2013 saw Crystal Dynamics release Tomb Raider, a game that not only served to reinvent the iconic series, it excellently showcased the origins of the games legendary female protagonist, Lara Croft. Stranded on a mysterious island off the coast of Japan along with a group of friends, Lara was forced to learn survival in the harshest possible way as she battled elements and enemies she had never faced before, including the supernatural.
The Square Enix published Rise Of The Tomb Raider looks to further continue Lara’s personal story, taking place a short while after the fateful expedition to Yamatai. Can Crystal Dynamics follow on from a hugely successful new take on the avid adventurer’s life or will the sequel come up short, will we finally see the full evolution of “The Tomb Raider”
Rise Of The Tomb Raider: Xbox One [Reviewed], Xbox 360, Windows PC
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 10 November 2015
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game copy supplied by Publisher]
The opening moments of the explorers latest outing help to set the tone for what’s to come beautifully, they not only immerse you as the player in the, at times breathtaking yet dangerous environments Rise Of The Tomb Raider has to offer and believe me, there are a lot. It also succeeds at thrusting Lara straight back into the thick of the action from the very outset. Along with her trusted and loyal friend, Jonah, we find the confident adventurer deep in the bitterly cold mountains of Siberia, where she is searching for the lost City of Kitezh, a sacred place that is believed to be the source of immortality, a myth that left her fallen father mocked and scorned by the community. Lara looks to redeem her father’s name while uncovering a fascinating legend.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider’s story begins in front of a steep unforgiving mountain in freezing Siberia, the sheer mass scale of this formidable piece of land with its equally unkind backdrop would be enough to sway even the most ardent of mountaineers, but not the young archaeologist from Wimbledon, London. Whereas in Tomb Raider we saw Lara finding her way, stripped of the essential parts that make her who she is to become, all the while learning. When faced with an arduous climb, where death lies with every swing of her pickaxe, she excels, full of confidence and desire to reach her destination.
The power and brute force of the mountain wind drives the explorer to lower her head, pieces of the mountain’s edge begin to break and fall away as Lara and Jonah make their way slowly up to the treacherous path leading to the base of the mountain, suddenly without warning a larger piece of black rock breaks away, sending Lara sliding feet first down an icy path towards certain death, with great timing and quick reactions, she manages to swing out her axe, scraping the sharp tip down the icy path before finally settling at the edge of the cliff.
The moments that follow make for a tutorial as Lara shimmies and expertly leaps along the cliff’s edge before using her axe again to ascend an ice wall, although the games early mechanics are simple in nature, with quick-time events, the opening moments of the game provide some breathtaking action with the cinematic’s that accompany the drama well.
By comparison, Lara’s latest outing looks to tell a somewhat different story to that of Crystal Dynamics 2013 Tomb Raider, although Lara has clearly come of age as she embarks on her latest expedition, she still shows the same emotional traits carried with her throughout her previous experience on the island of Yamatai. During the fateful expedition she felt compelled to look after her friends, a sense of guilt drove her to protect their well being throughout but this was not yet the Lara Croft we have all come to know, her skills had not yet been fully honed, there was a distinct sense of innocence about her, she was however, never afraid to take on any challenge head first.
In Rise Of The Tomb Raider, Lara shows all of the signs of being better for her experiences on the island. Driven by morals, always reluctant to give over to the whim of others, more than capable of holding her own but most importantly now she possesses the vital ability to survive in the face of adversity. If the first outing was about her finding her feet and learning her skills, Lara is now more evolved and better equipped for the challenges she will face.
Lara’s sheer will and gritty determination provide the perfect platform for her driving force as she looks to protect her late father’s name. As relationships go, the bond shared between Lara and her father; Richard James Croft was as strong as you are ever likely to find, this is always apparent throughout the storyline, with fleeting echoes of the past thrown in, in order to shine a light on the relationship and better explain it. The numerous base camps scattered around the land are testament to that, with conversations between the two replayed as Lara reflects on her past.
Tomb Raiders combat system was almost perfect, it excelled in providing a fun experience with some fantastic weapons to use and upgrade. The various forms of attack throughout the game showed Crystal Dynamics had a firm grasp on what was required to deliver a great action driven experience with a thrilling combat system, which balanced well between moments of exploration and the main story. It also showed the series to have evolved greatly and in the latest instalment, that very same exciting combat system returns with timely improvements.
The game now feels more tailored towards player choice, a more stealth minded approach is now available as opposed to being flung directly into combat unnecessarily, although sneaking around might not satisfy some, there is of course,the age-old ability to go in all guns blazing, its all about how you want to attack the game. New forms of enemy takedowns are introduced to the series, with the ability to stalk and kill enemies from above, with the use of tree branches and ledges, water takedowns have also been added, a form of attack in which Lara will wait by the side of a pool of water before dragging a nearby enemy to the depths below to dispatch of them unnoticed.
Ammunition has also been given a makeover, with a new ability to craft better equipment with resources located throughout the world, that not only help Lara survive but make her more efficient with her weapons. With the use of mushrooms found in caves, Lara can craft potent poison arrows, which when fired into a large group of enemies, produces a large green smoke cloud that renders the enemies dead within a couple of seconds. There are new bullets such as hollow rounds to be crafted with the right items, the depth of the new crafting system is a welcome addition and definitely worth spending time to understand.
As character movement goes, Lara struts around the surrounding land with all the stunning natural ease and confidence you would expect from an athletic adventurer, there’s a certain air of swagger that follows her every footstep. Leaping dramatically from vertical cliff edges always feels like a heart in the mouth moment, which is well executed and never grows old. These moments of death-defying flight all serve a purpose and that is to leave players constantly on edge, with extreme precision required to traverse the daunting terrain, for sheer fear of falling to your death.
With the simple click of the right analog stick Lara’s Survival Instincts vision is activated, climbable environments begin to shine brightly like a beacon in the wilderness, with rapid and fluent movement Lara can swiftly ascend a tree, springing up onto an upper branch before leaping with force to a cliff face, before attaching to it with aplomb. Further progression of the story allows for more climbing equipment to assist in accessing areas previously unreachable. Climbing throughout the adventure is as immaculate as ever, the backdrop beckons you to begin making your way up, just to get a view at the glorious surrounding landscape.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider introduces a deeper crafting system with heavy emphasis focused on the art of survival. The need to hunt and forage for vital resources was always in the back of my mind, without the use of wood, feathers and animal hide, Lara’s life is made all the more difficult. Crafting has never been more poignant with wild animals to be hunted and skills available to make the task easier. There are of course animals that will pose more of a threat to Crofts life, with a large grisly Bear proving to be a formidable opponent as well as Siberian Tigers and wild Wolves around, hunting isn’t always as easy as picking on a rather defenceless squirrel or chicken.
As seen before in Tomb Raider, Croft can, through thorough exploration unlock skill points, which in turn can be spent at various base camps throughout the land, which help Lara to improve her abilities. Brawler, Hunter and Survivor trees allow Lara to build up her experience and unlock new features that will better help her to survive all that the land and her enemies have to offer, making Lara better with hand to hand combat techniques, hunting wild animals and giving her the gift to see objects of interest with the use of Survival Instinct vision, items such as relics, that might have gone unnoticed at a first glance.
It wouldn’t be a Tomb Raider game without the exploration of long lost Tombs, filled with history, Rise Of The Tomb Raider certainly doesn’t come up short in that department, the game provides Lara with plenty of hidden and undiscovered areas of interest. One of the greatest things about a game of this nature is the navigation and challenge they present, although some of the puzzles might appear daunting at first, with the use of a keen eye, pieces of the jigsaw begin to fall into place. Challenge tombs also showcase some of the best pieces of scenery the game has to offer with amazing discoveries to be made within each one.
Visually, Rise Of The Tomb Raider is stunning and wonderful to experience, the picturesque scenery and at times overwhelming environments help to elevate the series to a new high, if Tomb Raider was a platform to build a new series upon, then the follow up has pushed it to new boundaries. From the opening mountain landscape of Siberia to the deserts borders of Syria, it’s excellently designed. Rise Of The Tomb Raider runs beautifully in 1080p although some of the cutscenes fall slightly short of that, it certainly takes nothing away from what is a pretty flawless game.
The multiplayer aspect from Tomb Raider has been removed from the latest addition with Crystal Dynamics opting instead for a mode called Expedition, which pits players against all of the levels within the games main story, with a twist. The menu opens up into a variety of different challenge modes, which take you back through the story but with points and coins at stake for completing objectives. Throughout the story, coins are offered to players which in turn can be used to purchase cards in the games marketplace, which depending on the set bought, can add difficulty to a particular level or help aid the journey but be detrimental to your end result.
With risk comes reward as a percentage of your final score comes from the cards selected before beginning each level. So if you opted for cards that tend to aid you, such as unlimited ammo or weaker enemies, your final score will be reflected based on those chosen, on the other hand selecting the types of cards that will hinder Lara such as decreased health and no bandages will see you rewarded with an increased score, the purpose is to act like a multiplier.
Tomb Raider saw the beginning of one of video games greatest protagonists, pulling up the roots of the loveable character to show her origins, the game was a fitting start to a brand new portrayal of Lara Croft. If Tomb Raider shone a spotlight on her growing as a character, learning to become a fighter, a survivor – then Rise Of The Tomb Raider is where she begins to fulfil her destiny. Lara is not only a strong young lady, she is a woman capable of great and breathtaking feats, someone who is determined and strong willed with intelligence and full of confidence. Throughout the latest addition to an amazing adventure, I fully got to experience the evolution of the Tomb Raider.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider has an exceptionally strong and fascinating story behind it, which often peaks back into the relationship of Lara and her late father, it’s a story that, at times, pulls on the heartstrings, as Lara becomes torn between doing what’s right and her beliefs. The action throughout is pulsating with exciting combat that rarely fails to deliver, with all new combat elements and crafting system to get to grips with and some of the greatest scenery I have ever encountered in a video game, the latest addition to the series is not only a fitting one but a great sight.
With the release of Uncharted 4 on the horizon, Crystal Dynamics have managed to not only top the previous Tomb Raider title but lay a solid marker down for the future of the famed female adventurer.