The Video Gamer’s Experience – Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

Though I understood why people enjoyed the early “Tomb Raider” games, I never really got into the series during my youth most in part thanks to trying out the first three iterations and discovering clunky controls, weird camera angles and complicated scenarios that hindered my progression of the game (mind you, there were no Youtube videos or in-depth strategy guides with color pictures other than the paperback walkthroughs you had to purchase at local bookstores or game establishments). I essentially gave up trying to embrace my inner tomb raider after “Tomb Raider 3” in 1998.

Fast-forward some fifteen years later and the entire scope of gaming had changed, as did the adventures of “Tomb Raider’s” once-titillating central character, Lara Croft. Looking to regain the positive notoriety that was once associated with the franchise, Crystal Dynamics (under the Square Enix banner), restarted the series featuring a more humanized Croft dealing with the pressures of being a simple explorer trapped in a Japanese island with religious zealots and murderers; having to kill, craft and climb her way to safety and eventual enlightenment. The gameplay was very similar to games like “Uncharted” and “The Last of Us”, feeling right at home with the current crop of action adventure games while retaining the exploration of tombs and usage of puzzles that was seen previous “Tomb Raider” games.


Tomb Raider (2013)


Taking the plunge, I found myself thoroughly enjoying “Tomb Raider (2013)”, blasting through the main story in less than a week. Thankfully, the timed exclusive sequel was released on both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles, giving me the chance to play the obviously inferior version prior to the eventual Playstation 4 release almost a year later. I expected more of the same greatness from “Rise of the Tomb Raider” that I discovered in its predecessor, but with the improvements you’d expect from the sequel of a game that got rebooting a series right.


Did I Complete “Rise of the Tomb Raider”?


Taking up where the previous game left off, Lara Croft is an adventurous woman looking to explore the world, uncover great mysteries people wouldn’t even believe existed, and essentially prove her deceased father wasn’t crazy. Not changing much when it came to the gameplay compared to “Tomb Raider 2013”, the initial hour or two of “Rise” felt incredibly familiar to play in before the game started setting itself apart from the rest of the pact including its own competition in the series. Similar to the previous game, my goals were simple: Complete the story and finish all of the optional Challenge Tombs. Lasting around eleven hours, the game’s plot takes you through the harshest of cold weather, abandoned ruins, and even a geothermal valley in search of the mythical lost central Russian city Kitezh.


Challenge Tomb - Rise of the Tomb Raider


Hidden throughout these semi-open world areas are Challenge Tombs where the player can really get his/her raiding on by solving somewhat complicated puzzles that, when completed, allow Lara to gain beneficial abilities. The tasks I set for myself were accomplished fairly quickly, allowing me to actually restart the story and pick up a few achievements I had no idea existed during my initial playthrough.


Did “Rise of the Tomb Raider” Live Up to the Hype?


As noted earlier, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” had the initial promise of being everything “Tomb Raider (2013)” was, but better. To state the game raised the bar completely for the series would be a slight exaggeration as there were obvious flaws to the game that left me longing for some of the aspects from the last game. But one of those flaws wasn’t the gameplay itself. Expanding upon the foundation set by its predecessor, “Rise” really shows just how incredible an action adventure game can be in this day and age. Not much has changed in the way Lara controls. The series’ heroine can still jump, climb, crawl, dodge and, most importantly, kill her way to survive; but the way she goes about her mission is greatly improved. After an introductory section that actually plays a major part in how the story’s initial few hours unfold, the player is thrust into the world with almost everything out to kill Lara before she can kill it (and skin it to make one impressive jacket).

Not surprising is the improvement in how the action plays out. In “Tomb Raider (2013)”, stealth was pretty much out of the question. While Lara can be a gun-wielding juggernaut, being sneaky can be incredibly beneficial and effective. Players can pick off enemies out of allies’ sights with a well-placed arrow to the head. Throwing bottles to turn someone around allows for stealth kills via a bow & arrow rear naked choke. Depending on the difficulty level, the existence of strategy in battle can range from doing whatever you want without much thought about dying to figuring out how to avoid a one-hit kill because you accidentally shot someone in the leg with an arrow when Lara couldn’t hold her breathe any longer. The improved gameplay from the 2013 version makes “Rise” one enjoyable experience.


Bow Takedown - Rise of the Tomb Raider


As one would expect, more aspects of “Tomb Raider (2013)” return in “Rise” including crafting and the skill tree. Regarding the prior, crafting is fundamental in helping Lara survive as she is forced to confront beasts both human and animal with a range of weaponry that consist of firearms, a bow & arrow and even her trusty ice pick. Thanks to Mother Nature and people putting usable items in easily broken boxes or lockers, Lara is able to modify her possessions to help her traverse the wilderness and scale that obviously marked wall. Anything Croft attains that becomes a part of her inventory plays a key role in how she can make herself better suited for what’s to come. Early in the game, the player is taught that by gathering enough mushrooms and pressing the right bumper (RB) button, Croft can create arrows that emit a poisonous cloud when hitting an enemy. Random bottles can become Molotov cocktails that will cause massive explosions if a gas line is nearby or overhead. hunting animals allows Lara to skin the hide to help craft better gear. And there are plenty gears to change how fast that pistol can fire, reload, and how much damage it produces. By the game’s end, Lara is a walking, talking killing machine ready to blow any enemy up with explosive arrows as quickly as she can shoot someone across the screen thanks to an overpowered shotgun.


Stealth Bow Takedown - Rise of the Tomb Raider


These skills allow for Lara to obviously gain an advantage in the world around her as the player can chose to focus on one of three sections, or spread the skill points gained through exploration, mission accomplishments and killing across the figurative board. Depending on your play style, the player has a chance to reinforce Lara’s endurance and fighting abilities (“Brawler”), crafting (“Hunter”), or ingenuity like booby-trapping a dead body (“Survivor”). Skill tree tiers open up as you purchase lesser skills, making it almost impossible to complete the tree without the help of some post-game playing. Yours truly just chose whatever skills looked beneficial (such as a higher resistance to damage and faster crafting) at the time and felt incredibly happy with the result as the game progressed.

One of the biggest problems with any 3D game is platforming (or jumping from point “A” to point “B”). While there are times a miscalculation can result in Lara plummeting to her death, those moments are few and far between as the game gives Croft almost a magnetic attraction to beams and ropes to not punish the player for the game’s error in judging how Lara’s animation reacts. This can make a big difference between success or failure in another return from “Tomb Raider (2013)”, Challenge Tombs. These optional areas located in several areas across the multiple maps prove to be the one constant in the franchise that can never go away (and rightfully so). Depending on the Challenge Tomb found, these side quests can prove to be anything from relatively easy and straightforward to rather complicated and thought provoking. Since most of these Tombs can be discovered during a playthrough, it makes sense that the one seen in the first hour is incredibly easy if done much later compared to one of the latter versions. Since the main story features very few puzzles, these Tombs fulfill the wish of long-time fans that felt the last game didn’t have enough tombs or raiding to be a part of the series.


1st Challenge Tomb - Rise of the Tomb Raider

Find out why this ship is in the middle of an ice cavern


Also helping extend the game’s playtime is “Expedition Mode” where players can attempt to beat the scores set by themselves and friends while playing through the main story, collecting hidden items and finishing Tombs while being challenged by pre-game stipulations. Micro-transactions can play a role in the mode as a player can purchase card packs that allow for upgrades to Lara’s gear and the lead character herself. It’s a nice little addition compared to the previous game’s mediocre multiplayer experience; though not necessary to get a great amount of extra enjoyment out of “Rise”. There are also side quests that can be completed during the main story, but most are just simple fetch/kill missions that end quickly and leave little lasting impression.

Though “Rise” isn’t what one would call an “open world” type of video game, it does encourage the player to explore the somewhat limited range of areas introduced during the story for not only those aforementioned Challenge Tombs, but also ancient coins that allows the player to purchase special, though highly over-priced weapons from a lone merchant hiding out in the frozen tundra. This is all thanks to an improved fast travel system that is activated anytime Lara finds a Base Camp(fire). Any Base Camp found can be used as a teleportation device to put Lara wherever the player wants her to go at almost any time in the game (including post-credits). This makes searching for all of those relics and language-education tools that much easier.


A great place to write, rest and think about killing more nameless goons

A great place to write, craft and think about killing more nameless goons


When it comes to comparing the Xbox One version to the 360 version, players on old generation hardware need not fear. As expected, the 360 edition doesn’t look anywhere as good as its counterpart, but is as visually appealing as “Tomb Raider (2013)” on the same console. There are a few animations noticeably missing in the 360 edition like animals stumbling before falling over after being hit by a poison arrow, but nothing critical. low-resolution textures in areas where the developers knew players couldn’t interact with do show up from time to time, as do cut scenes that didn’t get that final coat of digitized shine when compared to scenes both before and after. Most importantly, the game play on both versions is nearly identical; making the 360 edition a true worthy purchase rather than being some poorly optimized port.

If there’s one area “Rise” failed to surpass its predecessors it’s in the game’s narrative. In “Tomb Raider (2013)”, Lara’s journey from wannabe explorer living in her father’s shadow to hard-nosed survivor able to kill at will was done incredibly well and gave Lara the most realistic (for a video game) presentation of the series’ leading lady in the franchise’s history. The plot of (2013) was based on the character evolution of Lara while crazy, supernatural things happened around her. The introductory trailers of “Rise” gave off a sense that “Rise” would follow in the reboot’s footsteps; exploring Lara’s mental status and post-traumatic stress disorder as she further embraced (both willingly and involuntarily) her inevitable fate of being just like her father. While the game does give glimpses of Lara’s personal struggle – mostly through flashbacks – the growing pains that made Croft so incredible one game ago aren’t in “Rise”. With a narrative that plays out like any “Indiana Jones”-inspired form of entertainment featuring campy villains (though antagonist Konstantin comes across worlds better than whatever Mathias was supposed to be in the previous game), numerous bland adversaries following vague orders, and predictable twists be it character deaths or betrayals, “Rise’s” story feels too interchangeable with every other plot of its kind thanks to the lack of what made Lara great in “Tomb Raider (2013)”.


Cut Scene Gif - Rise of the Tomb Raider


Rise of the Tomb Raider - Story Gif


Though the plot is incredibly disappointing compared to its predecessor, the story doesn’t feel daunting or hinders the game’s flow. “Rise” loves to mix exploration with action, leading to a perfect blending of narrative and gameplay that isn’t usually seen. There was multiple times where I didn’t know I was in control as a real-time cut scene just concluded without any graphical change. With that comes a slow realization of just how lacking the story really is because the player is allowed to keep the figurative momentum going. In truth, the plot means little when it comes to just how much fun one can have simply playing the game, taking out enemies, exploring the available areas, and just figuring out what can and can’t be done heading into the inevitable next “Tomb Raider” game. It’s not as monumental as the reboot, but feels like a step forward rather than Crystal Dynamics just going from side to side.


Should You Play “Rise of the Tomb Raider”?


For fans of the franchise dating back to the days of “Tomb Raider” being exclusive to Playstation consoles, the reboot and now “Rise” feel more and more removed from what made the original iterations classics as the focus isn’t on literally raiding tombs, solving puzzles or fighting dinosaurs as Lara, but action in the same vein as the games obviously inspired by “Tomb Raider” and looked to improve upon the lacking gameplay functionality. But for gamers like me, “Tomb Raider (2013)” and its sequel are hours upon hours of fun. The action is mostly crisp thanks to the improved gameplay. The tension rarely lets up. And the level of creativity when it comes to strategizing and crafting easily outdoes the prequel. People who play for the game and don’t necessarily care about the story and enjoyed “Tomb Raider (2013)” for all of its action-packed glory will really dig “Rise”. Then there are gamers like yours truly who felt one with the reboot thanks largely in part to the way the story progressed and how Lara’s character evolved. As much as I loved the actual gameplay, the story itself was so lacking it left me underwhelmed and disappointed. There’s a good chance I’ll replay the game once it comes out on PS4, but only for the entertaining action.


And bears. I'll always play a game featuring bears

And bears. I’ll always play a game featuring bears


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