The Tomb Raider franchise was rebooted in 2013 for what seemed like the hundredth time, as it was a tired franchise marred by mediocre games, bad movies, and her controversial existence as gaming’s sex symbol. Thankfully, the reboot was excellent. It featured nuances widely accepted in today’s era of adventure games while still feeling familiar and true to the series.
Rise of the Tomb Raider enhances everything that made its predecessor successful, and the result is a superb title with a multitude of things to come back for even after finishing the main story.
What Is It?
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes place about a year after the expeditions that led Lara Croft to the Dragon’s Triangle, fending off seemingly impossible situations caused by the supernatural. After her rescue, an organization known as the Trinity covered up her reports, thereby falsifying all of Lara’s reports and testimony making our heroine look like a liar. In her attempts to regain credibility, Lara finds herself in Sibera uncovering further truths on a relic known as the Divine Source, which is known to give its bearer eternal life.
The game uses various flashback scenes to draw parallels with Lara’s quest to the studies of her father, who lost his life pursuing the Divine Source after Trinity also covered his questionable, yet legitimate findings.
On the surface, the game’s story is just like any other archaeological adventure. There’s a scientist and bad guys all after the same thing. The Divine Source in Rise of the Tomb Raider, the holy grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and the Cintamani Stone in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves all pretty much do the same thing. But with Lara, there’s a lot more baggage, and therein lies the difference. She’s not the charismatic hero with a cheap pop that Indiana Jones and Nathan Drake are. Lara Croft is definitely a cunning woman, but she’s also vulnerable.
Whereas the events in Tomb Raider were accidental, this time around Lara goes out looking for trouble. Damaged and scorned, she’ll come across both old and new faces questioning why she does the things she does. Why is she even in Siberia? Why pursue something with no real gain? Has she become a killer?
Why Should I Care?
When tackling the story from that angle, to say I got all these questions answered would be lying. The Divine Source is in Siberia, so that’s why she has to be there. But what does she have to gain? During the course of this 12-hour adventure, Lara does find purpose in this excursion as Rise does a good job advancing the story with these questions in mind.
First and foremost, she made the trip for her research. She’s there to find the truth, and the beautiful Siberian environments she trudges through have a wealth of secrets waiting to be uncovered. As Lara, you’ll spend time scaling icy mountains, avoiding cataclysms, and swimming through underwater palaces looting all the relics you can find while also learning about the history of the territory you’re exploring in the hopes of finding the truth amidst all the danger.
Of course, Lara isn’t there alone. Someone else is after what she’s looking for, and they’ll stop at nothing to stop her first. Aside from scenes focused on stunts that make the game seem like a ripoff of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted, Tomb Raider also gets that comparison because of all the random gunfights Lara finds herself in. The storytelling does such a good that the enemy encounters definitely feel less random, but the game is still littered with these combat sequences.
This is where that killer question comes in. Is Lara Croft a murderer? Unless you’re playing something like Grand Theft Auto where you can be jailed for just about everything, no game with a gun is ever going to question you for killing hundreds of people. When you beat the game, you’re done. You’re not going to be tried for 300 counts of murder. Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t do that either, yet it raises the question as to what kind of person Lara becomes. This is the only thing wrong with the story. It’s no deal breaker, but it still makes you think.
Despite the question going unaddressed, the fact remains that the combat in Rise is quite an enjoyable experience. For the most part, the combat in the game is cover-based. The hide-and-shoot and run-and-gun methods of fighting are still intact, but the game also rewards you for finding different ways to rid Lara of her assailants.
One way is through stealth. Now, this isn’t Metal Gear Solid. You’re not going to beat the game without killing a few hundred people, but the job can be made easier by sneaking up behind someone and choking them out unnoticed. Stealth kills existed in Tomb Raider, but they’re a lot more useful in Rise as you’re rewarded additional XP for them that you can use to upgrade Lara’s Hunter, Brawler, and Survivor skills.
The newest method of combat in your arsenal is through its crafting system. Maybe you’re out of ammunition and there’s just too many enemies to deal with using just your pick axe. Oftentimes in battle you’ll find cans and bottles lying around that you can craft into smoke bombs and molotov bottles to wreak havoc on the bad guys. If you don’t have enough loot to craft these weapons, you can also just startle or distract them. Crafting and using such items awards you with more XP, so fighting hardly ever becomes dull unless you’re dealing with enemies with shields and bad camera angles, but that’s for another discussion.
At first the crafting system made the game feel like it was blatantly ripping off The Last of Us, another Naughty Dog property, but Rise arguably handles the system better, especially with all the loot you have lying around, unless you’re playing on a harder difficulty setting.
In fact, the game probably has too much loot lying around. Whether it’s a relic, currency, bullets, arrows, recordings from the enemy, recordings from your allies, or even historical Siberian scriptures, it’s both distracting and overwhelming. As much of a joy as it was to explore the uncharted territory put together by Crystal Dynamics, I felt like I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because I kept tapping on the right stick to activate Lara’s survival instincts, looking through every nook and cranny so that I’d find everything. On top of that, the game really encourages you to stray from the beaten path, resulting in loot that you actually have to earn.
Like its predecessor, Rise isn’t really a sandbox game, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some exploring. The game’s world is huge, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find caves and tombs well worth your time. Caves typically hold the best loot, but more often than not you’ll come across exotic animals that are tougher to kill. Aside from the bear in the header image, you’ll also come across snow leopards and other wildcats that’ll make the wolves from the previous game seem like bugs. These exotic animals require more than a few shots to put them down, and since they run away and charge at you a lot, you’ll experience difficulties with the game’s camera. But if you take them out, you can use their hides to craft better resources. Or you can bask in a false sense of pride for killing an endangered species.
Then there are the tombs, which are probably the most memorable part about the series. Each tomb has a themed puzzle that’ll use as much of your brain as they do with the platforming. When you solve the puzzles, you unlock new abilities and enhancements for Lara to add to her arsenal, which will at times encourage you to go back to areas you already explored in the hopes of finding something new — maybe even another tomb. It’s a very Metroid and Mega Man-like method, because you feel and know that Lara’s abilities are better the more you play through the game. Backtracking is also made easy thanks to the Fast Travel option you can use at a basecamp.
While most of the tombs are optional, they add a whole lot of value not just because they give Lara more abilities, but because they feature some of the best change-of-pace puzzling you’ll experience in any game. I was confused for about half an hour trying to figure out how to get to one end of the room using my knowledge of rope arrows. Conquering these tombs really gives you a great sense of achievement, and it’s fun going back to some tombs you might have missed while progressing through the main story.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
At roughly 12 hours, Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s main campaign features some good length, but it’s not a ridiculously long story by any means. But either way you look at it, while Rise isn’t exactly a sandbox, there’s still no shortage of things to do after completing your first playthrough.
A lot of other titles in the genre will revert you back to a previous checkpoint, acting like the game’s ending never happened. This isn’t the case with Rise. Though Lara Croft may have accomplished her main objective, she’s still an explorer first. Whether it’s finding all the treasure or raiding all the tombs and solving their awesome puzzles, Rise of the Tomb Raider has terrific replay value that you can easily spend more than 40 hours on.
With robust combat, a great sense of exploration, and amazing lifelike environments, why wouldn’t you want to stray off the beaten path with the definitive icon of girl power?