Less than a year since it was originally released on Xbox and I finally got my grubby mitts on Rise of the Tomb Raider. I admit I was slightly apprehensive with this game as I had a whole 12 months to build up my expectations and was worried it wouldn’t live up to my own internal hype.
I previously mentioned I have been playing Tomb Raider since it was first released in 1996 and am somewhat of a fanboy. Meaning that I always try to look for the positive in a Tomb Raider game that may otherwise be pretty poor. For example, I appreciate Angel of Darkness for trying to go in a different direction even if it was the complete wrong direction overall. However, I have been playing the game for the past few days and am thankful to say I have not been left disappointed.
Since the initial release of the game in 2015, a plethora of content has been added to the game including Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch, Cold Darkness Awakened and the Croft Manor-based levels Blood Ties and Lara’s Nightmare. I will at a later stage talk about the additional content but these are my initial thoughts on the core game.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a very pretty game. I would often find myself stopping on a mountainside trail to just take in the view of the sun sneaking behind the mountain peak. The game is littered with moments like this and it makes for a very beautiful, picturesque game. I mean, imagine if Lara had an Instagram account; #nofilter indeed.
The world also feels much bigger than it ever has in a Tomb Raider game with more to explore and a less linear path for the player to follow. However, the locations are vast but lacking diversity. For me, a huge joy of the older Tomb Raider games came from the exotic and varied locations Lara explored. One minute she would be scaling the Great Wall of China, the next should be riding a speedboat through Venice.
One of the downfalls for me to the 2013 reboot was it all took place on the same island and I was hoping Rise would somewhat return to Lara’s jet setting ways. Nevertheless, whilst there may be a lack of exotic locations, Square Enix have done their best to create a range of environments and settings to make the locations feel a little more diverse.
As with previous Tomb Raiders, the gameplay is made up of three core elements – platforming, combat and exploration. To be honest it’s hard to find fault with any of these. Combat has never been Tomb Raider’s strong point but it has been made much more diverse and complex with the addition of the crafting system that allows you to construct weapons or objects to use in the heat of battle. This ability, along with Lara’s upgradable skills and gear, means you can approach combat how you wish. You can choose to be stealthy and pick off enemies one by one (which is very satisfying) or you can find cover behind a crate, craft a bomb and unleash hell on unsuspecting foes (this is also pretty satisfying).
Exploration has also been an element that has been much more refined. For a game where the main protagonist is an explorer, your exploration has felt a little limited. Even with the 2013 reboot which made the world a little more open, there was little point or reward to exploration outside of the main story. However, Rise of the Tomb feels massive. It’s not on the level of RPG massive but there’s so much freedom in the world that you can choose the pace at which you progress. Rather than follow the main story too closely, I decided to complete some side quests for allies for which I was rewarded with a new skill or weapon. For me, this gave exploration outside of the main story much more purpose.
Is it better than Uncharted 4?
When Tomb Raider was announced as an Xbox exclusive, many argued that that was Microsoft’s attempt to compete with Uncharted 4 which was slated to be released around the same time (it was later pushed back to March 2016). The 2013 reboot took a lot of inspiration from the Uncharted series, which is another of my personal favourites. Uncharted’s influence is still present in Rise of the Tomb Raider with its cinematic chases, explosions and things generally collapsing on or around Lara.
So which is better, Uncharted 4 or Rise of the Tomb Raider? Both games are equally solid but Rise of the Tomb Raider may just about come out on top. Rise gives you a greater sense of character progression and growth so by the end of the game Lara is a completely different character to who she was at the beginning.
One key difference of course is Uncharted 4 felt like the end of the series whereas Rise of the Tomb Raider is a continuation of a series that has caught its second wind. Therefore I think Rise had a lot more riding on its shoulders than Uncharted 4 which was much more of an encore performance following 2011’s Drake’s Deception.
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes you on a great journey of discovery and growth. The story isn’t as strong as previous offerings and I would have preferred to see a little more variety in locations.
Whilst the game isn’t perfect it is certainly one of the better ones in the series and a clear indication that Square Enix is taking the franchise in the right direction.