I really enjoyed Crystal Dynamic’s Tomb Raider reboot back in 2013. While offering plenty of action-heavy set piece moments, the game was also smartly designed to not feel too linear and to provide players with areas to explore and discover hidden secrets. Having been well received, Crystal Dynamics promised a sequel that would expand on the games’ strengths and improve upon what it lacked most…tombs.
With Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics, for the most part, achieved what they set out to do.
Rise of the Tomb Raider starts off shortly after the events of the 2013 reboot, with Lara having recently discovered that her father wasn’t crazy and that his mythical tales were indeed real. Instead of returning home, Lara sets out to complete her father’s work and uncover the truth about the “Divine Source,” a secret her father died trying to uncover.
The story found in Rise of the Tomb Raider is average, but good enough to make you want to push forward through the game. Camilla Luddington once again reprises her role as Lara Croft and does an exceptional job at portraying the character. Her character builds upon the tropes set forth in the 2013 Tomb Raider, with Lara stating at multiple points during the game that she doesn’t need any help to get the job done.
The supporting cast isn’t as strong this time around in my opinion. The main antagonist in the game is actually an interesting character at the surface that Crystal Dynamics unfortunately didn’t expand upon. Without saying too much about the story, there’s multiple characters with agendas of their own that keeps your mind running with theories about what will happen up until the very end of the game. The story will take the average player around 12 hours to complete.
The game is a very well balanced mix of action, exploration and platforming moments. It’s when all three elements come together that RoTR is at its best.
Tomb Raider’s gameplay this time around is a little rough around the edges, however. Much like Naughty Dog with Uncharted, Crystal Dynamics seems to have some trouble nailing down third person shooting controls. They’re not bad, but the lack of a intuitive cover system causes some frustration. Lara will organically take cover behind objects without the player needing to push a button prompt but something just doesn’t feel right when you’re in intense shootouts.
Lara cannot run and gun in Rise of the Tomb Raider and will need to take aim anytime you need to shoot. When there’s multiple enemies running at you, it can get frustrating fast. The AI in the game is a mixed bag as well. Enemies can go from being completely brain dead to having spotted you and knowing exactly where you are even if you return to hiding after you’re spotted. There’s a section in the game where you’re under a sheet of ice and surrounded by enemies, which also happened to be one of the most frustrating moments in the game for me. The enemies seemed to effortlessly track me beneath the ice sheet after I was spotted, even after I went back underwater. Enemies also seem to have near perfect aim, but I may just be being picky there.
The platforming sections of the game was where I most enjoyed Rise of the Tomb Raider. As you progress through the game, the platforming elements will increase in complexity and force you to use multiple tools, physics and of course your brain to solve puzzles. I was never frustrated with the platforming sections and the puzzles that needed solving weren’t too hard, nor too easy.
Having said that, I didn’t make it through all of the tombs, so there may be puzzles in the game that I didn’t get to try that were more complex. Near the end of the game though, the last puzzle I encountered was probably the most challenging, and even then it wasn’t too hard to figure out.
As promised, Crystal Dynamics has included a number of tombs to explore in the game. I didn’t explore all of them as I didn’t have the time in order to this review out on time, but the ones I did explore were fantastic. Early on in the game, there’s a tomb set within an ice cavern where a Nordic ship has somehow managed to sink beneath the ice, and to traverse it you’ll need to solve a number of puzzles and do some entertaining platforming. And, for those of you that dislike quick time events you’ll be happy to know they are used very sparingly in Rise of the Tomb Raider compared to the previous title.
As you explore the many tombs and regions of Rise of the Tomb Raider, you’ll be treated with some extremely gorgeous visuals. Crystal Dynamics have a knack in the art department for really making you feel like you’re on an adventure and I found myself at multiple points in the game really just looking around and examining some of the locations.
You really do feel like an explorer as you explore some of the tombs and the ancient architecture and actually take the time to learn about the fictional history of the places you’re investigating. Crystal Dynamics really wants you to take the time to go back and explore the areas they’ve crafted and find the secrets within. I usually don’t pay much attention to finding little relics or manuscripts, but I did do a little more exploring than usual in Rise of the Tomb Raider and found myself actually listening to or reading the things I found.
I won’t spoil the locations you’ll visit, but the texture work, the weather effects, and especially the lighting is all fantastic. Some of the physical destruction in the game is also impressive as well and lends an extra element to platforming sections. Lara’s character model is especially impressive with some fantastic facial animations and what’s easily the most realistic hair I’ve seen in a video game. As for the tech, I didn’t experience any pop-in, stuttering or framerates drops during my playthough that I can recall.
To top it all off, Crystal Dynamics did a great job with the sound design in Rise of the Tomb Raider. The soundtrack of the game is especially note worthy and lends itself well to some great action scenes later on in the game. There’s a great mix of slower paced music mixed in with high octane orchestral sections during action heavy moments. You can check out a sample of the soundtrack just below.
Rise of the Tomb Raider does what any good sequel should: it continued the story of Lara Croft, continued to build her character, expanded on gameplay elements found in the reboot and increased the overall scope of the game. I wasn’t super impressed with the story and wish that Crystal Dynamics had spent more time fleshing out characters and backstory, but the game itself is quite fantastic and between visiting numerous beautifully designed locations and the fantastic platforming and action sections there’s plenty here for action adventure fans to enjoy.
Reviewed on Xbox One, copy provided by Microsoft for review.
Publisher: Microsoft | Developer: Crystal Dynamics | Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360 | ESRB: M