Adventuring through my backlog of games, one game at a time.
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Played On: PlayStation 4
A funny thing happened on my way to playing the second game of the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy: I played all five Uncharted games. Particularly Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy have set my personal standard for cinematic third-person action games. I couldn’t help but constantly compare them to everything that annoyed me about Rise of the Tomb Raider, resulting in an experience that is middling at best.
The Uncharted comparisons are not entirely fair. Rise of the Tomb Raider precedes Uncharted 4 by a year, but such is the curse of backlog gaming!
Rise of the Tomb Raider sends Lara Croft on a quest to follow her father’s footsteps in tracking down the mythical Divine Source and the lost city of Kitezh, which is pretty much the plot of every Uncharted game.
Other than a brief opening sequence in Syria, the entire game takes place in the frigid region of Siberia, around some old Soviet installations. A mountainous region blanketed in snow and ice, as well as many underground tombs and caves, doesn’t make for nice-looking vistas or beautiful landscapes. I was longing for a change of scenery, which the game flirts with briefly in the Geothermal Valley, but otherwise the setting remains dark, dreary, and drab.
The mysterious international organization known as Trinity returns as the primary antagonists, along with Ana, a former friend of Lara’s father’s who betrayed him, and Ana’s sister Konstantin, a religious zealot. There are several noteworthy attempts to humanize and deepen the characterization of the siblings, but Lara’s actual interactions with them are too few and far between, and the final boss battle with Konstantin is frustratingly stupid and too video gamey.
Much of my complaints with Rise of the Tomb Raider is just how much of a chock-standard action game it feels like. Numerous sequences where you engage enemies in large rooms as they constantly hurl grenades felt like any third-person shooter – except Tomb Raider is not even a cover shooter and the combat is as basic as can be. These areas are filled with ammo to ensure the player never runs out as they mostly spray and pray.
Collectibles are everywhere, from Uncharted-like artifacts you can inspect to voice recordings and journals. Why are enemies constantly leaving behind voice recorders with their intimate thoughts and feelings?
Puzzles are incredibly straight-forward and almost insultingly simple, like pulling levers to change water levels, nothing like some of the legit brain-teasers and block puzzles of the later Uncharted games.
The story is also as rote as they come, making it easy to see how the entire thing plays out with the ancient order who defends the Source, and mostly giving Lara an excuse to mow down legions of Trinity soldiers and weird medieval Deathless troopers. Lara herself comes off rather stupid, obsessive, and whiny, a far cry from the young but determined survivor in the first game.
I’ve been incredibly negative about my experience but it’s not all doom and gloom. While so many aspects annoyed me, I did enjoy the semi-open world design that allowed me to explore a region at my own pace, discovering crypts and challenge tombs, hunting for relics and coin caches, and constantly leveling up and gaining new skills, though after about 3/4 through the story I had gained all the skills and upgrades I cared about.
While the action sequences didn’t do much for me, I still enjoyed the few stealth opportunities. Lara doesn’t have the interesting and fun abilities as a Batman or Corvo or Adam Jensen, but I made the most out of my bow and a few extra abilities, like rigging enemy corpses to explode in a burst of poison. Later skills allow me to lock and fire multiple headshots, stealthily downing several opponents, which looks and feels awesome.
Water and aerial takedowns are possible, and while the game lacks vision cones, it does let you see if enemies are currently being seen by others or not, giving me at least a chance to stealth my way through an area.
But due to Lara’s incredibly easy way to almost instantly heal up in the middle of any fight, it was often easier to simply whip out the shotgun or rifle (once unlocked) and go ham on the enemies. I wished they had gone a far more stealthy route as I prefer Tactically Clever Lara to Commando Lara.
The new challenge tombs were a welcome addition in the sequel. Actual tomb raiding! They were entirely optional and had to be discovered, but I easily found and completed all nine. While they were a neat idea I found them disappointingly easy and simple. Each one consists of one basic puzzle to overcome, and the puzzles involved little more than pulling a few levers or some light platforming.
Ultimately Rise of the Tomb Raider is an okay game. It hits enough positive notes to make it decently enjoyable, but frustrations hampered me nearly every step of the way. The bar has been greatly raised in the last five years for the third person action genre. I prefer more challenging puzzles, more exotic locations, more stealthy or tactical situations, and more meaningful combat encounters. And a more interesting story wouldn’t hurt.
Had I never played a modern Uncharted game before (as was the case when I played the first rebooted Tomb Raider) I would have more praise for Rise of the Tomb Raider. As it is, I have no desire to continue on to the third game.
- Optional Challenge Tombs provide some actual tomb raiding.
- New special bow arrows like poison and fire and several bow skills are fun and useful.
- Shooting segments are annoyingly forced, too frequent, and lack tactical depth.
- Weak, simple puzzle designs.
- Predictable story.