Lara Croft is back, this time in Rise Of The Tomb Raider, the sequel to the 2013 reboot. That was extremely well received – and with just two and a half years between games, have developers Crystal Dynamics done enough to to make us want to adventure once again with the tomb raider herself, and maybe even buy an Xbox One just to do so?
Set a year after the events in Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is back after a mysterious organsiation known as Trinity has covered up the events in the first game. Lara, obviously, knows the truth, and sets out to clear her name as well as her father’s. To do so she must head deep into Siberia (pretty cold, this time of the year) to find the legendary city of Kitezh and find a mythical item known as the Divine Source, and Trinity will be there to stop her.
This time around, Lara’s now older, wiser, and just plain better. And because she’s just more experienced – there’s less of that sense of helplessness in a lot of situations. The rebooted Tomb Raider was Lara’s origin story, so she was put through moments that were out of her depth, but at points what she had to endure felt almost exploitative. This time around, things also get out of hand, but it doesn’t feel like Lara’s about to curl up into a little ball and give up any time soon. The confidence, a bit more swagger – makes this Lara just more enjoyable to play with. Also gone are a lot of the extremely visual, almost torture-porn-esque death scenes – thankfully.
And while some parts of the game can still get a tad irritating when you can’t figure out your next move, death scenes go by quickly and reloads are quick. That takes a lot of the sting of death away, leaving you alive and playing longer just so you can find the next tomb. And just like in the first Tomb Raider, you’ll still have to go through the motions of upgrading your gear, because as tomb raiders are wont to do, they will lose their gear (and then get it back and it’s awesome anyway).
Visually speaking, Rise Of The Tomb Raider just looks amazing. Staring at amazing vistas, ancient ruins or even looking close up at the cave environments – it’s clear that Crystal Dynamics has managed to squeeze out as much as possible from the Xbox One. It’s not clear how much better it’ll look on PC or PS4 (which are out later), but even then, the Xbox 360 (based on screenshots) aren’t that bad either. Still, for awesome visual fidelity, the Xbox One is where you’ll want to be.
And of course, the characters, including Lara Croft herself, look amazing. The way they move, they animate – even the animals – this is a great visual experience wherever the game takes you.
Even as Lara matures, here the gameplay does so too. It is a lot more streamlined, while still adding to the options we’ve seen in the previous game. It’s a lot more polished and a lot less frustrating – the moments I got stuck were more of a failure of me as a gamer rather than bad game design. But where the game really sings is in its action sequences – when Lara has to jump from cliff’s edge to cliff’s edge while dodging collapsing rocks – the choreographed madness is pure poetry.
There’s also a large, semi-open world to explore, full of secrets that can distract you from the main quest, but it never feels like you’re wasting your time. Tomb raiding, thankfully, also gets a boost – complete a tomb and you’ll get to unlock special skills that can aid you in your quest. Still, puzzles aren’t extremely difficult, but there’s still a great sense of pleasure when you figure it out. Tomb Raider, after all, should be about tomb raiding, and it’s good to know that all the good-old archaeological stereotypes – ancient ships, stories of prophets – are back, without being laden with cliche.
A lot of that is thanks to the story by Rhianna Pratchett, who has crafted a tale that’s as engaging as the gameplay, urging you on from mission to mission just so that you can figure out what’s next. Some of the twists are telegraphed from pretty far away, but you won’t fault the game for it – there’s a forward momentum in the game that really makes you want to keep finding new places.
It’s amazing that in just a few weeks various games have come out swinging as Game Of The Year contenders – Tales From The Borderlands and Life Is Strange (also published by Square Enix). Rise Of The Tomb Raider isn’t perfect enough to make it an instant shoo-in for a nomination, but yet, there are moment when the game just wants to be played, grabbing you by the hand to show you its next neat trick. With that, it’s in with a shout for me.
Still, the big question remains – is Rise Of The Tomb Raider enough to sell Xbox Ones? Shortly put – it’s still hard to justify a few-hundred dollar purchase just for a single game, especially since the Xbox One doesn’t perform as well as the PlayStation 4 in terms of rendering. For those who are willing to wait, the game will be released on Windows in Q1 2016, and on the PS4 at the end of next year. That said, Rise Of The Tomb Raider is such a polished experience that grabs you – it’ll be a pity if you don’t get to experience it soon, even if it means borrowing an Xbox One from someone. Who wants to rent mine?