People were a bit pessimistic when the “Uncharted” series started raiding tombs better than Lara Croft ever could and the folks at Eidos decided to pile on the mud and offer a fresh take on the 90’s heroine. However, 2013’s “Tomb Raider” did an admirable job of giving us Lara Croft’s origin story while maintaining the franchise’s core ideals intact. It’s sequel, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” helps develop Lara as the badass we have always known and checks off all the things that make an amazing follow up.
The story opens with Lara Croft traversing the icy Siberian mountains in search of a mysterious hidden city. She is, once again, following in her father’s footsteps while being chased by a militaristic organization bent on world domination. It is your standard run of the mill adventure story, with plenty of plot twists and masochistic villains to keep you entertained. Unlike the previous game, however, Lara is much more comfortable dispatching her assailants. She uses her famous bow in deadly fashion while collecting more modern weapons and explosives in order to make short work of the murderous henchmen. Yet, the game still can’t seem to shake off the torture porn aspect of the first one. Understandably, in “Tomb Raider” Eidos put Lara through some seriously messed up situations in order to establish her character as a fearless killing machine. Unfortunately, they still continue to force this girl through the meat grinder in order to progress her character arc. It is a bit more toned down from last time but I still couldn’t help but wince when she is slapped around by her captors or mauled by a bear.
To add to the survival aspect of the game, Lara is able to scavenge her surroundings for useful materials that let her upgrade her gear and make a variety of ammunition. This time around you can craft these items on the fly, letting you quickly make more poison arrows as enemies descend on your cover. It might not be realistic but it does keep firefights from getting monotonous.
However, while most of the control scheme works pretty well, I did find myself wrestling with the game when it came down to timing some jumps. Only certain objects in the game can be climbed on, so is gets pretty frustrating when you have to understand what exactly the developer wanted you to do in that section.
Once again, you will be tasked with hunting several types of animals that naturally roam the detailed environments. The level design is much improved from its 2013 predecessor, making the environments feel much more alive and the entire game appear like an open world. In truth, each environment is its own hub, complete with plenty of documents and relics to uncover as well as entertaining side missions to keep you busy. If you are a completionist then “Rise of the Tomb Raider” will constantly tease you with percentages hovering over every map, reminding you of what you have left to do.
What I actually found to be the most entertaining part of “Rise of the Tomb Raider” was the optional challenge tombs that are scattered throughout each hub. These stunningly beautiful set pieces have you solve an environmental puzzle in order to receive a useful upgrade for Lara. They are steeped in nostalgia as they hearken back to the original “Tomb Raider” in their mechanical simplicity. While the answers can always be deduced by using Lara’s instinct vision that highlights the important parts of the environment, it is always rewarding when you finally figure them out. It is a shame that there are only nine of them as they are easily the highlight of the game.
You can replay every mission in the Expedition game mode. This lets you revisit areas you have passed and apply some in game modifiers to shift the difficulty. Turn off regenerating health and you get a hefty score bonus, pull off five headshots and your score will keep rising. Bring a heavy machine gun into the mix and you will receive a penalty. The idea behind this is to compare your score with your friends, but I just found myself replaying missions to complete all the arbitrary challenges the game threw at me.
“Rise of the Tomb Raider,” especially on the PC, can make an argument for the best looking game out right now. When everything is turned up, the environments glisten with snow-covered trees and rusty installations falling apart. Lara will get overwhelmed by snow or covered in mud accordingly and the lighting, especially in the exemplary tombs, is out of this world. This goes without mentioning the more intimate parts of the game as facial animations are clearly mo-capped in a convincing way. Crystal Dynamics has done a triumphant job at avoiding the uncanny valley and given us some incredibly convincing performances. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the sound design. While environmental noises like the chilling wind and crackling ice sound fine, some of the weapons sound like cap guns being shot underwater. It is seriously spotty and detracted from the otherwise top-notch presentation.
Understandably, this will be taxing on your system. At maximum settings the game pushed my R9 290 to the limit and ate up all 8 gigabytes of RAM at my disposal. However, it scales down beautifully and can comfortably run on any system that played it’s predecessor.
Overall, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is a fantastic action adventure game. It surpassed the original in every sense possible while still understanding what made Lara Croft’s return to glory so memorable. The Siberian wilderness presents plenty of challenges for Lara and delivers on the set piece thrills of an entertaining summer blockbuster story. Furthermore, the game will make sure you stay busy with plenty of things to do in every level and a well-crafted challenge mode. It is a perfect sequel in every sense of the word and whet my appetite for where the series will go next. If your city is currently being ravaged by snow, you owe it to yourself to pick up Lara Croft’s latest adventure. It will remind you why you are not going outside.
- A beautifully detailed Syberian environment
- Plenty of clever side quests to keep you busy.
- Improves on the original in almost every way.
- Spotty sound design detracts from the experience.
- Awkward control scheme led to some frustrating platforming.
- Lara still can't catch a break.