Rise of the Tomb Raider: Review in progress
I was a massive fan of the previous Tomb Raider and having completed it on both the Xbox 360 and then on Xbox One I’ve been desperately awaiting the release of Rise of the Tomb Raider. I’ve hyped the game up so much the past year and all the gameplay and information I’ve seen has only increased my desire to jump back into Lady Crofts shoes for another Tomb Raiding adventure. The level of Hype surrounding Halo 5 and Fallout has allowed Tomb Raider to almost slip through the cracks for most gamers and it’s for those poor lost souls i have to tell them that this Tomb Raider is not only better than the excellent Tomb Raider reboot but it’s probably the best game I’ve played since The Last of Us on the Playstation 3.
The first few hours are spent exploring the quite beautiful environments and being introduced to the new bad guys who this time round are flesh and blood and called Trinity. A medieval group of ass holes intent on obtaining some very powerful and dangerous artefacts. The story is told mainly in the excellently scripted and voiced cinematic’s but also via collecting relics and listening to conversations between the NPC’s. Many games go down the collectible route but ROTR gets it spot on by presenting them in order and in a way that feels right for a Tomb Raider game. Some of the Artifacts have hidden extra information that can be revealed by careful examination and every find adds towards your XP and relevant skill but most importantly the really add to the story by fleshing out the characters and events.
The story is a very traditional Tomb Raider one and is set one year after the events on Yamatai island and sees Lara searching for the secrets to immortality all the while wrestling with her fathers legacy. As much as i enjoyed the supernatural elements of Tomb Raider i’m glad this time we have a more tangible threat to fight against instead of just faceless bad guys and they provide a much needed sense of threat to the game that Tomb Raider at times was sorely lacking. Trinity also helps the Narrative grow and keeps the storyline grounded in reality this time around. Trinity provide a real sense of threat and danger too Lara and you now have a reason to fight them instead of just killing them to get to the next area. At times Lara felt a little like a passenger in the last Tomb Raider she went from one disaster to the next but this time she feels much more capable of not only clinging too survival but kicking an immense amount of arse. She is a deadly foe this time around capable of some increasingly destructive acts and with a much more powerful array of skills and weapons at her disposal. Entering combat is now a real
Lara is also battling her emotional scars from the previous game and her fragile mental state is presented right from the off in her discussions with the returning Jonah Maiava. Jonah believes Lara is becoming obsessed with the Supernatural elements in exactly the same way as her discredited father was before his untimely death. This puts the pair at odds throughout the game as Jonah assumes a protective role over Lara. The dynamic between them is best seen during the brilliant first scene “Climb the Mountain” which has them both struggling to scale an enormous ice covered cliff face. The two start the dangerous climb but end up being separated after Lara falls from the cliff face saved only by her ice axe> it’s during those few moments that the relationship becomes almost symbiotic in nature and the excellent script and voice acting reveals an almost fatherly concern for Lara. The two are reunited after a brief spot of platforming and go on to face graver danger throughout the missions which for the sake of spoilers i’ll skip straight over.
Returning from the Tomb Raider reboot is Survival Vision which allows Lara to highlight items in her vicinity that she can collect as well as showing a waypoint to further the story. Upgrading this is key to hunting down all the collectibles as well as materials that litter the world and whilst it can seem a little overpowered it can be turned off in the games menu. I found myself activating it to help highlight enemies, animals and of course enemies that you can sometime miss. Instead of seeing it almost like a cheat mode i used it to slow the game down and take in all the opportunities to explore and collect. Some have complained that it makes the game too easy and removes the need to search every square inch of the game world but most of us simply don’t have the time or inclination to do that. Thankfully it can be turned off if it’s such a big deal to the real completion hungry crowd but i found it allows me to enjoy the game more without stressing too much about finding everything.
Crystal Dynamics have sensibly stuck with the the mechanics that made Tomb Raider such a successful game and instead of introducing new ones they have carefully evolved them and added increased depth and customisation. For example the crafting system is considerably deeper this time round with greater resource management required to upgrade skills and weapons. Exploring your environment is key to finding Salvage materials that are used to upgrade weapons from the basic starting ones to the more powerful ones you need as the story develops. There are now multiple items that you need to find in a similar way to how Destiny handled weapon upgrades. Materials include metals, animal skins, wood and by finding the various coin stashes you can purchase upgrades and new weapons. Everything you collect goes into a pretty standard inventory system that you can access at any time to see what you have available to craft but you can only apply upgrades etc at campsites. Crafting however is on the fly and this includes crafting additional arrows whether they are the normal ones or Poison arrows providing you have found enough mushrooms of course. The depth on offer isn’t up to the levels of say Fallout but it does drive you to keep exploring and collecting all the items scattered around and rewards exploration.
Key to Lara’s progression are her Weapons and these upgrades work pretty much as they did in Tomb Raider with each class having a basic model that can be upgraded using salvage. You start with the Basic Bow that Lara crafts in the field but upgrade to the top end Competition Bow. The bow can now be used with various Arrow types including Poison Arrows made from the mushrooms you find in the game that are really useful against the Bears and Wolves. Shotguns, Pistol and Rifle class weapons all behave exactly the same requiring you to find the multiple components for each item before you can upgrade from say the basic shotgun to the top level combat shotgun. It can take many hours of exploring to find them but the upgrades are well worth investing in especially the Bow which was my go to weapon.
The full list as well as the upgrades are below
Makeshift Longbow, Recurve Bow, Compound Bow, Competition Bow
Arrow Types, Rope, Fire, Poison, Knockout Gas, Explosive, Armour Piercing
Nagant Revolver, Semi Automatic Pistol, Tactical Pistol, Magnum Pistol
Guerrilla Rifle, Bolt Action Rifle, SMG
Break Action Shotgun, Pump Action Shotgun.
- Tactical Knife
Dual Aluminum pry/climbing axes
- Improvised weaponry
Gas cans, lanterns, Molotov Cocktails, Smoke Grenades, etc.
The list may seem small but by matching the weapon types to your play style you can build a deadly Lara who is more than capable of taking on even the toughest enemies. As i liked playing Stealthily i stuck with the Bow and upgraded that as quickly as i could enabling me to take down enemies with a single shot. For my upgrades i focused on a faster draw and a steadier aim which really helps when lining up shots on moving targets or when you have been spotted by the enemy.
Combat is very similar to Tomb Raider but the subtle changes improve the flow of Combat and Lara feels like a more capable killer than before. Stealth moves are very much the go to way of eliminating bad guys when you isolate them. My favourites are the death from above kills that can take some planning to get positioned correctly but when you do the pay off is a graphic execution. If you’re more of a brawler then fear not. If you prefer to get in your enemies face for those close up QTE melee kills this time round you have more options at your disposal and a far wider range of skills to improve. I prefer the stealthy approach to guns blazing or smashing skulls but i never felt forced to make that choice and the skills are flexible enough to adjust on the fly. When the stealthy approach fails Lara is far more capable with her other weapons from her Pistol to a Rifle or the awesome shotgun that is capable of taking out multiple enemies in a single shot.
An early highlight was the initial contact with the enormous Brown Bear that hunts you through most of the Bear Valley. There are several brief encounters that end with you either dying repeatedly or managing to escape to live another day. It took me a few goes to get past the Bear but that simple encounter goes to highlight just how brutal Rise of the Tomb Raider can be. The previous game was called out for it’s violent scenes and ROTR really takes it to another level entirely and i’m not 100% sure it’s necessary. There is a certain element of risk vs reward with the Bear encounters as killing them and scavenging the body is a great way of getting new materials to level up but if you get it wrong you’re subjected to a pretty horrific mauling.
The only negative elements i’ve come across are the continued use of the Quick Time Events that i’ve never been a particular fan of and here they are more annoying than ever before because they are so out of place. I appreciate their usage is limited but they are so jarring and serve to really break up the flow of the game and it maybe my terrible old man reflexes but some of them frustrated me almost to the point of smashing my controller off my wifes glorious head. Thankfully they are well check-pointed and the failures never feel cheap but if i had to chose i would remove them from the next game.
Visually the game is utterly stunning from the character models to the environments and the presentation is top rate. I’ve been growing increasingly critical of the Xbox One’s hardware recently but Rise of the Tomb Raider has gone some way to alleviate those concerns. The 1080p rock solid 30fps may not grab headlines but it fits well and enables the game to feature some of the most stunning scenery i’ve seen in a game for some time. The animation is also excellent especially considering the lower frame rate featuring clever use of motion blur to smooth it all out. As you would expect the Lara’s Character model has seen a massive increase in texture quality and with the enhanced physics on show her hair and tools move in a far more convincing manner that the previous game. Lighting is super important in games like ROTR and the varied locations are handled very well when you consider the lighting engine needs to handle bright, sun drenched exteriors and dark, low light caves and Tombs. It really does put the likes of Halo 5 to shame and although some have bemoaned the lack of 60fps i really fail to see what the extra frames would really bring to the game, the compromises would simply be too much.
Overall then Rise of the Tomb Raider builds on what made the brilliant Tomb Raider reboot so good and improves on every single element. Combat is faster, more fluid and Lara is far more deadly than before and with the addition of the enhanced crafting and scavenging mechanics there is so much more reason to hunt and explore the breathtaking environments. Ignore Rise of Tomb Raider at your own peril it’s simply an unmissable entry in the series and comfortably the best Tomb Raider too date and easily the best game i’ve played on any console so far this generation.