When Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition arrived, it was a port of the 360/PS3 game for the newly arrived Xbox One and PS4, the quality of the overall package made me think a sequel would have some trouble equalling a game that became a surprise favourite of mine.
I’m glad to be proven wrong though by Rise of the Tomb Raider as Crystal Dynamics has shaped it into a game that is not only a brilliant follow up to their last but makes Microsoft’s decision to get an exclusivity window pretty understandable. Right now this is definitely the Xbox’s answer to Uncharted.
When the game begins, Lara Croft appears to be in the middle of a new campaign, trudging her way through the snow. What it turns out to be is a neat way of getting players accustomed to the controls while throwing in some new spectacle that doesn’t try to follow the previous game too closely. Soon after that we get to see the first of many flashback cinematics that are used to get players acquainted with the full story.
It seems Lara hasn’t fully recovered from her previous experience and worse still is developing some obsessive compulsions similar to her archaeologist father. Her latest investigations soon bring her to the attention of secret organisation who she is soon in a race with.
Once you get through the opening section, which takes around an hour or more, the game has Lara arriving at her first campsite, minus all her gear. It’s worth mentioning that this new area is a little restrictive compared to even the first game but it acts as an extended tutorial, giving you more time to acquaint yourself further with the mechanics. Persevere and you’ll see the real meat of the game as the world opens up with some truly sprawling areas.
As you progress you’ll come across more campsites which once again function as fast travel points and upgrade stations. The game still has its little touch of Metroidvania and you’ll be revisiting campsites to access areas that were previously inaccessible. All your skill progression and item crafting happens here too so it’s handy to note where the closest one is at any time.
The system of acquiring weapons, parts and gear is still here and will often have you scouring the landscape for anything that may give you a few extra items to build up the capabilities of your gear. Starting off with the bow again isn’t original to the series but you are encouraged to practise your stealth techniques in that early area so it is worth taking that approach.
As you progress Lara turns out to be a real MacGyver type and is soon crafting all sorts of deadly devices (including bombs) to deal death and destruction on her enemies and thought it is tempting at times to go full action hero I’ve found it useful to stick to stealth initially to get into a good position before going for the big kills.
Coins can also be found in your searches which can be spent on additional gear and weapons at a shopfront. The items available are certainly useful but are not necessary for completion of the game. But if you want a faster way to traverse ziplines, here’s where to go.
Visually, the game is spectacular. You can tell early on that there’s an extra layer of polish in the game that TR:DE was short of. It’s especially evident in some of the guided sequences that make use of some awesome lighting and weather effects to deepen the immersion. The first tomb you visit is a brilliant showcase of how much better everything looks now.
That polish comes through well too Lara’s animations; there’s a lot of incidental stuff in there which you notice as she shivers in the cold, trudges through snow drifts or even wrings out her hair after a swim. These things may not have any impact on the gameplay itself but do a marvellous job of convincingly putting Lara in that world.
The environment too has been given a facelift with an impressive amount of variety that gives each area its own personality. In my review of the previous game I felt that the island was its own character and I’m pleased to see that Rise of the Tomb Raider continues that trend and even takes it a step further with individual tombs being given some love and attention with their own unique spins to make them stand out from their adjoining locations.
A new addition are the optional side missions and quest givers; though not integral to completion of the game they provide incentive to explore the world further in tracking down other objectives that can offer different rewards. Your first exposure to it ties into the story too so if you are fortunate enough to start those missions early and become invested, you may want to take them on as soon as others become available.
Helping to flesh out the world’s character are the many collectibles dotted around the world; some of these consist of journals that provide small related narratives that tie into the overall story arc. Here they work really well thanks to some inspired choices of viewpoints.
As a player this gives you a lot of incentive to push on ahead and help Lara reach her goal. With her own newfound obsession coming out in cutscenes, you wonder whether this adventure will lead her to the expected goal or somewhere else entirely. Things didn’t work out well for the many of the others in the world so you’re of course curious to see how Lara will fare.
Multiplayer has been given the boot this time in favour of a challenge mode where players can compete to get the best possible time. To spice things up, mutators can be applied using collectible cards earned in game or through micro-transactions. It’s an interesting idea that doesn’t aim to be a big feature of the game but does give players a way to compare their tomb raiding skills against friends.
Familiarity is sometimes looked on as being on the negative side to originality and Rise of the Tomb Raider takes a lot of queues from its predecessor. But as you dive into the game you quickly see that it is an evolution of the concept that again pushes the series forward to make this new Tomb Raider stand above it predecessors and also its peers in the genre.
Once again, Lara is on top of the heap.
The game is out now on Xbox platforms, with PC arriving in the first half of 2016 and PS4 a few months after that.