Rise of the Tomb Raider – Review

Title   Rise of the Tomb Raider
Developer  Crystal Dynamics
Publisher  Square Enix
Platform  Xbox 360, Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Windows PC
Genre  Action adventure
Release Date  November 13th, 2015
Official Site  http://www.tombraider.com/landing/

risetombraider1I never really expected to like the Tomb Raider reboot. I didn’t really see why it was getting a reboot, and it had been a long time since I’d been into a Tomb Raider game anyway. I was so, so wrong. When I finally got around to playing it I fell in love with young Lara as she got the crap kicked out of her relentlessly in her attempts to get off of a cursed island. In fact, I loved it so much that I went back to the island and made sure I picked up every single collectible, all the upgrades and worked out all of the challenge tombs. Let’s just say that I was really, really into that reboot.

From the get go in Rise of the Tomb Raider, it’s clear that things are going to be a little different this time around. The very first thing you do after the barrage of initial cutscenes is to get raiding, and the tomb itself is far larger and more complex than those encountered on the Island of Yamakai. Lara has to make use of her nifty ancient language skills, which improve the more you use them, and manipulate water levels to get to her goal – the divine source, which gifts eternal life. Unfortunately the grand reveal is rudely interrupted by Trinity, a villainous organisation that is also hunting the source. When Lara escapes their trap, the real game starts.


Unfortunately, this is also where I got my first burst of disappointment. The opening was incredibly promising, especially as you got to watch hints of Lara’s development. She was no longer focused on survival, but instead on her own goals in Syria. After her encounter with Trinity however, she is once again thrust into the role of a survivor fighting against the odds. Unfortunately, as we already know what she is capable of *cough* killing hundreds of people *cough* this is a tough nut to swallow. So much of the impact that the survivor role had in the first game is lost on us even as Lara struggles to rebuild her arsenal of weapons and – surprise! – fight her way out of the situation in which she has found herself.

risetombraider3That’s not to say that the combat isn’t satisfying. The stealth has been refined to the point where it is not only usable but extremely fun. You can string together a series of stealth kills that leaves a trail of bodies behind and nobody the wiser. If you do happen to set off an alarm however, ending up in a brawl is just as good. The gunplay is great, the melee is punchy and feels wonderfully impactful, and finishers are gory enough to feel like a big payoff. There is also a pleasant escalation to the combat as you find more items and weaponry to bring to bear on the helpless Trinity grunts that you mow down in their hundreds. The combat knife brings silent brutality to stealth finishers, while the rifles and shotguns you find or build make short work of even the toughest enemies. Meanwhile, Lara has learned a few new tricks, like turning cans and bottles that are conveniently strewn liberally throughout the map into deadly explosives.

She brings those new crafting skills into other areas too – given enough resources, she can create equipment and ammunition, plus, if things start getting a little hairy, she can even heal herself. You obtain resources by foraging from the forests and hunting game, and then stripping their corpses of anything useful. Lara leaves a trail of stripped trees and dead deer behind her as she travels through the map.


Fortunately, there are plenty of other things to populate the map. In fact, there are almost too many things to collect, find or destroy. I was insanely proud of completing Tomb Raider to 100%, which still feels a distant dream this time around. There are caches of ancient coins – disappointingly the only payoff of the genius language learning mechanic – challenges, documents, relics and murals. Just completing the story barely scratches the surface, and to find most of the extra bits requires a fair bit of searching. For a lot of them, however, the effort doesn’t really feel worth it. They flesh out the world somewhat, but apart from the documents, the only real gain is the experience which, not long after you get into the real flesh of the story, becomes kind of useless because there are so few desirable perks. Still, for the complete-o-maniacs, there is endless time to sink into finding all the bits and pieces. I tried to search out everything that I could during my playthrough, but only finished the game with 71% completion rate.

risetombraider5That’s okay though, because completing the story is reward enough. There’s always been something of the arcane around the Tomb Raider series, but they’ve really embraced it over the last couple of installments. This time we’re all in on the concept of a holy relic that grants eternal life, and an evil organisation that may or may not be run by the Vatican who are willing to do anything it takes to get their hands on it. Of course, a faceless evil is hardly easy to dislike, so we get a villain to hate in the form of Konstantin, a real piece of work that leads Trinity’s hunt for the source. He plagues Lara throughout her own search, but as that quest progresses we learn more and more about him to the point that, by the time a final confrontation arrives, it’s hard to feel much more than pity for him.

Frustratingly, despite my reservations about Lara’s character, I can’t help but love Rise of the Tomb Raider. It feels a whole lot more like a Tomb Raider game than a survival action one, which is awesome, and we start to see a lot more of the smart puzzling aspects that once so defined the series. Working through the optional challenge tombs are some of the most rewarding moments in a game full of rewards. Climbing your way up the biggest structures, or sneaking through the treetops feels like everything Assassin’s Creed wishes it could be, and hell, I’ve got to admit that it’s even fun to get into the odd firefight. Plus, I could just sit and watch the world go around – it’s remarkably beautiful, even in the frozen wastelands of Siberia. Somehow the desolation and stripped trees are almost as beautiful as Lara’s hair – which is seriously silky.


When the dust settled, I found myself satisfied. Rise of the Tomb Raider was more of what I loved in the first, but with a few additions that made things a whole lot more interesting. Sure, there was some development missing that I would have loved to see, especially in Lara’s story. The insistence on leaving her on the defence rather than starting the transition from surviving to action was most galling, but I still found myself pleased with the conclusion to the story and just enough hope that next time – just maybe – Lara will continue on the path that she hinted at heading down. There’s plenty more for me to revisit a couple of months down the line, and maybe I’ll even try and hunt down all those collectibles, though something tells me that might be a task too large. I can’t say that I loved every second of it – there were a few missteps, especially as Lara mowed down literal armies – but I can honestly say that I loved most of them. Perhaps it could do with fewer pointless collectibles – I’m looking at you ancient coins! – but then, I can’t deny that little thrill of satisfaction that comes with finding them. Honestly, I think that I’m mostly just clutching at straws here, trying to find something to critique in what is genuinely a wonderful game. With the most excellent hair.

  • The hair. The magnificent hair
  • Crafting is actually pretty slick
  • Combat is excellent
  • Puzzling challenge tombs are high points
  • The documents are fascinating bonus chunks of story but...
  • There are so many collectibles
  • Lara’s character didn’t really progress
  • So much killing. Lara basically commits genocide

For those who loved the rebooted Tomb Raider, Rise is more of the same, but better. Everything is smoother and more satisfying, and there is just more to do. On the other hand, there is loads for those that thought there was rather too much action and not enough thinking with the last one. The challenge tombs and Lara’s newfound ability to swim add levels of strategy and puzzling that were previously absent. If that’s to your taste, there are more challenge tombs and crypts to scratch that itch than before, and they are far harder to boot. Should you choose to, you could no doubt play through the entirety of the story using stealth, or you could go full commando and kill everything that moves. There’s so much to do, with so many options and ways to replay that I honestly feel like, when I inevitably return to it, it’ll be like a whole new game. That’s how much I dig it.

You should play Rise of the Tomb Raider. Everyone should.

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