Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix/Microsoft
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Medium: Blu-ray Disc/Digital
Clearly I wasn’t the only one surprised by how great 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot was. The franchise had seen a number of high and low-points throughout the years, with the lows coming a bit more frequently towards the tail end of the series. And while the reboot may have abandoned certain aspects of what people consider to be a Tomb Raider game, it was certainly the shot in the arm that the series needed to keep going. Rise of the Tomb Raider, releasing this week as a timed exclusive on the Xbox One, builds nicely off of the groundwork laid by the previous game, introducing more complex, optional tombs, larger areas to explore, and more challenging platforming moments throughout its fairly hefty adventure.
While the reboot of Tomb Raider hit the reset button on Lara Croft, introducing her as a young explorer who quickly gets thrown out of her element at the onset of the 2013 game, Rise of the Tomb Raider features a Lara Croft a bit more accustomed to danger and survival. At the onset of the adventure Lara seeks out the Source, a mythical artifact that can apparently grant everlasting life. Her reasons for seeking out the Source revolve around her late father, who claimed the Source existed for years, until his apparent suicide brought on by the shame of being called a fraud and a hack for his belief. This is where Lara’s drive comes from early on, but as you might expect not everything is what it seems, and the underlying plot has a few twists and turns to uncover.
As far as the story goes, I’d say it’s an improvement over the Tomb Raider reboot. Having a more experienced, confident Lara is certainly a plus. Even when things go south, which they do pretty early in the game, she seems to be more put together, more able to tackle the dangers of the wild around her. That said, if you’re expecting to see her cope or come to terms with killing hundreds of enemies throughout the game (which she’ll certainly end up doing), you might want to keep those expectations in check. Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t have lofty goals in its storytelling, this is a basic action-adventure tale focused on exploration and betrayal. But it is entertaining throughout, and doesn’t take any huge leaps in logic outside of some supernatural properties, which are expected in the series at this point.
More importantly, however, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a blast to play. This sequel blends together combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving better than its predecessor, balancing all of these elements and stretching them out in a way that makes the pacing feel spot on. The first hour or so of the game is almost entirely platforming and puzzle-solving, introducing players to the very first tomb early on. The optional challenge tombs are greatly expanded here, with a larger number to uncover, featuring more depth and unique mechanics than what was found in Rise of the Tomb Raider’s predecessor.
Platforming is also more prevalent, with plenty to climb, jump, scale, and rappel across throughout the game. There’s a number of wide-open areas to explore, interspersed between more focused, interior sections. You can easily backtrack to previous locations via the camp system, and there’s a whole host of collectibles, optional objectives, and even side-quests to tackle. Nearly everything feels worthwhile too, since it either adds to your experience, allowing Lara to purchase new skills, or uncovers various weapon parts and add-ons to enjoy.
Combat is maybe the only low-point in Rise of the Tomb Raider. It’s not particularly awful, it’s just my least favorite activity in the game. Fighting enemies is at its best when you’re able to remain in stealth, moving across the environment and taking foes out from above or behind. Lara can also make on-the-fly explosives from a variety of objects, allowing her to conserve ammo quite often. But there are a few moments here and there where you’ll be forced into a firefight, which becomes less fun the further into the game you get, as you start to encounter armored enemies or melee focused fighters. It’s not particularly challenging on the default difficulty setting, but it can be a chore. Thankfully, Lara has a pretty solid arsenal to deal with a variety of situations, so you’ll usually be able to clear these sections quick enough and get back to the good stuff.
Rise of the Tomb Raider scraps the multiplayer component of Tomb Raider in favor of a number of leaderboard focused scoring and survival modes called Expedition. I've found myself really enjoying this mode, which drops you back into story sequences with various objectives to complete and bronze, silver, gold medals to chase. The score attack mode features a score multiplier, that you ideally want to keep building upon by killing enemies, uncovering items, collecting little blue wisps, shooting down lanterns, and completing the main objective. It’s a pretty challenging thing to get good at, with a focus on finding the most efficient path so you don’t lose your multiplier, which works off of a timer.
Expedition also features Chapter Replay and Chapter Replay Elite, the latter of which allows you to complete earlier story objectives with your upgraded gear and skills intact. The last Expedition mode, Remnant Resistance, is a bit more unique, with various objectives to complete on a map that includes rescuing hostages, eliminating enemies, finding collectibles and more. Expedition mode also allows for the use of cards, purchased using in-game currency from various packs in the marketplace. These cards add special modifiers that can both help and hinder Lara. For cards that make the missions more difficulty, you’ll get an added percentage boost to your overall score for that stage, whereas the cards that help Lara do the opposite. There’s some weird variants, like a big-head mode and unlockable costumes, which add some uniqueness and replay value to the whole deal.
All in all, I’m pretty impressed with Rise of the Tomb Raider, and I suspect you will be too. It’s also a really gorgeous game, with few technical issues throughout. I did run into one bug, where I fell through a door that could only be opened from one side, and that caused me to lose some progress since I had to revert to an earlier save. But outside of that, I had little issues with the game or how it runs. Certainly nothing that impacted my overall enjoyment of the experience. Overall this is a fantastic second outing for the rebooted franchise, and one that I look forward to replaying down the road.