape their captivity on Yamatai and return home. This is where the first game’s story ended.
The trials which Lara was forced to face on the island and her realisation that some stories of myth may in fact be true began to mould her into the survivor that she is infamously known for being. Rise of the Tomb Raider seeks to show how these escapades changed her from budding archaeologist to a fearless and ambitious tomb raider. Attempting to portray the psychological impact of Lara’s prior ordeal, the game sets itself a high bar in terms of the story it hopes to tell. Without giving away too many of the details, the game sees Lara following her late-father’s research into dangerous territory. She seeks an artefact which is said to hold the secret to immortality, however a group known as Trinity are also hot on its trail and will stop at nothing to obtain the item and its power.
The game’s story is another fantastic outing for Lara in the rebooted franchise. It sets you free to explore beautiful settings around Syria and Siberia, making great use of the game’s immense graphical prowess to give life to these settings. Riddled with action and packed full of exciting and intense plot twists, Rise of the Tomb Raider pushes the high-paced action of its predecessor to the extreme. At times the story falters, flattening gameplay elements by showing Lara solving difficult situations with what are otherwise optionally-obtained items. A scene for example where she breaks free of handcuffs with a hair clip negates the gameplay mission which leads you to unlock a lock pick in the game. Ignoring such minor slips however, the story will absolutely keep you on your toes and leave you pining to find out what will happen next.
Rise of the Tomb Raider employs several new gameplay elements on top of the 2013 game’s. There is a far more elaborate crafting system in the game, allowing you to forge new outfits, weapon attachments and ammunition from hunted animals and gathered resources. You can even put together makeshift explosives in seconds from items found in the environment. The weapon set is largely the same as in the previous game, but with a greater variety of each bow, pistol or rifle for example being on offer. Some of these can be constructed by collecting parts, whilst others are rewards for completing the game’s new optional missions. Educating Lara is also a big part of the game now too, with each artefact you find which originates from a certain culture increasing her language skills for that local dialect. Some objects will require a certain skill level to decipher their secrets, enticing you to search for these items on your travels. The game features far more optional tombs to explore as well, something which the previous title in the serious was lacking. These contain more meaningful rewards too, most notably new ancient abilities. These skills can only be learned by completing the challenge tombs, and reward you with a significant boon in Lara’s skill set for your troubles.
Whilst the beginning of the game feels a lot like Assassin’s Creed III as it teaches you to hunt animals, leap around tree tops and use your special vision powers to seek out your targets, you soon get past this feeling and into the good stuff. The wider gameplay experience is very similar to that of the previous Tomb Raider game, which is certainly a cause for praise. It is good to see that the developers of the new game were well aware of what they did well before, as well as expanding on areas for improvement. Combine the new and old features and you are left with a far more open and immersive experience overall than what the predecessor achieved. While the former game did a remarkable job in testing the new waters, Rise of the Tomb Raider very much dives into them. And that isn’t just because Lara can swim again now.
An epic story and well-developed gameplay experience are complimented by the aforementioned aesthetics of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Bring forward some systems such as Lara’s incredible hair physics and realistic environmental effects, the game once again keeps the best of what has been tried before. Add to that greater dynamic lighting effects, even more realistic vegetation and impeccably designed landscapes and the visual experience of this game is hard to match. Some clever design features such as Lara’s reactions to cold and the behaviour of animals in the wilderness round of the game’s visual prowess making the world an outstandingly believable one. Combined with some of the very best voice acting performances in gaming right now, the entire game feels about as real as they come. It all feels so real, and that is an understatement. The immersion factor of Rise of the Tomb Raider is spot on.
I only have one real gripe with Rise of the Tomb Raider, and that is with a feature outside of the main game. You can now play expedition challenges, which test you in different situations such as defeating enemies or navigating an area. This is a perfectly reasonable game mode to add, however connected to it is yet another of these video game card pack systems to try and get you to spend your money. You can buy these with in-game currency, and they are certainly an optional feature, so it should not affect your judgement to play or distract you from an otherwise excellent title. They just feel so out of place in this Tomb Raider game, and really do not need to be there. Much like the previous game’s multiplayer mode, if feels like this feature was added out of a feeling of necessity than for any groundbreaking gameplay purposes. Sure enough, the cards can change up the challenges by adding clever twists into the mix, but there are better ways that this feature could have been incorporated, and it certainly should have been done without enticing players to spend more money atop the main game and season pass.
If 2013’s Tomb Raider was a groundbreaking return for the series, then Rise of the Tomb Raider is a landmark event on that journey which cannot be missed. Equally as impressive and perhaps an even greater experience than its predecessor through its wider offering, this game proves that the previous game was not just a one hit wonder. Lara is back and on perfect form, and we should expect nothing less than for the series to keep moving on up in this fashion. Story, gameplay, visuals, immersion, exploration, puzzles and the trimmings are all on the table in what has proven itself to be another classic Tomb Raider game. As a fan, all I can say now is roll on the next one! Let’s just forget those pesky card packs for that game though, ok?
- An excellently written and executed storyline full of action and plot twists, keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout.
- New gameplay features gel perfectly with the overlying gameplay experience brought forward from the previous game, providing a fuller experience.
- Visually the game is stunning, perhaps even more so than its predecessor, advancing the series’ new graphics system to perfection.
- Excellent voice acting performances add to the overall feeling of immersion.
- Some clever design features such as temperature reactions, improved weather variances and wildlife behaviours make for a realistic, living world.
- Plenty of optional tombs with challenging puzzles and meaningful rewards make up for what the previous game was lacking.
- Expedition challenges make for a nice aside from the main game.
- Some brief sections of storyline detract from the purpose of secondary gameplay elements.
- The beginning of the game feels very much like Assassin’s Creed III, throwing you off the legitimate Tomb Raider feeling initially.
- New optional card packs have no real place in a Tomb Raider game.