The 2013 reboot of the “Tomb Raider” franchise brought fans and critics together, praising Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix for their successful reimagining of the iconic character. This year, the captive audience isn’t as vast at was when the first installment was released. That’s due solely to the fact that the PS4 exclusive “Uncharted 4” was set to release around the same time as “Rise of the Tomb Raider.” The expected competition was enough persuasion for Square Enix to sell the game as a timed exclusive to Microsoft’s Xbox One crowd. Still, the game has seen a terrific start and players and critics seem to agree that Lara’s new journey is a worthy second installment to the franchise.
As gaming’s leading female protagonist, Lara returns to the franchise a different woman than when we first met her in “Tomb Raider.” With a clearer understand of the perils that await her in the wild, players meet a more mature, less-naive Lara Croft but one that is still becoming the classic Tomb Raider icon.
The game seamlessly transitions from action-sequences to exploration mode throughout the game, highlighting the gorgeous locals that Lara explores along the way and introducing a new set of characters. The previous installment felt a little heavy-handed when leading up to the epic showdowns with island natives, this time around the pace is much more controlled. Rise of the Tomb Raider offers more surprising moments than the first game, and shorter action-scenes are dispersed more evenly throughout the gameplay.
The game does a wonderful job of setting up Lara’s motivation for putting herself in such danger. Not only is Lara searching for the Divine Source, a mythical treasure rumored to grant immortality, but she is also searching for something much more personal. The story adds a few extra layers surrounding the idol, which I won’t spoil for you, but it’s the motivation that drives Lara that frequently comes back into focus, and the story is better for it.
You won’t be stuck on an island this time around, instead, you and Lara will be globe trotting across exotic landscapes and hidden caverns as you search for the idol. “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is a stunning improvement over the previous game, which was still a thrilling experience in its own right. Fans of the series will still find perfectly complicated traps and puzzles along the way and Lara will once again find herself in harm’s way as she deals with the locals and groups trying to stop her.
Fans will also get to repeat the “Challenge Tombs” once again. These are really an updated version of the classic Tomb Raider levels, only this time around they are far more disconcerting than a few spike pits. The hidden tombs are well worth the time if you can find them all and players will be gifted with goodies and skills upon their completion.
Gameplay certainly takes center-stage in “Rise of the Tomb Raider”. While the action-sequences and cinematic moments offer a terrific break from explorations, the gameplay itself is immensely fun. Diving behind cover, leaping across chasms or teetering across ravines, Lara’s crafted animations create a ton of white-knuckle moments that players should enjoy. The action is usually contained within tight-quarters, offering a sense of looming dread as you try to duck into cover for a better angle through a firestorm of bullets. While weapons are roughly the same as the first installment, I loved the level design this time around and felt that the stage offered a more crafted experiences.
The downside to this storyline is that Lara has already killed about 200 people, if you played the previous game. It’s hard to keep that ‘naive innocence’ that the first Lara had alive after she survived the bloody massacre on the first island. The upswing to this turn of events is this Lara is a bit more fierce, less rattled and her motivations shifts from surviving to winning.
If I could add anything to the story, I would love to see the game change Lara’s demeanor the more often she was force to kill. She doesn’t have to go completely evil, and I hate karma systems in games, but the game does like to gloss over the fact that Lara is basically a one-woman army going up against a private militia. I feel like we have yet to discover a way to allow thrilling gunplay without completely ignoring the fact that that these are humans that we are mowing down.
Overall the game is a fantastic addition to the series and Camilla Luddington once again puts out a terrific performance as the voice of Lara Croft. While the game isn’t a tremendous update to the franchise, the first game was extremely well designed to begin with. There wasn’t to much that needed work and I think sticking with the formula for now was the right call for the developers. The game plays smoothly on the Xbox One, the graphics are just as wonderful as ever and the explosive moments throughout the game offered tighter choreography over the last installment. It’s great story to experience and the Lara Croft franchise seems to be fully rebooted and ready for a trilogy at this point.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is available today (Tuesday) for Xbox One and Xbox 360. You find more information on the game, including videos and still and DLC offerings on the official product page from authorized retailers like amazon.com.