There’s no getting away from it, Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise itself needed a serious reboot. After initially wowing gaming audiences a couple of decades ago, things were becoming stale, with Legendary versions and Anniversary editions failing to recapture the glory of the past. So Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix got together to bring Lara Croft kicking and screaming (quite literally) into the modern day, with a release of Tomb Raider on Xbox 360 really pushing the old girl to the limits. The arrival of the Definitive Edition on Xbox One at the start of the new console’s life just ensured that the whole makeover that Lara had been subjected to was pushed even further towards the realms of Hollywood.
Now though, Crystal Dynamics, Square Enix and Lara Croft herself are back, with a story that tells how the delightful Ms Croft became obsessed with raiding, and exactly why she is now the kick ass bitch she is!
Set after the events of the previous title, you’ll find yourself placed in different periods of Lara’s life as she attempts to live up to her famous father’s name, albeit one that has been completely torn apart by Trinity, the threatening enterprise that is intent on uncovering supernatural powers hidden deep within Siberia. It is up to Ms Croft, and indeed you, to uncover the truth behind the powers in hand, attempting to prove that the myth in place is indeed just that. Or perhaps not!
Set in the usual third person style, the visuals that Rise of the Tomb Raider run with are glorious. Lara is extremely well detailed and the new engine that now powers her has been quite obviously pushed to the nth degree. Weapons dangle off her tardis like utility belt whenever they are not in use, and her trusty bow – the weapon you’ll find her dealing most of the damage out with, swings from side to side as she clambers up icy rock faces, jumps from pillar to post and, at least when under my control, falls to her death a little too often. Yet again though, much like in the previous Tomb Raider title, it is Lara’s hair which has been treated to the most attention. Single strands are visible at all times, but on occasions it feels like Crystal have put a bit too much attention on her flowing locks, with them swaying to and fro too much for my personal liking.
The areas that Lara frequents in Rise of the Tomb Raider have all also been given a huge amount of love as well. From the sheer faces of ice covered cliffs, to the unique trees which sway and creak in the wind as Lara clambers all over them, everything is well detailed and has a place. It is however when you start looking for hidden chambers, secret tombs and enemy dens that the whole world really comes to life. The darkness of the caves hides many a secret and without Ms. Croft’s handy flare, you’d struggle to pick anything out. But light them up and each one is a visual delight that just urges you to delve deeper still, searching each and every crevice for equipment, tools, cash or more enemies.
Rise of the Tomb Raider wouldn’t have the glitzy touch if it were not for the brilliant cut scenes, of which there are numerous ones. These have all been treated to stunning attention to detail, with little left on the table. There are however quite obvious cuts between the brilliant gameplay and the even better sequences that attempt to tell the latest Lara lore. That’s not a bad thing though as it at least gives you the chance to ready yourself for the action ahead.
Each area that Lara comes across is absolutely massive and there are occasions when you won’t be sure exactly where you need to move to next. The map which is in place will happily point you towards your next objective or side mission and without that, you’d be finding yourself spending far too long just wandering around aimlessly. A quick press of the right stick also enables Lara’s super special Assassin’s Creed meets Batman Arkham style vision, highlighting all actionable areas, unlockable chests and climbable sections. At times, perhaps it’s a little too easy to hit that RS and have the game do the work for you, but even then, you still need to work out your best route to each objective marker. Something which in itself will occasionally require a huge degree of brain power.
In Lara’s way are a number of enemies, mostly in the form of Trinity soldiers but she’ll also find herself stumbling upon wolf dens, brown bears and more. Her trusty bow and arrow will for the most part make do, especially once you’ve been able to craft upgrades with the likes of the gas filled arrow head coming in very handy. Thankfully, she is also quite keen to wield her iconic pistol and, not so iconic, sub machine gun, so when the going gets really tough, a quick change of weapon by hitting the D-pad will ensure she is ready for any confrontation. Melee attacks and silent kills are well rewarded too, as are crafting new explosive weapons on the fly, with Lara gathering vital experience points the sneakier she goes about things. I’m guessing you could probably complete the vast majority of the game without being seen, deciding instead to become a ghost and silently dispatch the enemy, but similarly, a combination of stealth and all out action has been my own personal preference.
Each of these weapons, and indeed Lara’s skills themselves can be unlocked, upgraded and amended at the various base camps which she’ll use as shelter. Doubling up as a hub for checking out the lay of the land, it is these base camps which act as a brilliant fast travel system should you need to utilise it. It saves a ton of time and effort, ensuring that should you feel the need to go back to a previous area in order to uncover some missed treasure, you can do so with ease. There are a ton of collectibles and hidden secrets to unearth and so revisiting old areas is a must if you wish to engross yourself in the full story.
Other than the inclusion of stage leaderboards in which you can judge yourself against your friends, there is no form of multiplayer available. But that in itself is a good thing and Crystal should be applauded for refusing to go and tack on a multiplayer mode or five just for the sheer hell of it. If you do need something further to do once you’ve fully completed the campaign, then the introduction of numerous gameplay cards is a neat little touch. This is the route we are seeing a whole ton of games take at the moment, with Plants vs Zombies and FIFA being the forefathers of card collection and microtransactions, but ‘Rise of’ uses them well.
The cards found in Rise of the Tomb Raider allow you to mix up the gameplay to your own custom settings, or at least amend things depending on which cards you hold at the time. Some will see you play with no ammo, others with a decreased health level, whilst more will ensure that the game gets even harder (or easier) still. It is then up to you to play through the ‘Expeditions’ modes, partaking in replayed chapters and score attacks as you try to best your friends’ scores and times. Each level – and there are a ton, comes with its own unique challenges, urging you to finish the level without dying or trying to kill a set number of enemies with environmental kills. Once you’ve decided upon your playthrough route, picking relevant cards from those which you have collected over time brings about another layer of intrigue. Remnant Resistance is another game mode found in here that you’ll be able to spend far too long messing around with rule settings and playing levels which have been decided either by yourself or those around the world.
The replayability found in Expeditions alone is near on worth the game price by itself, bringing about a huge amount of enjoyment even when the lengthy main campaign is done and dusted. Thankfully, the cards that you earn and use, in no way affect the initial campaign and so if you’d prefer to forget all about them, and indeed dismiss all microtransactions forever more, then you can do so, safely in the knowledge that your time with Lara Croft will not be affected.
The latest Tomb Raider title is receiving a glowing reference from me. If however I was being super picky about Lara’s most recent adventure, then I’d point to the occasional cut scene forgetting that she carries a bow with her for the vast majority of the time and the over-the-topness that is now associated with the franchise is most definitely in the extreme with Rise of the Tomb Raider. How one young lady can even survive some of the falls she drops in to I’ll never know and although the story running through the background is one that you’ll want to complete to the end, it is so far fetched that you really do have to take everything with a pinch of salt.
But all that said, none of the negatives detract from the vast exploration, stunning combat and tricky puzzles that Rise of the Tomb Raider brings all Xbox One gamers. It’s a game that you’ll be playing into the wee hours, if only so you can uncover another hidden tomb and explore it for all it’s worth.
Put quite simply, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an absolute masterpiece.