Tomb Raider Rises, Beats Expectations

I’m not a proud man. I don’t stick to my opinions even when I’m wrong and if I make a mistake I apologise.

So, with that in mind I’ll say this: I was wrong about Rise of the Tomb Raider and my low expectations. I was wrong. There, I said it, but don’t get too excited because I wasn’t completely wrong. There are still a lot of shallow elements to the game, stuff that seem at home in the Uncharted series but feel oddly out of place in Tomb Raider. But I’ll leave those for another article and now focus on the good bits.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

I like this a lot!

One of my major complaints with the reboot is how shallow the optional tombs were, how they seemed to be an afterthought to placate fans of the series. In Rise of Tomb Raider, every location you visit feels like a tomb, it feels like a relic of the past, forgotten and destroyed. Yamatai had a hotchpotch of bunkers from different armies, but they never felt historical, they lacked meaning beyond being a base for the bad guys to send their clones after you. In Siberia even the 20th century building have a story, a soul to them, one born of despair from gulags and the propaganda that fueled the Soviet army that ran them. But personally, it’s the Byzantine and Mongolian remains that I found the most attractive, as they told me the most about this harsh winter land and what drove the Mongols and their Khan here, how it intertwined with the history of Trinity.

Siberia in Rise of the Tomb Raider is a giant tomb…and also a death trap.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Not a big fan of this bit…

As for the optional tombs themselves, I found that even the simplest of them were amazing compared to those found in the previous Tomb Raider. The Cistern optional tomb is my favourite so far, with what is perhaps one of the most fascinating water-level puzzles I’ve ever seen in this series. While not all tombs are as complex or intriguing as the Cistern, they all have a smart combination of platforming, clever use of weaponry and physics. A later tomb had two elevators I had to use, but only one of them had a rope attached to the pulley system. So to solve it I had to chain uses of the rope arrow to provide counterweights, fix the broken elevator and then make my jumps.

I mean, I wish there were some of the more ridiculous and unrealistic ancient mechanism puzzles Crystal Dynamics gave us in the LAU Trilogy, but with the new series much more grounded in reality, I like what they’re doing. Still, for Revenge of the Tomb Raider or whatever you call the next game, go big and stupid Crystal Dynamics. Just be silly!

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Hmmm, sausages!

But it’s really the translations and the languages that I love the most. Finding murals, inscriptions and journals, translating them and learning more about the people that passed by Siberia. Then you use those improved skills to decipher a monolith that points to artefacts and treasure. It’s a bit mercenary but it feels like true archaeology, piecing historical clues together to important finds.

The plot now is much more direct. You know where you’re going, what you want and it’s all about getting there. The previous Tomb Raider’s plot took ages to go along, focused primarily on convincing us of Lara Croft’s growth as a character by beating the crap out of her every twenty minutes. It was a game of groans, grunts, cries and screams meant to convey Lara’s hardening. Instead, it just became tiresome.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

She still get’s hurt, but it’s not the focus anymore.

In Rise of the Tomb Raider you know what you want from the start, you know where you’re going and why. The only thing that matters is getting there, no matter the obstacles, the enemies, the tombs and traps in your way. But you’re not a killing machine, there’s also chance to help people survive, gain their trust and hopefully find common ground so you can get some answers out of them. And hurting Lara is no longer the focus. Sure, she gets hurt and she still somewhat has Nathan Drake’s reverse Midas’ Touch, where everything breaks the moment they touch it, but it’s not that frequent anymore. Platforming is more about timing and precision, closer to how it was in the original series (which I’m still playing on Let’s Plays). There are still big explosive set pieces of course and they’re the weakest part of the game, these moments where you can only run and perhaps jumps once or twice. But I like that now platforming carries an inherent risk. You can miss jumps, you can die from clumsiness and while the challenge isn’t as great as it once was in this series, it’s certainly a step towards the right direction.

One of the things I disliked of the comics that bridged the games together was the organisation Trinity. I felt them poorly written and unnecessarily mysterious. It’s difficult to get the readers to feel like these people are dangerous if you don’t tell us anything about them. A couple of paid assassins and even a military helicopter aren’t enough. Rise of the Tomb Raider fixes most of that. While I still think they’re a boring version of the Illuminati, they at least flesh them out much more and give you two characters to focus on, who do a better job of transmitting why this organisation is a danger to Lara, her loved ones and the world. Yet, what is perhaps the best part is that up to point where the main bad guy starts rambling like a demented baboon, Trinity actually sounds reasonable, they don’t seem power crazy. Then the rambling starts and well…

Rise of the Tomb Raider

A fog gate, here? Uh-oh…did we cross over into Dark Souls?

There are no people to rescue. Everyone in the game you meet can handle their own and they’re a lot more dangerous than you are. So no Sam—thank god—and no one else you have to see die in front of you to “build character.”

I have yet to finish the game and still have lots to find, explore but I think I might be near the end, or close to the last act, but so far I’m enjoying it. I know where the plot is going, it’s kinda predictable, but the way they mix real world history with their story is very good, something that is very hard to pull off.

One thing I will say: I hate Camilla Luddington’s voice acting…and Yahtzee Croshaw was right: this is Exertion Noise: The Game.

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