Title: Rise of the Tomb Raider
Platform: PC, PS4 (20th Anniversary Edition), Xbox 360, Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix Holdings, Microsoft Studios
Release date: Out now
tl;dr: Play the 2013 reboot, then don’t bother with this one.
Price: Xbox 360: £40/$40/€50
Xbox One: £50/$40/€70
PC – please note these first two versions are from Steam, and contains the season pass: £40/$60/€50 (from the Square Enix store)
PS4 – £45/$60/€60
Family Focus: Click here for more information.
Oh, Tomb Raider. They say lightning never strikes twice, and I guess that applies to new IPs, too; we’re lucky to get one good game, and then the rest of it falls apart. Don’t get your hopes up, folks; Rise of the Tomb Raider has about as much substance as wet cardboard – poke too many holes in its flimsy surface, and it crumbles completely.
2013 was a new start for Lara, where she was taken out of the sexy shorts’n’pistols regalia and tossed into the ocean with a resounding splash. There’s no style in being washed up, half dead and covered in blood, onto a hellish island with some pissed off shrine maiden controlling the weather. Lara was broken down and rebuilt into someone strong, determined, and downright fierce. Weak as she initially started out, she had purpose – find out what the hell is going on with Yamatai, and where her best friend has disappeared off to, all while she and the rest of the crew try and keep themselves alive in an increasingly hostile environment. There was a clear, defined story arc that ended on a high, felt deeply personal, and made me actually give a damn about a character I always assumed was a spoiled schoolgirl stealing ancient treasures.
Rise, on the other hand, feels like the writers all sat around a table and said “Shit, we need ideas for a sequel! Uh… daddy issues and the Fountain of Youth?”
Don’t get me wrong – as a game itself, this isn’t a bad one. Graphically, it’s as nice as ever, though there’s a definite animation bump when going from cutscene to gameplay that I never noticed with the first game. Admittedly, I was playing the older, Xbox One version rather than the 20th anniversary one, but the graphics feel somewhat wasted. I’m no longer excited about every strand of Lara’s hair being animated when there’s nothing to ruffle it apart from the odd snowdrift.
This time, we’re in the relatively bleak Siberia, which means white, white, and more white, livened up only slightly by the quick jaunt to Syria, the odd flashback to Croft Manor, or a geothermal valley and occasional temple. It doesn’t feel like the most inspired setting, and it’s pretty bland to play through. There’s not a lot of life in it, but at least everyone looks pretty realistic, and there’s no major lip sync issues.
Gameplay, too, there’s not a whole lot to complain about, mostly because very little has changed from the last game, aside from the feeling I was being herded down a freezing cold corridor. There are challenge tombs that encourage you to explore, and the usual plethora of documents and relics to collect, but it doesn’t feel open at all. Maybe it’s all the treacherous cliff paths? But for the most part, there’s no deviation, nowhere to get lost, and the next plot point is around the nearest corner, and unlike Final Fantasy XIII, there’s no zombie-inducing time limit breathing down Lara’s neck to make her sprint for the finish line.
There’s not a whole lot of new features, either – a handful of new arrow types, a grappling hook, and no more QTEs. Nothing to make Rise stand out. Stealth doesn’t really do a whole lot, and Survival Instincts don’t really do a lot when Lara’s wandering from one plot point to the next.
Plot spoilers ahoy.
My biggest complaint about this one is the story, because despite so many people’s insistence, good gameplay isn’t something that can lift a game out of mediocrity and into the spotlight. The trouble with the somewhat bland action/adventure/treasure quest genre is that it’s been done to death a thousand times over, in any medium. You want to use it, you’d better make damn sure you’ve got something original up your sleeve to keep your players interested. As loathe as I am to compare the two, this is what Uncharted did, by making it a character driven plot rather than a strict MacGuffin one, and this is what I had come to expect from Tomb Raider. Last time round, we had an interesting set of characters who were motivated for their own reasons, not all good, all had their own arc, all were essential, all grew, unless they fell off a cliff. So far, so good.
Then we have Rise, which prefers to use cardboard cut outs and archetypes so old, even the most forgiving players will be rolling their eyes. All of the interesting characters are gone, aside from Jonah, who could literally be replaced with a pet dog, for all the plot relevance he has. Sam and Reyes are nowhere to be found, though are apparently expanded upon in the comics, which is laziness more than anything – show, don’t tell, especially when there was a lot of effort the first time round to get players emotionally invested in these characters.
I won’t spoil too much, but as we started getting into the father subplot, my heart began to sink. Taking over her father’s last project to regain his honour; looking for the Fountain of Youth; the stepmother who was never mentioned before just so happens to be evil; the mountain village of advanced mystical people who bear somewhat of a resemblance to elves (who all speak perfect, American-accented English, by the way).
The list of clichés goes on and on without any respite, from the generic Russian villain to the somewhat ominous “Deathless Ones,” who go down with three hits from the climbing axe, as did the final boss. It’s just… dull. There’s no originality, nothing I haven’t heard a million times before, and nothing gets explained or built up. The divine source was apparently not mystical, but scientific, but do we find out why? Nope. Even Jacob, the vaguely allegorical Jesus prophet, is made out to be anything apart from ordinary, and there’s only so much worldbuilding you can do in the datalogs before it gets lazy.
Lara is honestly one of the bigger problems. 2013’s game pushed her to the limits and she broke through them spectacularly. She was incomparable to the girl she was at the start, and it showed; as of Rise, she’s now a Strong Female Character who has no problem shooting random mercs and her own stepmother in cold blood, because she’s tough now. And whilst it was initially delightful to see Lara come into her own, it doesn’t go anywhere. She’s proud and determined, and that leads to trouble with Trinity, the organisation that was mentioned once at the end of the first game, and never expanded on.
Why not have Jonah call her out on her shit, realising she’s ruining herself over something that might not exist? Or skip the comic plot, have her be the one shunning Sam because she’s not supportive of the latest round of find the MacGuffin. Something, anything, to change Lara from bland to complex. It feels like she’s never in any danger now – the constant grab-a-ledge-and-have-it-crumble schtick doesn’t make me feel unsafe, just annoyed, because Lara is a one-woman powerhouse no matter if she’s stripped of her weapons or stuck atop a mountain – the next deus ex machina is only ever a sentence or two away.
In summary, I’m disappointed. 2013 TR almost did their job too well – they could have finished Lara’s story there and then, but they had to make a sequel with nowhere to go. I won’t be buying the DLC (an extra tomb and Croft Manor with zombie hordes) and I don’t know if I’ll buy the next, inevitable yearly release. It’s like Uncharted with all the charm ripped out, and unless they up their game, I can’t see it getting any better.
- It looks nice, at least
- A female lead and a decent array of female characters, none of which are pointlessly sexualised
- A decent amount of content to find and explore after the main story ends
- Plot is riddled with clichés and is downright boring
- Character development for anyone is non existent
- My Sam/Lara ship is sunk about as deep as The Endurance
Rated PEGI 18 for violence and strong language, which is pretty fitting considering I stabbed most of the mooks to death with the climbing axe.
This game was reviewed using a retail copy of the game purchased for the purpose of this review.