Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider

It’s been a while since Lara survived the island of Yamatai and stopped the resurrection of Queen Himiko. Now, on the hunt for answers and to hopefully prove her father right, she embarks on another quest, to Siberia, in Rise of the Tomb Raider

Genre(s): Action | Adventure

Developer: Crystal Dynamics

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: January 2016

Played: Main Campaign, 100% completion

Platforms: PC, XBOX One

Purchase At: Steam

Good:

  • Optional Tombs.

  • New depth to Trinity.

  • Special arrows.

Bad:

  • Predictable plot.

  • Lara has zero personality.

  • Camilla Luddington’s performance.

Review

Rise of the Tomb Raider picks up months after the events of its predecessor with Lara on the trail of the Prophet and the Divine Source, a relic that supposedly grants eternal life. Lara’s father ruined his reputation on the hunt for such artefacts and with the dark organisation Trinity looking for the Divine Source, Lara has no choice but to find it first. The first clues take her to Syria but then it’s off to Siberia and the secret histories hidden in its harsh wilderness.

I loved Siberia as a setting for Rise of the Tomb Raider. It’s harsh and everything is against you. When you meet human enemies it’s a refreshing change of pace and a sigh of relief, as you’ll most likely be dealing with wolves, bears and leopards and trust me, those things are vicious! Above all though, Siberia has so much real history that the alternate stuff they added felt much more realistic. What helps sell it so beautifully is the new Language mechanic and the scraps of information and journals you find in Russian, Greek or Mongolian. Just having these different languages helps you feel the rich and vast history hidden in the ice of Siberia. Treasures and relics feed into this and help you glean more information about the Prophet’s people and their pursuers.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Even Lara can’t believe how good the game is!

Siberia is another character in the game, and it’s the most beautifully written of them all. In second place you have Trinity. While the Reboot just mentioned them at the end of a game-long fetch quest and the comics did nothing more than make them all seem like borderline Indiana Jones Nazi, Rise of the Tomb Raider gave us two Trinity commanders. They had defined personalities and their own goals beyond what the organisation wants of them. On their own they’re not that good, as one of them is a barking lunatic, but together the brother & sister duo work brilliantly.

It’s only regrettable that the effort that went into writing them and the many stories you collect in Siberia didn’t go into the plot and the main character. If you’ve ever seen Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade or played any other Tomb Raider, you can tell where the plot is ultimately going and what will happen at the end when Lara finds the treasure. It’s too predictable. It’s not bad though. The story, the people and the pacing are very good, but there aren’t really any surprising twists, particularly because we all know there aren’t any good blondes in Tomb Raider—which I do appreciate as a nice nod to the classic series.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Lara huddling for warmth, get used to it!

Lara is an empty void of a character, with nothing to her characterisation but the desperate need to find the divine source. There is no space for a many emotions, not even humour. The only moments where she feels like a human being are when she’s talking about her father or remember his stories and lessons. In those you can feel the grief and the determination that was born from it.

You meet new characters in this game and while they have their defined personalities, strengths and weaknesses, Lara comes off bland and two-dimensional. She’s just there to complete mission objectives and to repeat the phrase “I have to [insert action here]” ad nauseam. Even her conversations with Jonah, another Yamatai survivor and one of her closest friends, feel strained and oddly hollow.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Translating murals and documents not only gives you lore but also hidden goodies!

But it’s not just the writing on Lara that’s the problem but also the voice acting. Overall, the voice acting in Rise of the Tomb Raider, along with the music, is very good, very powerful. The music fully immerses you in the environment, with a minimalist approach that works perfect, leaving melodies only for instances where they might convey something to the audience. For example, battles always have a strong musical backing, to pump you up, while the optional tombs and crypts have more subdued yet sweet melodies, speaking of times long past and buried secrets.

Camilla Luddington’s voice acting in Rise of the Tomb Raider is a mixed bag. It’s not entirely bad but she has a habit of missing some subtle emotional beats, particularly awe. In those moments, her acting is rather flat, as if she had just found a furniture catalogue instead of ruins a few thousand years old. Try to say “oh my god,” sounding amazed and even the most jaded of people on the planet will sound better than she does. The other issue is how overacted and inconsistent her British accent is. She switches between American and British pronunciations so often it becomes frankly jarring to be honest. When she is on the British accent, sometimes she goes over the top. There is one treasure I found in the game and Lara mentions the people of Kitzeh used it for carrying “plants” but the way Camilla pronounced it sounded more like “plonts.” I had to read the subs to make sure I understood correctly.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

For a second I thought there was going to be a boss fight after the Fog Gate

In terms of gameplay, while there are moments where you have to fight waves of enemies, it’s no longer the endless clone armies. For the most part you can avoid fights in Rise of the Tomb Raider if you’re stealthy or crafty enough, using the environments to your benefit. I’ll be honest: I never avoided combat, because I love taking headshots with the bow and arrow. And there are so many awesome arrow types that you have to try them all. The poison arrows are amazing and I had so much fun taking out packs of bad guys with a single arrow cloud. In fact, they could’ve removed every other weapon from the game for all I cared, as the bow just simple rocked! There’s also much less emphasis on collapsible and explosive set piece action sequences and in those you find you need to do a lot more than just press forward. You have to time the jumps, use your gear and makes it feel intense, something even I’m surprised of saying.

The crafting system is back and now not only do you improve your weapons but also your gear, but the best is that you can create ammo for your weapons. Arrows are best at it since you can create them on the fly without having to be at a bonfire. More reasons for me to use the bow, and I only ever changed to another weapons when it was mandatory, such as when you need to use improvised weapons. There’s something really mischievous about taking a can of beans and packing it with explosives. I had an evil grin on my face every time I threw one of those, or a proximity mine made from a radio.

Much like its predecessor, there are dozens of collectables around the environment and optional challenges for extra points. But now Rise of the Tomb Raider also brings side-quests and missions to the table, and I love how they tie to the story, how it represents Lara interacting and forming bonds with the natives. Also, the rewards are pretty good most of the time.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The optional tombs are breathtaking, and really fun!

I won’t go into the madness of a game called Tomb Raider having tombs mostly optional, I’ve beaten that horse to submission at this point. I will say though that the optional tombs in Rise of the Tomb Raider are amazing and even the simplest of them is by far more complex and engaging than all of those found in its predecessor, combined. They’re that good! Also, many of the story zones are ruins, temples with puzzles and platforming. I loved that, a nice nod to the fans and something I’ve wanted to see since we ever set foot on Yamatai. And as I mentioned in an article a few months ago, Siberia is in itself a giant ruin of several civilisations. If you want further proof of this, there are hundreds of Byzantine coins spread around and you can use them to buy special gear from a Trinity turncoat.

Visuals are great, even in my struggling PC with everything turned down to the bare minimum. The locales are gorgeous and you can’t help but feel awed at the spectacle you’re gazing at, from the snowy peaks of Siberia to the ancient ruins with crumbling contraptions. Having said so, TressFX is complete nonsense, as is Motion Blur. No one’s field of vision blurs so much by turning their heads. And wet human hair does not move that way people, hell, dry human hair doesn’t either! Motion Blur has been one of the most nonsensical graphic options in the past decade but TressFX is the new champion of graphical idiocy.

Conclusion

Rise of the Tomb Raider did what it promised, it made the new series rise, become better, evolve and find its rhythm. It has flaws, some of them glaring, but overall it’s a very good game and one that made me a believer in Nu-Lara.

TMA SCORE:

4/5 – Exceptional!

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