Rise of Tomb Raider’s release is tightly packed into a November full of heavyweights and it is built to survive. This Tomb Raider builds off of the previous iteration. Lara Croft is not wet behind the ears so much as she has graduated to youthful exuberance. She is pushing boundaries and taking enormously large risks in this story, but her resolve is there to see her through. In Rise, Lara is picking up the search and research left by her father in search of ancient artifact said to bestow life eternal. Of course, she is not alone in her quest. Forces beyond her control also seek out the artifact with Lara caught in the center.
Graphically, the game is top-notch. Weather effects, lighting, hair, movement, all demonstrate the lessons they picked up moving the original Tomb Raider from last-gen to current-gen. Combine that with the fabulous sound design and direction, it really pulls together the experience of being out in the Siberian wilderness or in the middle of a cavern or at the top of a mountain.
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay is really where the game continues to shine. The game was built for stealth movement to accomplish your killing (you are just one woman against an army), but allows for conversion to open fire to remove that feeling of once you’re caught, you need to start over. It isn’t the smoothest transition, but it’s clear Crystal Dynamics didn’t want you sweating it if you were seen. Though I’ll admit that later in the game when I had a perk for granting extra points for sustained stealth headshot kills and I had 9x or 10x and I blew my multiplier, I would be exasperated. The controls continue to be tight, though depending on your play style, you may want to look at your thumbstick sensitivity and I felt a little soft in my playthrough.
Now, to the part you have been waiting for: Yes there are tombs and yes you raid them. The puzzles go from straight-forward to stop and think puzzles to one that will rely on your reflexes. I’m not going to lie, the twitchy one with the boats was a little frustrating, especially the time where the icon turned red, I loosed my arrow, it made the audio cue that it caught but my body, though still on the boat had passed whatever imaginary line that triggers the death animation. I prefer their typical rising water puzzles that involve brains over twitchy fingers.
There were some additions to the formula that I appreciated. As you journey, you pick up these gold Byzantine coins that you can redeem at a shop. This shop can give you advance access to items you do not pick up until later in the game, but if you want the early edge, you spend the coins. For example, if you want to do level 2 upgrades to your weapons, you will need the Crafting Tool. You can buy it fairly early on in the shop or you can wait to pick it up later. If you do not purchase it and decide to wait to find it, when you do, the shop replaces the crafting tool with the next level Enhancement Tool if you wish to purchase it.
Along with the coins, there are a ridiculous amount of collectables in the game: relics, documents, caches, and weapon parts. Along with language proficiency that grow over time and open up new things to read leading to even more treasure. Then there side missions and challenges and weapon and equipment upgrades that all use bits and baubles collected from bushes and boxes and enemies – from everywhere. There is always something for you to do or to investigate. This is especially true for someone like me who needs to collect everything.
If I had one complaint, it’s that Crystal Dynamics did not take much in the way of risk. They honed in and focused on what worked well in the first game and stuck to the script and produced a solid game. Honestly, if it was not for the bump in graphics and change in story, I could swear I was still playing the first game. A lot of it feels the same. It is all in good ways: the gameplay feels tight, the puzzles feel challenging, the climbing and traversal feel solid. But that’s it, it feels exactly the same. It isn’t a problem this time, but if Crystal Dynamics doesn’t at least try to do something different next game, this will be its downfall.
Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a solid game. It is more of the Tomb Raider formula established in the reboot a couple years ago with more collecting and better graphics. If you enjoyed the first game or action-adventure in general, this is right up your alley. I’m not sure this was worth the console-exclusivity, per se, but it was thoroughly enjoyable and I recommend it.