Rise of the Tomb Raider continues the adventures of Lara Croft as she comes face to face with her past and looks towards a future of pilfering from ancient places.
2013’s Tomb Raider was a delightful, and necessary, reinvention for a series which had begun to have a serious identity crisis. It was actually developers Crystal Dynamics second try at rebooting Lara’s world (after the cycle started with Legend in 2006) but gained points for paring back the character to its pre-raiding days and for the endlessly entertaining gameplay.
Two years have passed and it’s time for a sequel.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is more or less exactly the same game as its predecessor. In many ways that’s a very good thing – the reboot was one of my favourite titles of the last few years and most of its best parts have been replicated here.
So you’ll find exceptionally smooth gameplay with a mixture of killing (so much killing), exploring and some light puzzle work. The levels are somewhat open as before and you’ll spend time picking up a lot of random collectibles to earn XP and level up your Lara.
The good news is that it’s still as fun as ever. While there are lots of borrowed elements from other games here, nothing plays quite like Tomb Raider. There’s something about the speed of her movements around the world and the mix of brutal fighting with more contemplative sections which feels unique in today’s landscape.
And Rise even improves on the previous game. The levels are even more densely packed with things to do – with ancient relics to find, junk to collect, plants to harvest, wildlife to stalk and nests to pilfer.
There’s even more; reading texts in different languages helps you learn them almost instantly. The more you read, the more you can decipher which lets you check out mysterious maps of areas, revealing rare items on the map. Other maps will help you find survivor caches for you to dig up.
And then there are the tombs. One of the big criticisms of the first game was the odd lack of places to actually raid, prompting Crystal Dynamics to add more in via DLC. This time there are tons of optional tombs, sometimes three or four per level which you can seek out at your leisure. They’re generally quite short with very simple physics puzzles but they do provide a great alternative to the jumping and shooting and reward the player with XP.
That RPG element returns you’ll constantly be earning points to unlock new skills. The upgrading all happens at base camps (which are never far away) and the tweaking options are comprehensive.
Lara’s new abilities are actually useful – from making your stealth kills quicker to scavenging more XP or materials or being able to hold your bow for longer. You can also improve your weapons, create new gear, change your outfits and more at base camps.
There’s a lot of busywork going on all the time, and it’s all shockingly compelling. Pressing in on the right stick shows you Survival Instincts which marks interesting items. You can also tag them on the improved map and go on a collecting spree, which often means you linger around in levels far longer than you need to. And there’s even more to do with new ally missions – optional extras which see you working with the locals to on quick tasks for XP and useful items.
Lara had a really tough time in the 2013 game, with events often focussing on how battered her body could get time and again. I always found it uncomfortable and thankfully there’s less of that here. From the start she’s already a bad ass, which also makes her a killing machine.
You will kill a lot of people in Rise of the Tomb Raider. You’ll shoot them from afar, cripple them with axes, stab them in the face with arrows, choke them out from behind, blow them up, burn them to death and you can even prime a recently deceased enemy with a bomb to murder their unsuspecting friends.
It’s all a bit sinister if but from a purely gameplay perspective the combat is very slickly implemented. Many engagements give you an open area to plan your attacks, with a definite focus on stealth thanks to the return of the deliciously damaging bow. You can use the environment to create chaos and craft molotovs and grenades on the move.
I haven’t yet mentioned the story because it’s definitely the worst part of Rise. The previous game may not have been a masterpiece but scored points by taking Lara from a position of fear and weakness to someone in control of her own destiny.
This time around, they’re trying to bring in the sweep of a complicated father/daughter relationship with Lord Richard Croft and that personal angle might have worked if it was told with anything approaching subtlety. Every story beat here is loud and clunky and obvious, a fact not helped by some awkward dialogue and performances. Lara herself is a bit problematic, coming across as crazed on her quest for the Divine Source, a fact not helped by voice artist Camilla Luddington’s constant breathy whisper.
The baddies are also hopelessly uninteresting and generic and the entire plot all too familiar. There’s a myth about an ancient relic with potentially supernatural powers and an evil organisation hell bent on finding it for their own nasty deeds. Yawn.
The story may be weak but the new Expeditions make for a surprisingly fun addition. These are ways of pulling you back into levels after you’ve completed them – where you can earn credits or try to get the highest score. They’re quick and fun and have extra complications with the addition of card packs which can give you negative, positive and silly perks. Like big head mode.
My favourite of the new modes is Remnant Resistance which lets you pick an area from the game and get dropped into a unique set of missions (or you can create your own). You can easily jump back into the action with a mini version of the game that’s always chock full of things to do.
These new modes also fix one of my biggest issues with the 2013 game – they let you revisit levels with enemies. Replaying levels previously was an utterly sad and lonely affair, with no combat to break up the traversal. Now the best parts of the game are available whenever you want them. And each game earns credits to unlock more cards, which you can also buy with real world money.
Rise of the Tomb Raider had a lot to live up to after a sterling reboot from Crystal Dynamics and they’ve made the decisions to mostly deliver up the same game. Thankfully that’s just what many fans will be looking for and the slick gameplay mix of brutal combat, seamless exploring and expanded puzzling is just as beguiling this time around. The story is a weak point but that’s easily forgotten when the rest of the game is so compelling, and the new tweaks mostly improve an already impressive package.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is out now exclusively on Xbox One and Xbox 360.