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Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

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On 12/14/2015 at 07:00 AM by Casey Curran

Proving once again snow always makes video games better

Fans of both action and adventure games will enjoy this title. The game has a very healthy mix between shooting, exploration, and puzzles which gives it a very broad appeal.

Life is full of mysteries. Who created us? Are we alone in the universe? And why did people love 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot so much? Don’t get me wrong, the title was not bad by any stretch of the word, it just felt like the textbook definition of mediocrity despite its glowing praise. While the game had almost as many issues as its sequel has microtransactions, everything wrong with the reboot was attributed to two core problems: Developer Crystal Dynamics wanted to turn Tomb Raider into Uncharted and Lara Croft into Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.

Gone were the challenging platforming segments in complex rooms full of traps and instead replaced with simplistic climbing segments and hubs which offered exploration, but devoid of any critical thought required for how to get somewhere. Instead the focus was put on shooting and giant set pieces which all felt like they were done better in Uncharted 2. Meanwhile, Lara Croft’s character was given a downgrade. In past titles, she was a fun adventurer wielding two pistols John Woo style to a “naïve young girl” who could somehow take on an entire army with a bow and arrows despite her constant injuries and a story that simultaneously tried to convince the player that she was not capable of fighting anyone mentally.

While not without its high points, the Tomb Raider reboot had me very apathetic to what would come next. But lo and behold, the latest game in the series Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like someone at Crystal Dynamics realized how far they went in abandoning what Tomb Raider used to be and are now trying their best to undo the damage done by the reboot. While not completely capturing the spirit or essence of past Tomb Raider titles or Lara Croft, what it instead offers is one of 2015’s most engaging and compelling titles, rising far above the average AAA offering.

Tomb Raider is still intent on borrowing from Uncharted, as Rise begins with a dangerous climb up a mountain followed by a flashback in a sequence that feels like it wants to be Uncharted 2 so bad that the lack of Nathan Drake feels off putting. Soon after, however, the game starts differentiating itself from Uncharted by taking cues from Naughty Dog’s other PS3 franchise The Last of Us as Lara must gather resources to craft weapons, a fire, and ammo.

Yet unlike the previous entry which felt like it was imitating what was popular in an effort to capture its success, what Rise borrows feels like it exists (mostly) to enhance the experience. Crafting has been expanded, as now you can create arrows, special ammunition, and health packs by holding one of the shoulder buttons. The last part is especially vital in the game’s Survivor mode, which eliminates regenerating health in addition to placing stronger enemies and fewer resources in the environment. While not offering a Dark Souls level of challenge or depth, this is enough to both make combat more engaging and crafting a much more integral part of the core gameplay to the point where I cannot recommend enough playing on this mode.

Combat remains the usual cover based shooting with an emphasis on stealth, though some new additions differentiate itself this time around. Combat arenas add more verticality this time around, allowing Lara to sneak around from different altitudes and deliver stealth kills from above. The new poison and bomb arrows make a great addition to fire arrows as well, each serving very well depending on the enemy encountered. However, the enemies in the game are in desperate need for some variety, with the vast majority of the game only differentiating three types based on how much armor they carry. While the very end offers enemies with new weapons, more bear and wolf encounters as well as some of the series’ trademark supernatural elements would have gone a long way in spicing up the combat.

The upgrading weapons and abilities also leave something to be desired. Some, such as taking more hits or holding more ammo have a good enough purpose to justify looking for upgrade materials or killing an enemy using a tougher method (example: a head shot) or staying hidden in stealth. Others, however, such as the game indicating when a headshot is lined up are downright pointless with the vast majority such as higher accuracy or damage offering little discernable difference.

However, combat rarely grows tedious despite its issues thanks to the healthy balance it shares with platforming and puzzles. The platforming is still not quite at the same level of challenge or complexity as Tomb Raider: Anniversary’s, yet what was offered was far more substantial than the previous entry. Time sensitive platforming segments are more frequent than the last game, though not quite putting too much pressure on the player, which was very noticeable when I decided to just put the controller down and see what would happen if I chose not to react. It ultimately is more about the illusion of challenge, yet during the middle of a setpiece, this is usually enough to hold my attention until the segment is over. Technical issues can also get in the way of the platforming, as Lara can sometimes fail to grab onto a ledge or land on the right spot. Fortunately, a good checkpoint system keeps this from being too big an issue.

The slower platforming segment fare better. The game is split between a selection of hub areas connected by linear story heavy segments. The platforming really shines in the hub areas as you must figure out how to use the tools you have acquired to find the various collectables in an effort to add more experience and crafting materials. As you find more tools, you can return later to access more areas within these hubs. The tools here allow for more discoveries with where they can lead to, such as a grappling pick ax and exploding arrows. Yes, I know these don’t make much sense logistically, but they are fun to use.

Swimming also returns, which adds to the exploration a bit, but not as much as it could have. Rather than letting the player dive as deep as possible, the game only lets Lara submerge a little  she’ll automatically submerge more if an opening is present. This ultimately limits exploration, making me hope the series opens up options underwater in future sequels, especially since previous Tomb Raider titles had some of the best underwater portions I have seen.  

Puzzles in Rise as a whole are far better than the previous entry, and are the strongest of the game’s three pillars. While the last title almost entirely placed all its puzzles in optional tombs with fairly simple solutions, Rise’s are more prominent in the main game and far more complex. Many puzzles require multiple steps to solve which force you to consider all of your tools available and plan out each step or force having to repeat it again. Rise of the Tomb Raider is not afraid to stump the player and is all the better for it. This is especially true of the optional tombs, which each offer a reasonable to exceptionally complex puzzle blocking Lara’s path to a high tier ability upgrade.

Upon finishing the main story, Rise still offers plenty of secrets to justify a few hours of extra gameplay, yet not everything is worth finding for non-completionists. There is also the expedition mode, which allows replaying the linear segments with collectables adding to your score multiplier, offering a more arcade-like experience. Unfortunately getting the highest score either takes a lot of time or paying up for via microtransactions.

Expedition mode allows cards to be used, adding extra challenge to the game in exchange for a higher score if completed successfully. These cards are purchased in random packs with credits, which can be obtained either by completing certain objectives in game or ponying up some extra cash for. Some cards are one time use while others can be used an infinite number of times, but getting the highest score without them is possible. While it is possible to get all of the cards for free, it still reeks of trying to squeeze out some extra cash and the random nature is especially annoying. It removes a fun way to challenge your skills and instead only offers a good way to replay your favorite parts of the game. Granted that’s still a net positive, but the mode cannot live up to its true potential due to greed.

Equally upsetting as these microtransactions is the game’s story. Besides appearing to rip off Uncharted 2’s plot, what Rise really borrows heavily from is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The ancient artifact with untold powers guarded by a tribe of indigenous people complete with daddy issues, it’s treading familiar ground just without Harrison Ford or Sean Connery. And really, why would anyone want to take out Sean Connery?

The story also seems bent on trying to add weight to Lara’s misfortunes yet lacks the understanding to properly integrate it. Lara will constantly fall from great heights, and receive serious wounds immediately followed by the game spending several minutes dwelling on how much pain she has suffered. It takes you through all of that only for her to be back in tip top shape once the segment is over, essentially eliminating any sense of severity it was building up to. These “serious injury” segments repeatedly suck out the lighthearted fun found in the source material it’s trying to imitate, hampering how much enjoyment the story contains. While these events are not as ubiquitous as the previous title, there are still here enough to make the writing feel comical at best and at worst creepy as it feels as though a writer of the game may have a fetish for seeing her get tortured.

Of all the problems I have with the story, my biggest issue is with the character of Lara Croft herself. While the previous Tomb Raider game ended with a hint that she is gaining her love of adventure that defines her character in the older games, Rise creates a new motivation in finishing her late father’s legacy. The tale establishes early on her father died on an expedition looking for a treasure which she obsesses over finding, only knowing that it is rumored to have certain mystical properties. However, the game never establishes a strong bond with her father, only showing him neglecting her as a child through flashbacks in favor of discovering this treasure. Without establishing a strong bond via flashbacks, Lara’s motivation comes across as very weak, which combined with the story’s lack of originality destroys any potential it could have contained to offer a compelling narrative.

Even so, at the end of the day, the story does not hinder the gameplay like the last game. Long segments of Lara just walking slowly from one objective have all but vanished while linear segments between hubs feel built around the gameplay rather than the story. This is a decision reflected in all aspects of Rise of the Tomb Raider, as rather than focusing on what is popular or telling a story, Crystal Dynamics focused on delivering fun, well balanced gameplay elements. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, you have seen everything here before, yes certain elements will make you raise an eyebrow, and yes, the much of its lore goes against what it is supposed to stand for. None of these issues change how everything comes together so well that I cannot help but come away completely satisfied and looking forward to some great leftovers to keep me busy for the next few days.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Blake Turner Staff Writer

12/14/2015 at 09:09 PM

Nice review, super keen to play this when it ends up on a real console.

 Although I must say, after having played Legends and Underworld, I don't think the platforming was ever really hard. It was mostly the excellent puzzles and bullshit combat that gave the game it's edge.

 Also, Rise of the Tomb Raider sold so poorly that the pc release is being pushed forward to January.


12/17/2015 at 06:35 PM

Legends and Underworld were much easier/less dangerous than the first 4 TRs and Anniversary though, which are the real points of comparison. Still, Underworld is way underrated and it offered more of what defines TR to me. than this new series does.


01/04/2016 at 09:56 AM

From what I've read here, they are atleast on the right track. I am still skeptical, guess I'll know when the PC version is out. 


02/22/2016 at 09:12 AM

It's a bit depressing how Crystal Dynamics changed Lara a bit, but the game is still pretty charming and awesome.

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