The Remnants of Immortality
Lara Croft is no doubt one of the biggest gaming icons in the history of video games, and it was through the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot in which she found her feet once again with the mainstream gaming audience. Crystal Dynamics’ follow-up, aptly named Rise of the Tomb Raider, continues Lara’s adventures in new and exciting ways, leading to one of the best action-adventure games of the year.
There’s a quote early on in Rise of the Tomb Raider: “We age, we decay, we die, but what do we leave behind?” This, if anything, serves as a paramount theme throughout the entirety of the game, and acts as the ground for which the story finds its feet. Rise of the Tomb Raider often questions the sacrifices we make for others and the respective repercussions faced by those around us, and it fits in perfectly with modern day Lara Croft and her compulsion to find The Divine Source — the potential key to immortality.
Lara’s past and the connection with her father is a key component in Rise of the Tomb Raider, too, as she slowly makes a journey across a multitude of diverse locations in search of the source. These are showcased by the way of flashbacks sprawled throughout the game’s twelve-hour story, and give a great deal of context and insight into what hasn’t really been explored in a Tomb Raider game before. The references to her father’s search for The Divine Source is a particularly interesting narrative thread, and that ultimately transcends to the public perception of the Croft family. It’s a fascinating insight into Lara’s world, and it gives the game’s story arc a sense of purpose and meaning.
Of course, Lara quickly discovers that she’s not the only one seeking The Divine Source, as Trinity — a military group hell-bent on taking over the world — make their presence known fairly early on. In the end, though, the vast majority of Trinity feel like meat shields for Lara’s arrows and weaponry, bar the main villains. It’s disappointing that Trinity often feel like a means to an end for each section of Lara’s journey, often dipping into the repetitive nature of shoot, kill, reload, rinse and repeat far too often. It doesn’t necessarily slow down the game’s pace or hurt its narrative arc in any meaningful way, but it would have been refreshing for them to have a real feeling of purpose in their actions against Lara rather than take the form of pure bullet sponges.
“It’s a fascinating insight into Lara’s world, and it gives the game’s story arc a sense of purpose and meaning.”
The main villains, on the other hand, are a different story altogether. While they do often dip into the pool of cliche, they manage to convey a real sense of motivation behind their actions, and in turn help diversify Rise of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay and story in fun and exciting ways by pushing Lara into situations akin to those seen in the 2013 reboot.
It’s through this that Rise of the Tomb Raider truly finds its feet, and while the gameplay initially appeared to be identical to that of the reboot, the introduction of a handful of new gameplay mechanics at around the halfway mark changed things up for the better. This is a more seasoned Lara Croft, with her actions and her attitude to pursue the source completely indicative of that.
In saying that, the game’s story — while a great follow-up to the initial reintroduction of Tomb Raider — feels tentatively unbalanced at times. Filled with a handful of plot holes and flawed characters, the game doesn’t manage to reach the heights of what’s seen in the upper echelon of video game storytelling, but it’s still an enjoyable and exciting ride throughout, questioning one’s resolve and their will to fight for what they believe in.
Even when taking that into account, Crystal Dynamics’ attention to the visual fidelity of the game is stunning. Rise of the Tomb Raider’s cinematic presentation is top-notch, as both cutscenes and the epic set pieces that’s been attached to the new Tomb Raider series are presented in gorgeous detail. This is also seen in almost all of the environments, too, from the Siberian wilderness to the game’s handful of tombs, most of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s world looks absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, the contrast between the beauty of the world becomes paramount when you move toward a handful of lower-grade textures, making the picturesque world a little less immersive. This isn’t a regular occurrence, though, and most of Lara’s journey is presented in absolute breathtaking beauty.
On the returning features, the skill tree and upgrade system at camp fires are back in Rise of the Tomb Raider, again allowing for a great deal of customization throughout. There’s nothing that’s been noticeably changed about the system, even down to the aesthetic and UI, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. It’s intuitive and allows quick access to all of Lara’s equipment and gear, with camp fires plentiful throughout the game’s handful of locations.
Crafting also plays a major role in Rise of the Tomb Raider, with a plethora of materials and animals scattered throughout each location. It’s important to take every opportunity to gather the aforementioned materials and animal hide as it’s a lot more useful this time around, with Lara now having the ability to craft a selection of special arrow types. These vary from poison arrows — which produces a large gas cloud that kills all enemies in the vicinity, to fire arrows — which engulf enemies and objects in flames. These specialty arrows can be crafted on the fly, and I found that they were one of — if not — the most effective weapons in the game.
Hub worlds have been introduced in Rise of the Tomb Raider and offer up a handful of optional side activities to engage in. These are usually optional tombs and side quests given by people residing in the area, and while they aren’t majorly exciting, they’re still a good way to explore everything the game has to offer. The optional tombs scattered throughout are excellent to work through, though, often giving you a good set of rewards following their completion. They’re also well designed and challenge you with puzzles that require thought and planning, which is exactly in the mould of classic Tomb Raider.
One of the defining and immediately noticeable traits Rise of the Tomb Raider has in spades is excellent sound design and a great score, and this is especially notable in both the game’s cinematics and set pieces. Almost every minute detail within the world of Rise of the Tomb Raider is compensated by some sort of subtle sound effect, and in turn that gives the game a feeling of depth and grounding in reality. The only real problem is that the weapons Lara uses often feel a little rough around the edges, but it generally doesn’t become an issue following the game’s first couple of hours.
Crystal Dynamics’ follow up to the incredibly successful reboot of Tomb Raider is a brilliant telling of the next step in Lara’s journey. While the story is unbalanced at times, the set pieces, core gameplay, and exceptional attention to detail take primary focus and showcases a series that’s fully come into its own. Add to that the Expeditions mode, which is a score-based leaderboard mode that can be used during both your journey or post-game, and it’s evident that there’s a good amount of content embedded within the latest Croft outing as well. Rise of the Tomb Raider is by far one of the best action-adventure titles of the year, if not of the console generation thus far. I can’t wait to see where Crystal Dynamics go next.
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed) and Xbox 360 (Nov 10), PC and PlayStation 4 (2016)
A review code was provided by the publisher.