|System: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC (Early 2016), PS4 (Late 2016)|
|Dev: Crystal Dynamics|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: November 10, 2015|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language|
Publisher Square Enix spared no expense with the presentation. Rise of the Tomb Raider looks gorgeous, showcasing a variety of environments, from arid deserts to glacial caverns. It's hard not to become enraptured in the visuals when every step you take is worthy of a screenshot. You'll panic at the sight of a massive bear charging towards you, be impressed by every rust spot on the old Soviet structures, and cringe every time poor Lara is impaled by a spear trap. The attention to lighting and shadows is obvious as you move through various structures. The paths may be linear, but the lengthy draw distance and reflections off those far-off locales beckon your inner explorer to seek them out and unearth their secrets. My only graphical complaint is that the developers still haven't figured out how to make Lara's long, silky smooth hair realistic. They have the texture and animations down, and her hair looks saturated when emerging from water, but the strands are too thick and remove the authenticity when the camera gets within breathing distance of her face. This may seem like a petty criticism, but considering Lara is in nearly every frame of the game, her hair animations catch your eye more often than you'd think, and for a game that looks natural in every other respect, it's hard not to notice this imperfection.
As the visual design of the game leans heavily on the cinematic, the sound department follows suit. The beautiful score is exactly what you would expect from an expensive action-adventure project, filled with every orchestral instrument imaginable. I was most impressed by the shifting cadence as you transition from one scene to another. The music builds and softens before you even hit the visual feature it is underscoring, piquing your curiosity to step further. A masterful job is also done with the acoustics, as massive hallowed out caverns yield a reflective echo of every sound. Conversely, a blizzard-swept snowscape muffles any dialogue to a whisper. Sometimes you'll be thankful for the hushed conversations, as the voice acting isn't anything spectacular. Camilla Luddington once again captures the emotional highs and lows of Lara Croft, but most of the grunt characters as well as some secondary principles (like her faithful companion Jonah) just don't seem to hit the right intensity at the right moments. The screenplay follows a relatively generic script pulled from the archives of similar adventure stories, and the delivery of these lines feels equally canned.
Rise of the Tomb Raider delivers everything you would expect from an archaeological action-adventure game, and deserves plenty of cinematic praise. The story pulls you forward with only a few pauses to wander off the trail, but even on the scripted path, there are always several options to overcome each obstacle before you. It's a grand journey for our budding heroine, whose skills grow with each relic found and enemy defeated. You'll enjoy the quality of the endeavor, but likely feel uninspired by its somewhat banal story.
Senior Contributing Writer
Date: November 9, 2015