With breath taking action scenes and improved gameplay, Lara Croft will explore beautiful and dangerous environments in the remote regions of Siberia. She will form new allies, fight an evil organization and discover the secret of immortality. Are you hyped yet?
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Developers: Crystal Dynamics, Nixxes Software BV, Eidos Montreal
Publishers: Square Enix, Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Xbox One (tested), Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 (planned), Microsoft Windows (planned)
I’m not sure about you, but I have always loved the stories behind each Tomb Raider installment. The plots are full of twists and far from cliche, they always touch some sort of morale issue and in The Rise of the Tomb Raider we have a huge amount of that.
In the previous game, Lara suffered. A lot. She lost many friends, but she also saw inexplicable things in the island of Yamatai. That’s the trigger for the next plot: she is hungry for answers. She doesn’t take anything for granted anymore. She knows there is more out there, she is sure there are hidden truths beneath the surface and she wants them. For her and for her father.
If you played the original (and if you didn’t, you should), you are immediately familiar with the gameplay. We still have our Survival Instinct to look out for clues and paths if we get lost. It works exactly the same. We still have our dodge and counter attack, we can create distractions with different objects to pick off enemies individually, we can hide in bushes or lakes to take enemies down one by one, make brutal finishers with different weapons, etc.
But there are some new cool stuff to enjoy in the 12-something-hours long campaign. We can explore the open world freely, as we wish. Just like many other metroidvania games out there, Lara will learn many useful skills to traverse the environment, get to previously unreachable places and unlock different paths. And this is also true for the hidden challenge Tombs: we will need to play a fair amount of time, get hold of some sweet tools like the grapple-axe to jump around Indiana Jones style, and open our eyes to the clues scattered throughout the world to discover secret entrances.
We will also find Archivist Maps and Lost Satchels which will reveal item locations in the map. Combine that with the rewards you get for beating Tombs and you will gear up Lara to be unstoppable, which leads us to our first (and only, honestly) issue: she feels like The Terminator.
The game sometimes feels like it is having an identity problem. We can hide in bushes, learn some skills to jump from high altitudes without making any noise and we can take down enemies from behind with a single move, and while you can learn bonus experience this way, the game never forces you to do so. Playing in normal difficulty, the regular bow is enough to be a killing machine, washing off the excitement of the cut scenes. Enemies will either chase you mindlessly trying to punch you in the face, which is never enough since the dodge and counter attack is super easy to trigger, or will try to hit you with arrows or bombs and barely cover. There is a complete lack of strategy, they won’t outsmart you. Ever.
And this very same behavior remains in higher difficulty levels. They seem to be able to take more damage, and they hit way harder, but it is still not enough. Once you get your shotgun, you will have a hard time trying to remember if you are playing Tomb Raider or Gears of War. Lara feels way too agile for her own good. There are always enough ingredients to quickly craft powerful bombs, heal ourselves and create special ammo able to take even the strongest of the enemies.
Fortunately for us, there is more than shootings. Way more. In the open world we will meet allies and they will give us side missions and rewards to make Lara faster and stronger. There are different obelisks, maps and emblems to translate and study, and they will increase our language level. The game has a huge amount of lore waiting for us to discover, and this can easily add many, many hours of gameplay.
Challenge Tombs are also varied in both style and difficulty. We will have puzzles and mazes, and while I’ve considered many puzzles to be just silly, some are not. I’ve spent more than I’m willing to admit in some of them. We can sprint, cut ropes, climb trees and make our own paths with wooden arrows to climb different places. Combine all this together and now the game has access to a whole world of new possibilities, and the developers did use them. All of them.
One of the biggest changes we can notice from the previous games is the replay value. Many, many players were upset because were unable to play or get their achievements after they finished the game. Crystal Dynamics did the homework and even improved upon it: we can access different chapters and earn points by completing them. We can do it right from the main menu, and we can change the current conditions by using cards.
The more we complete a zone, the more points we get. With those points we can get cards (or buy them…. ) and each card will have either a neutral, positive or negative perk. Neutral perks are, for instance, outfits. Or even more silly: bubble heads. They don’t give any kind of advantage. Negative perks can range from not being able to use special ammo to not being able to loot our enemies without taking damage. Negative perks will give an increased number of points. Positive perks, on the other hand, will give any kind of specific advantage to make the game easier, like having a skill tree unlocked right from the beginning or auto heal, but we will earn less points (if any).
Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best games I’ve played in 2015, and I’ve played plenty. Full of action, breath taking action scenes, smart puzzles, beautiful environments, smooth gameplay and deep lore. I, for one, can’t ask for more.