Rise of the Tomb Raider
Three years ago, the Tomb Raider reboot picked up the broken bones of a shattered franchise and rebuilt them. Instead of being an homage to the franchise’s glory years, the reboot created an all-new high mark for the series. Lara started it off as an optimistic young woman fresh out of college traveling with her friends, and ended it as a traumatized person struggling to hold onto her sanity. Her circle of friends and allies dwindled like a horror movie, and as the initial trailers showed, she is struggling to cope with the events of that game.
The storyline is told in a mix of real-time and flashbacks. After losing so many of her friends in the reboot, she travels with Jonah (the big Samoan cook/overall badass) as they climb snowy mountains. Snowy is a bit of a misnomer, because it’s falling like crazy with giant piles of it cascading down on them at random times. As we later learn, they’re in Siberia and the ongoing story’s blanks are filled in as time wears on. You’ll beat one area and then Lara will have a flashback to a past event in her life.
While Tomb Raider focused on Lara’s present, this game explores her past like no other. You’ll see all the admiration she has for her father and gain a lot of insight into just why she’s so determined. The game’s big storyline revolves around his research possibly finding a link to immortality, and him being snuffed out in the process. Now, Lara has discovered his research and is conducting her favorite kind – on-field exploration, to uncover the truth.
A group called Trinity wants to find the information first and will stop at nothing to take Lara out. Lara has thankfully retained all of her knowledge from the last game and is able to use her trusty pickaxe to vanquish foes if needed. A classic bow and arrow remains useful for her here as well, and can now be upgraded even more than before. Things like poison arrows come in very handy and will save your life against larger enemies.
Much like how the first Tomb Raider pitted Lara against animals like tigers, you can now battle bears. An early encounter acts as the game’s first boss battle, and is on par in terms of tension with anything experienced in the reboot. Survival Instincts return and make that battle much easier than it would be otherwise as it points out areas you can leap off to gain a bit of headway and craft healing salves and poison arrows. Regular arrow shots will be your primary method of attack, and the skill tree enables you to be more accurate than ever before.
Stealth still plays a role in the adventure and is going to be your best friend when you’re up against large groups of enemies. As someone who absolutely sucks at stealth staples like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, the inclusion of it in this game was welcome because you’re eased into everything. It starts with one simple enemy facing away and then continues to a couple with one facing away and another moving around, so patterns are easy to figure out. Even if you can’t kill everyone with stealth, the pickaxe will make short work of most enemies.
Rise of the Tomb Raider focuses strictly on the single-player campaign and does away with the non-essential and poorly-received multiplayer game. It may seem like this move gives the player less for the their money, but it’s really a case of addition by subtraction. It was developed outside of the main game and while it incorporated the action portions of things, it really felt like a complete afterthought and detracted from the overall package.
Rise looks better than Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, and continues the last game’s trend of blending gorgeous-looking worlds with top-shelf character animation. During the aforementioned snow portions, you’ll see it slowly pile up on Lara’s clothing and she’ll struggle to walk through denser snow. That portion does bring about some odd-looking walking as it looks more like she’s clipping through the snow than having it naturally move off her legs and boots. It’s the only portion of the game like that though, so even if it does take you out of the narrative for a bit, it’s not a huge deal. Lara’s transitional animations for things like climbing and arrow-shooting look better now, and the whole package is just more refined than it was even in the definitive edition of the reboot. It’s a gorgeous game and full of stunning sights – especially when you move the camera around and take advantage of some of the more impressive lighting effects in the background.
As expected based on the reboot, the sound design in Rise is fantastic. Epic music, fantastic voice acting, and realistic sound effects blend together to form a game that is compelling just based on the audio. The soundtrack is full of sweeping songs that build up drama and suspense wonderfully. While they might not all be songs you would want to throw on your phone for a workout, they’re perfect for the game’s action. With a smaller overall cast than before, the voice acting as a whole has improved quite a bit. Stereotypical roles have been minimized and if you see a character in the narrative, odds are, they’ll have some depth to them now as opposed to the reboot where only a few really meant anything.
Rise of the Tomb Raider continues with the formula that the reboot brought to the table and expands on things with more of what made the franchise great before. Tombs play a greater role here, and massive animals instill a sense of fear in you that has been absent from action games for quite a while. It’s a fantastic follow-up and a must-buy for anyone who enjoyed that. If you’ve missed out on the reboot, then you’ll definitely want to fully play through that before beating this because they’re essentially two halves of the story – so you can’t completely enjoy this game without experiencing what that had to offer. This is easily the best 3D action game on the Xbox One, and hopefully it isn’t swept under the rug sales-wise in a crowded holiday season.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.