This has been one of the biggest years in the history of gaming. So many great games have come and gone, and so many fans have seen thrilling title after thrilling title. Today marks a great day for a variety of reasons and one of them happens to be the time when a game has its say. Controversy isn’t why we love games, nor is exclusivity. It’s the games that we love, the experiences that we love, and at last, I have one more marvel to share with you, Rise of the Tomb Raider.
2013’s reboot of Tomb Raider revived one of the most beloved and historic characters, Lara Croft. If Tomb Raider was a rebirth of the protagonist, the explorer and the survivor, then Rise of the Tomb Raider is a crowning of the badass, the archaeologist and the icon.
Heading into my review of Rise of the Tomb Raider, I wanted Crystal Dynamics to explore more behind who Lara Croft is, where her family came from, her relationship with her mother (or step-mother in this case) and her relationship with her father. Each of these points were marked perfectly by the game’s narrative and Crystal included some brilliant twists throughout the story that both kept me on the edge of my seat and kept me emotionally invested in the events that unfolded.
Supernatural events or stories can fall victim to the absurdity of their own fiction and characters, and while there are supernatural elements at play in Rise of the Tomb Raider, they do not trump the connections and emotions between the game’s characters. Jacob is the overseer of the people Lara indirectly fights to protect, and the relationship between him and Lara was one I became enchanted with from start to finish.
Anna Croft is Lara’s stepmother and in an effort not to spoil her role in Rise of the Tomb Raider, I’ll say she carries a surprising twist and an understandable conflict not many could truly fault her for. Crystal Dynamics could have been lazy with how they crafted her role, motives and persona, but they impressively delivered depth and relatable perspective.
Finally, Lara Croft’s father doesn’t play a role in Rise of the Tomb Raider as a presently impactful character, however, Crystal Dynamics did a wonderful job explaining more behind the relationship she had with him, how the world views the Croft family and the level of commitment Lara has to him. I was genuinely surprised and impressed by the story of Rise of the Tomb Raider, and as addictive and excellent as the rest of this game was, the narrative was just as great.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the most stunning games I have ever played. The visuals are exquisite, not just from a cinematic standpoint, but also when you explore the world. Climbing up an ice covered wall and pausing to see the crystal glimmer before you is a small example of how gorgeous this world is. There is a great contrast in the game’s setting and the color palate never once placed me in a bore. If there is one criticism I have of this game, it has to be a few performance issues I noticed during a few cutscenes. In these instances, frame rate seems to drop and animations are choppy, but thankfully, these small instances never sank the experience.
Gamers wanted more tombs in Rise of the Tomb Raider and Crystal Dynamics has delivered on that wish. Coming into the review, what I was worried about was whether or not the addition of tombs would disrupt the flow and progress of the game, and I’m happy to say they do not. Many of the game’s tombs are optional, vary in difficulty, vary in design and each of them is intelligently crafted. For all of you perfectionists out there, like myself; documents, caches and relics are all back in Rise of the Tomb Raider, so you will have plenty of time to obsess over finding every last one. There is a black market sort of feature in the game for purchasing gadgets, weapons and weapon attachments, though I did not find the need to go to it outside of when it’s introduced in the story. It could not be in the game and I would not have noticed.
A new feature to Rise of the Tomb Raider is optional missions. These are quests you can acquire from villagers around the world and completing them will net you with a different reward each time. Much like optional tombs, these missions do not hinder your experience if you choose not to partake, but they are there as an effective way to enhance Lara’s skills, weapons and tools. Challenges and objectives can be anything from taking out enemy communication towers, to filling up tower baskets with supplies, to cutting down strung up rabbits, to tossing chickens back into their coupe.
Gameplay has been pushed forward nicely; not only from a design perspective, but also when you look at the tools Lara has at her disposal. Her axe has become a far more dynamic weapon and tool. Once you acquire certain upgrades, you will be able to explore tombs you couldn’t have earlier and traverse distances you couldn’t have before. Her bow has been improved by added functionality like the ability to shoot grenades and poison darts, both of which are crucial in trying to take out bears and other hostile wildlife.
Being able to craft bombs, Molotov cocktails and arrows on the fly made crafting an enjoyable feature, rather than an obligatory, disruptive one. Simply holding down on right trigger or right bumper made crafting a bomb or grenade arrow was extremely easy. This was particularly necessary as I ran into some of the more truly difficult enemies. Upgrading Lara’s skills was an addictive task, because as someone who is a perfectionist in games like this, I was able to tailor her skills to embrace my OCD. Choice is an important part of customizing your weapons and improving her skills because if you don’t upgrade or improve according to your play tendencies, then you may find yourself in some trouble.
Over the course of my 14.5 hour playthrough of the game’s story and the many, many more completing side content, it’s very easy to see why Microsoft made the investment they did. Say what you want but Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best games released in 2015. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the best Xbox One exclusive in 2015. Fans on other platforms will absolutely love this game when it arrives elsewhere next year. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the type of journey you will want to visit a lot more than just one time.
- Excellent narrative
- Magnificent gameplay
- Tombs, tombs, tombs
- Few cinematic performance issues
Microsoft provided atombash.com with an Xbox One code of Rise of the Tomb Raider for the purposes of this review.