Rise and Shine
When the developers at Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider series two years ago, their intentions were to reinvent Lara Croft by casting her in a vulnerable and untested role rather than as the unflappable heroine from her original adventures. With the prologue done and gone, we are now presented with a Lara exuding more confidence and flexing her spelunking muscles. This shift has caused her new story to become more derivative. The emotional attachment to Lara in Rise of the Tomb Raider differs from the one displayed in her origin story. Instead of the sympathy we feel and the fervor for her to overcome the harsh obstacles that were cast upon her unbeknownst, now she has grown stubborn and become obsessed with following in her father’s footsteps. We still root for her, but the empathy has waned.
Still, Rise of the Tomb Raider spins a gripping, if not clichéd, tale. Newly established, Lara is easing herself into the whole tomb raiding career, so naturally she follows a lead that takes her to Siberia where a fanatical and well-funded sect called Trinity is searching for the same credence to a centuries old myth that could lead to the power of immortality. Abandoned Soviet installations, a group of ancestral protectors of the truth, and plenty of priceless treasures await the eager player. It hits all the marks of a high-budget blockbuster, but it’s nothing we haven’t already seen in Indiana Jones or played in Uncharted .
Cinematics permeate the game from start to finish, and you’ll find few moments where your fingers aren’t poised and eyes locked on the screen in anticipation of a quick-time event. From Syria to Siberia, the action-packed, life or death situations hang on the speed of your button presses. Sadly, you will be forced to watch Lara meet a grisly end many times from booby traps, wild animals, and environmental hazards. Death, however, is nothing more than a minor inconvenience in Rise of the Tomb Raider , as the game is quite liberal with checkpoints, subduing the tension even on the higher difficulty levels.
Each new zone you enter looks sizeable on paper, but most areas are sectioned off and linear, keeping you from straying too far from the scripted story. At times the reins are loosened somewhat, allowing you to explore for loot caches, relics, documents, and other collectibles that build skills, provide experience, and offer historical tidbits. The game awards Lara with a “supernatural” Survival Instinct, which highlights interactable objects. Snapping branches, skinning rabbits and deer, harvesting ore with her trusty ice axe – these are just a few activities to build your inventory of materials for the game’s efficient crafting system.
When secure at a base camp, common and exotic materials can be expended to bolster weapon properties, fashion ammunition, and upgrade your pouches’ carrying capacity. Acquiring new weapons, however, is more rigid in structure. Instead of grinding and stockpiling to craft a shotgun ahead of schedule, new weapon parts are sprinkled piecemeal in preset locations as you progress through the campaign. Fortunately, the game provides multiple avenues for dispatching Trinity grunts than simply unloading an ammo cartridge. Firing arrows and sitting in cover allows for some satisfying stealth kills. Small objects strewn about can be thrown to distract enemies. Lanterns can be tossed onto flammable materials to incinerate a group. Rise of the Tomb Raider allows you to tackle enemies and obstacles according to your play style, with a nice variety of abilities to choose from as you gain levels.
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.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
As gorgeous a backdrop as any game out there, with great animations and effects throughout. Just get her hair right next time, and a perfect graphics score awaits. 4.2 Control
Combat controls are tight and responsive, but the game is laden with quick time events and an oversaturated checkpoint system. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The score is full and dynamic, adding atmosphere for every second of the game. The voice acting, however, is generic and flat. 3.5 Play Value
It’s a grand tale contrived from historical legends, it simply doesn’t feel very original for enthusiasts of the genre. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best