Return to form.
Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise ended up being one of my favorite games the year it was released. I then went on to finish it two more times after the Definitive Edition hit the new consoles. I grew up with the original series, spent countless hours raiding tombs with Lara Croft; heck I even managed to muscle my way through Angel of Darkness. Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like the proper progression of the series. Crystal Dynamics has expanded on what makes these games great, while still retaining what made the reboot so special. Needless to say, anyone that owns an Xbox One would be wise to pick up Lara’s latest adventure.
The game picks up after the events of the first game. Lara has become obsessed with finding an artifact that drove her father nuts. She is slowly becoming the Tomb Raider we have all come to be familiar with. The story is well done, with some truly fantastic facial animations on the main characters. There are some interesting plot twists and turns, and plenty of memorable characters. Crystal Dynamics did an excellent job of making me want to see where things ended up, even if it drives the point home a little too much at times.
Platforms: XB1, 360
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
It is also refreshing to see Lara act different in given situations. One of the jarring things about the original was her apologizing for killing, then slaughtering hundreds of enemies. This Lara is more confident and wiser about the world. It comes through in the performance, and it works.
Game play feels just as good as the original. Lara still clamors up objects, and has a sort of sway as she walks and flows into cover. The shooting is spot on, and the platform jumping feels just right. That isn’t to say there are no changes to the formula, but like everything else, Crystal Dynamics kept what already worked.
For starters, the first two hours of the game felt like it contained more puzzles and tombs than the entire first game. It helps they are also really well-designed and fun. Every time I was notified a tomb was nearby, I got excited. These were the best parts of the first game, and there are tons more in the sequel. There is also a ton more exploration and uses for the items found. Crafting returns, but with more purpose. Lara can now upgrade her inventory to carry more items such as arrows and ammo. She also collects coins that can be used to purchase new outfits and weapon upgrades. Again, a lot of what already worked, just expanded and more useful.
Combat still feels really good. Nailing a headshot is as satisfying as it was in the original game, and there are plenty of upgrades to keep things fresh. Brutal finishers return, but stealth is also a more viable option thanks to the new weapons and skill tree. Lara has plenty at her disposal, and unlike other games, the varying ways to tackle situations are all fun and allow players to pick their own style.
Rise of the Tomb Raider brings back the Metroid-style gated content with a plethora of new and returning tools for Lara to wield. The rope arrows return, while the new grappling hook and climbing arrows allow for more diverse movement around the environment. There are also new underwater sections that require breath management that is until of course Lara discovers the new device that allows her to breathe underwater indefinitely. By the end of the game I had so many tools I started to forget some of them. It feels a bit overwhelming, but once it all clicked, it really does open up the world to better exploration.
The main game will take anywhere from 12-20 hours depending on how much exploration players decide to partake in. The world is fun to play in, thus causing me to come back multiple times after beating it. I wanted to find everything in the game, something I very rarely even bother with. There is also a secondary mode called Expedition which replaces the unnecessary multiplayer from the original game. Think of this as a sort of challenge mode with leaderboards to compare with friends, and a card aspect that adds modifiers.
Cards can be purchased with currency earned in the campaign, as well as some packs awarded for completing specific missions. These add modifiers to the challenges to make them easier or more challenging. They also add quirky things such as big head mode. The cards can also be purchased with real money, which I don’t recommend bothering with. I earned plenty of currency to buy enough cards to play with, and honestly this isn’t a mode I see myself coming back for over and over again.
Visually the world of Rise of the Tomb Raider is stunning. The locales are varied and the world is pure joy to explore. The subtle details sell it though. Whether it is the great facial capture during cut scenes, or seeing Lara dry her hair when she gets out of the water, it all works to sell the immersion. The score is once again epic, and the voice acting is good, although the writing could have done a bit more to diversify the pace of the plot.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a stellar title for the fall season, and a sequel that addresses most of the complaints about its predecessor. Crystal Dynamics is really knocking it out of the park with the reboot of Lara Croft and I cannot wait to see how it evolves over time. Anyone with an Xbox One needs to pick this title up. It once again makes a solid case for my top ten list of games of the year.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.