This adventure does one heck of a job at finding ancient tombs–and its own footing.
It’s never an easy feat to revitalize a beloved franchise. Still, it’s a task developer Crystal Dynamics undertook with 2013’s Tomb Raider. The title made impressive strides towards reinventing the series, which is well-known for its female lead, Lara Croft. Yet Tomb Raider was not a perfect package, thus birthing its sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider. Though this follow-up is still a far cry from being the holy grail of gaming, Rise of the Tomb Raider magnificently redefines the franchise, setting it apart from other modern titles.
The newest Tomb Raider sees Lara follow in her disgraced father’s footsteps by searching for a centuries-lost artifact. After fighting her way off a long-forgotten island, she’s ready to sneak, shoot, and brawl her way to fame and fortune. Lara becomes laser-focused in this motivation, and remains so throughout the story.
While the 2013 reboot felt bloated with characters, motivations, and plotlines, Rise of the Tomb Raider remains steadfast in its simple dedication to Lara Croft. Every story thread feels important, every character feels needed, and every scene helps to further her character development. Lara is gunning through hordes of soldiers for herself, not for badly written friends.
It’s painful that the surrounding lore isn’t as sturdily built. Collectibles and trinkets throughout the world unlock short clips of dialogue which shed light on the conspiracy around Lara. Many of these side-notes feel like unneeded filler content. Content snippets that are intriguing, however, suffer from a separate dilemma: they are only heard while on the pause menu. Exploring the world and grabbing useful items will essentially stop the player dead in their tracks, and either a) force them to sit in a menu to hear a neat tidbit, or b) discourage them from further exploration.
These tomb raiding moments are deep and thoughtful; truly appropriate, considering the game’s title.
This is sad, simply because Lara treks through multiple stunning locations worth exploring. Every environment pops, as if taken straight from an archaeological journal. Snow glistens as deer frolic through, temples loom above with their hidden mysteries, and forests teem with life and beauty. Such incredible scenes provide unique and interesting platforming options, as players are encouraged to spend time scouring every nook. Unconvincing trees may lead to the aforementioned trinkets, while cave labyrinths may lead to delightfully challenging “tombs.”
These tombs further iterate on the genius environmental design, by turning the world around you into a puzzle. Within the hallowed grounds, each stone or hallway serves a purpose, and leads you to a new skill or weapon. These ruins are astoundingly designed, and it’s absurd that these rich gems are entirely optional and hidden away. Such fantastic puzzles could be the forefront of the entire series, yet have been relegated to a sideline position. Lara and the player both feel at home here: deep in ancient ruins, using their wits and environments to progress and explore. These tomb raiding moments are deep and thoughtful; truly appropriate, considering the game’s title.
…At times, it becomes unsure of itself, and reflects the mechanics of the titles around it….
Frustratingly, the game often deviates from its wonderful open areas and clever puzzle mechanics. Rise of the Tomb Raider creates an interesting, dynamic world, then pushes you down linear paths for crucial moments. Scaling an ancient tower or traversing dark, linear caverns are both fun ideas, but compared to the sprawling environments shown mere minutes before, these scenes can often fall flat. Worse yet are the controls for such sequences. Lara may refuse to grab the appropriate ledge during a chase scene, or the path forward may suddenly become unclear as the building around you crumbles. These blunders often lead to a death and restart the scene, grinding the cinematic tension to a halt.
Rise of the Tomb Raider excels at molding a worthwhile, convincing world, while telling a neat, concise story. It offers exciting moments, peaceful settings, and compelling gameplay. It’s an interactive experience that, unlike its predecessor, is unafraid to be its own game, and stray from the path of linear adventure titles. Yet at times, it becomes unsure of itself, and reflects the mechanics of the titles around it in a mediocre fashion. Tomb Raider can once again stand on its own feet as a unique and engaging series. Rise of the Tomb Raider has rightfully carved its own space in the market, and must now perfect its own strengths, while abandoning the cliche and awkward crutches it still grasps.