Version Played: Xbox One – Also available on PS4, PC, Mac, Linux and Google Stadia
The sequel to 2013’s critically and commercially successful Tomb Raider reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider continues Lara’s story; her experience of supernatural phenomena in the previous game leads to Lara finally believing in her late father’s research into the secret for immortality – which he believed to be located in the lost city of Kitezh.
She’s not alone in her search for the immortality granting artifact, however, with paramilitary organisation Trinity – being led by vicious religious zealot Konstantin – also racing to find it.
As in the first game, the action is split between large chunks of exploration, along with plenty of combat. The controls have been changed slightly (a tap of LB no longer triggers Lara’s ‘Survival Instincts’ environment scanning ability – instead that’s shifted to a click of the right stick), because there’s an awful lot more that Lara is capable of doing this time around. Crafting arrows of various types, using objects found in the environment either explosively or just as distractions and making bandages to instantly heal are just a few of the new abilities that the more experienced Lara Croft is now able to access. Most of the incredibly irritating timed button press events have been removed, thankfully – though you’ll occasionally need to press X when prompted if you don’t quite nail a grab for a ledge or wall.
A much more extensive and varied set of customisation options are available to Lara as she levels up, too – with weapons, equipment and abilities all able to be improved as you progress. One of the most interesting aspects I found during play was that of deciphering languages; finding more objects and documents in certain languages improves your vocabulary (with a number of different languages levelling up in this way), which in turn allows you to decipher more complex passages of text when discovered.
The production values are as sky-high as you’d expect. Despite the game now being close to five years old, it still looks absolutely phenomenal, with absolutely stunning scenery and – as with the first game – a really cinematic and dynamic feel to the exploration. There’s a much bigger variety to the scenery you’ll encounter – though much of the game takes place in the ice and snow of Siberia, there’s greener, more lush environments too, as well as nicely designed, man-made structures.
The combat is just as brutal as the first game’s was and feels less disconnected from Lara’s response to it in cut scenes. Trinity are shown to be extremely ruthless and vicious – particularly their leader, Konstantin, in an early, especially horrific cut scene.
The script – by returning writer, Rhianna Pratchett – is again very well written, with some excellent, major twists occurring along the way that give the narrative very personal stakes for Lara. There’s a few revelations and character beats that don’t quite hit the mark later on (including a particularly theological twist for one character that didn’t feel right to me) but for the most part the narrative is a real strong point.
The final boss fight is a massive let down, however, with the game defying its own rules and requiring you to win in an oddly specific way, when it’s spent so much time allowing you to be creative with how you approach combat. It’s very brief too – and leads to an extended final cutscene that features lots of non-interactive action, which you should really have been able to play a part in influencing.
There’s a bloated mid-section in the game in which the narrative screeches to a halt in favour of boring fetch quests too, though these are at least optional.
Multiplayer has been removed, though there’s a sort of challenge mode which seems to be bogged down with lots of opportunistic, card collecting microtransaction nonsense; given how heavily the mode seems to push the spending of real money on booster packs, it put me off entirely – and I didn’t bother looking at this once.
DLC is available, with excellent – if brief – extra missions that are quite a departure from the main thrust of the narrative. The Baba Yaga DLC campaign brings a bit more of the horror feel that was seen in the first game, though ends up with a very predictable twist. There’s a DLC episode which features no combat at all, in which you explore Croft Manor for details on Lara’s past – though brief, it’s a satisfying delve into our heroine’s history.
Rise of the Tomb Raider feels a lot bigger in scope and size than the first game, which does have the effect of making the narrative feel a little bloated in comparison at times. The opening few stages are a bit disjointed from a narrative point of view as well, though the game doesn’t take long to settle down and get into a decent rhythm.
There’s quite a bit of backtracking through stages though – even if you’re just playing through without trying to collect the frankly daunting variety of collectables – which is a little disappointing at times through the second half of the game (and one character reappearing only to be captured feels very cheap indeed as a way of padding the story out), but things are set up for the third game with an unexpected post credits cut scene and the story – as well as the gameplay itself – remains compelling enough that you’ll be keen to move on to the next entry when you finish the main campaign.
Though the story doesn’t feel as focused as that in the first game, there’s a larger focus on Lara’s personal history – particularly her relationship with her late father and his legacy – as well as building Trinity up to be a recurring thorn in Lara’s side.
Having completed the main game, I’m very keen to move on to the third and – so far – final entry in the reboot series, 2018’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Though I’m very late to the party with this series, I’m very glad that I’ve discovered it – here’s hoping that the third game is as satisfying an experience as the first two.
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