Rise of the Tomb Raider
Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC (reviewed)
November 10th 2015 (Xbox One, Xbox 360)
January 28th 2016 (PC)
₹999 (PC - Retail, Steam, Windows 10 Store)
When it gets going, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an incredibly intense and thrilling action game. It’s a sum of its many parts that come together to get your heart racing, blood pumping, adrenaline rushing.
It all starts with the breath taking visuals. This is a true next-gen game, designed to push your PC to the limits, and deliver a new bar for visual fidelity in gaming. GTA V and The Witcher 3 were impressive, but stripped off the constraints of an open world, Rise of the Tomb Raider shows us a glimpse of PC gaming at its finest.
It’s not just the tech of course – the vistas are gorgeous, interspersed with majestic ancient architecture. There are several moments of awe-inspiring world design throughout the game.
The visuals are underscored by a brilliant and varied soundtrack – the percussive and quieter rhythmic tracks are particularly excellent – and aggressive sound design. It may be hyper real, but every time Lara’s pick axe connects with a craggy wall, you really feel it.
The audiovisual experience enhances the game’s meticulous daredevil platforming set ups, which is where the greatest strengths of the game lie. There are numerous impossible stunts, which are somehow made believable. Largely due to a carefully designed environment, but also little touches as a camera that smartly adjusts for the best view to the next action. Each move flows onto the next, and we are never wondering where the next move lies. The game feels directed, but almost always retains interactivity. This is what makes Rise of the Tomb Raider so exciting – the pacing and rhythm of each little action adds up to one exciting sequence after another.
Alas, then come the cutscenes to halt the momentum, with its rather hackneyed narrative. The story does set up intrigue – the main concept is just as compelling as something like Raiders of the Lost Ark – but unfortunately develops it with little wit or charm of the Spielberg film. Instead, it delves into one cliché after the next. It’s not bad, just offensively mediocre.
It’s a shame, as Lara Croft has plenty of potential to be a fascinating character. Camilla Luddington steals the show as Lara. Not just the dialogues, but perhaps more importantly the plethora of vocalisations including shrieks and screams as Lara barely survives her many stunts, are believable and affecting. Just as amazing are Lara’s animations while she is on the move, which are unique for each action, and often respond to the environment convincingly. Like the sound design, they are often over the top, but it all works very well.
Humdrum plot and Lara Croft aside, the production values of the cutscenes are excellent. Particularly the motion captured facial animations are some of the most sophisticated, the closest games have got to breaking the uncanny valley. We are still some way off a photorealistic facial expression, but Rise of the Tomb Raider gets us a tiny bit closer to the holy grail. And yes, the hyped PureHair effects live up to their billing – Lara’s hair is even more detailed than Geralt’s in The Witcher 3.
The story is not the only thing that holds back what could have been an immaculately paced game. Between the action and combat, like Tomb Raider (the previous game), Lara is sometimes thrown into semi open-world areas. In Rise, they are further expanded, to the extent that it feels like a different game altogether. The quantity of content is appreciated, though they almost seem designed to be finished after the main play through.
Hunting and gathering is better justified, and break up the action well most times. The survivalist narrative provides plenty of motivation for scavenging too. However, it can get tiresome as the game progresses. The light role-playing elements make a return, with various upgrades to weapons, inventory, skills and outfits available as a result of resource gathering. A nice touch is Lara’s language skill progression, which happens with discovery of historical artefacts. Language is a key tool for any archaeologist, after all.
The optional tombs feature striking environments and cool puzzles. Puzzles have gone out of fashion for AAA games, but when done as well here or The Witcher 3’s Hearts of Stone DLC, with a sense of narrative or character motivation, they are always welcome. Perhaps Crystal Dynamics could have been more confident and introduced more of these puzzles to the main narrative rather than make them optional.
Stealth seems to be far more appropriate to the Lara Croft character than violence, and thankfully, there’s much more opportunity for stealth here than the previous game. There are a fair few options for using the environment while undetected, but the AI is typically daft – this is certainly no MGS V. There’s still plenty of violent combat – perhaps too much – but still more restrained. Open combat is significantly more polished, and firefights – however unwelcome – feel solid. I would love to see stealth and environmental mechanics expanded much further in future Tomb Raider games – it really works well with the Lara Croft character.
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes all of Tomb Raider’s great ideas, evolves them, while downplaying many of its flaws. However, like its predecessor, Rise still suffers from a sense of muddled identity. As an action game, Rise of the Tomb Raider has the potential to be peerless. It’s more a case of offering too much, rather than not enough. Streamlining some of the combat, narrative and open-world elements would certainly make for a shorter game, but would likely lead to the breathless, perfectly paced thrill ride Lara Croft deserves.
+ Exhilarating action
+ Spectacular visual and environment design
+ Original soundtrack and effective sound design
+ Stealth gameplay
+ Camilla Luddington as Lara Croft
- Banal narrative
- Inconsistent open-world areas
- Excesses detract from core action gameplay