Kris Wall reviews Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Celebration…
In the wake of its timed year long exclusivity period to Xbox One, and the aftermath of controversy it seemed to cause as Microsoft and Crystal Dynamics managed to stoke the fires of fanboy wrath, Rise of the Tomb Raider finally lands on the PlayStation 4 in the form of the 20 Year Celebration edition, a definitive package that includes all of the additional DLC released so far, as well as the entirely new Blood Ties content. Rise of the Tomb Raider follows on from Crystal Dynamics’ excellent 2013 reboot of the series which focused on the origins of Lara Croft before she became a legendary Tomb Raider, it combined thrilling adventure with some surprisingly nuanced and thoughtful character development in regards to Lara herself.
Rise of the Tomb Raider picks up a year after the events of the first game. Lara Croft is on her way to becoming the legendary adventurer and explorer that we know, but she’s also battling claims of being a fraud from critics looking to denounce her experiences with the supernatural in Yamatai. In search of answers, Lara turns to her father’s research into the lost city of Kitezh and its promise of immortality, a quest that eventually drove her father to suicide. While exploring for the tomb of the prophet of Constantinople in Syria, Lara quickly finds herself up against Trinity and their leader Konstantin, an ancient order of Knights that have now become a paramilitary organization investigating the supernatural, who are also searching for the lost city of Kitezh and the ‘Divine Source’ that will grant them immortality. Quite naturally, Lara and Trinity don’t see eye to eye and so begins a dangerous race to discover the source first.
Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t hang about in its set up, the prologue alone features more nail-biting thrills than most games manage to feature in their entire lengths as Lara navigates a treacherous ice pass in the mountains, and from that point onward the game just keeps climbing to new heights. It’s hard to really pick out individual set pieces in Rise of the Tomb Raider because the game seems to simply exist as one big smartly interwoven set piece that just glides from one high point to the next, quite literally at times with some of the vertiginous heights that Lara finds herself having to scale. It’s all a hugely immersive and enthralling experience, one that only suffers with the very occasional drop in frame rate as it handles everything it’s throwing at the player.
This is an absolutely gorgeous game to behold and there is often a sense of genuine wonder to many of the environments and vistas, where you can’t help but stop for a moment or two just to take it all in. Rise of the Tomb Raider really excels at selling the feeling of a sense of discovery, where a narrow passage suddenly opens up into a stunning underground temple that has long been forgotten, or an exhausting climb through treacherous conditions rewarding Lara with a breathtaking view that’s usually reserved for the eagles.
If the Uncharted games sought to evoke the feel of classic adventures like Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films then Rise of the Tomb Raider cuts much closer to Alejandro Iñárritu‘s The Revenant in both tone and feel. The idea and feeling of survival at all costs has been forged into the foundations of the game, everything is built outwards of this concept, and it’s the feeling that makes Rise of the Tomb Raider such a rich and compelling experience. This is a story of a woman versus an incredibly harsh, unrelenting and unforgiving nature, battling to survive against the elements and the environment, as well against the firepower of Trinity. Even a massive wild bear wades in at one point just to make Lara’s life that little bit harder than it already is. Few games have ever managed to sell the idea of survival quite as well have Crystal Dynamics have managed to achieve here in Rise of the Tomb Raider.
The Siberian wilderness that Lara finds herself in is a harsh and unforgiving land, the ultimate challenge for even a seasoned explorer such as herself. Acting as a hub world for which the story quests spin out of, the beauty of this land is how intricately it’s been designed to challenge the player to level up to back and conquer it when Lara is ready. Initially Lara has to forge out an existence collecting wood, hunting animals and foraging the environments in order to help her level up and generally just stay alive in this environment. Crafting from the first game has been greatly expanded upon here as Lara can quickly combine makeshift items to heal herself or create various types of weaponry such as poison arrows, as well as using hidden loot and scrap to upgrade all the kit that she can collect.
I’ve played a few games in recent years where leveling up came with a strong feeling of empowerment and progression within the game, Dying Light, Dishonored and Deus Ex Mankind Divided immediately spring to mind as recent highlights. Never before though have I seen leveling up a character so integrally and intrinsically important to the core concept of a game on such a monumental level as I have here in Rise of the Tomb Raider. As Lara gets more experienced through her adventures and explorations, you’re literally watching this woman rise to become the legendary Tomb Raider and create her legacy. From the outset, much of the game is hidden behind impasses that Lara isn’t quite ready for, challenging you to become better, teasing you with its secrets, and daring you to eventually come back and conquer it. There’s an inherent thrill throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider as the Siberian wilderness begins to open up like a flower to your skillset the more experienced you become, channeling your XP into Lara’s three different skill trees to constantly push the boundaries of what she can achieve, and just as before Lara herself is a complete and utter joy to control as she leaps, bounds and scrambles all over the place with graceful agility.
The little details in a game can really help to add to the story and the experience overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider is as exquisite as it is staggering in how these all combine to make the experience that much more incredible. The way dust billows and collects around ancient structures in the wind, Lara suddenly sinking deeper into the thigh deep snow and having to wade forwards exhausted by the effort, the way she shivers by makeshift fires in the bitter cold, landing unsteadily from a jump and coming off balance or flexing her fingers to grasp handholds in many of her absolutely breath snatching leaps, the world just feels alive with these small incidental details that all combine to either sell the danger of her situation or add to the awe of her environment.
Character development is brilliant once again as we delve further into Lara’s psyche as she blocks out the death of her father and constantly pushes herself to greater and more perilous limits to chase her obsessions. Even the villains have compelling reasons beyond just blowing things up for the sheer sake of being antagonistic. The detail in character development here is so great that Lara even becomes more seasoned in other languages as the game progresses, leveling up her ability to read and speak foreign dialects the more she comes into contact with them as she explores. It may seem like such a small throwaway inclusion to be excited about but again it constantly adds to the overall feeling that Lara is constantly developing and gaining more experience as an adventurer.
The optional puzzle tombs have been further explored and expanded upon, Crystal Dynamics having developed some truly fiendish head scratchers in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Starting off relatively straightforward enough, they soon escalate into some really challenging puzzles that will require you to be a true student of your environment, much like Lara herself. Completion of these tombs offers large XP boosts and bonus extras to Lara’s adventure, but more important than that, they manage to provoke feelings of genuine euphoric accomplishment when you figure them out and get to the end to claim your prize, I can only imagine this might be exactly what a real Tomb Raider would feel in such a moment of triumph.
As this is the definitive version of Rise of the Tomb Raider, all of the additional DLC that was available to Xbox owners is included on disc here. Cold Darkness Awaits sees Lara exploring a decommissioned Soviet weapons bunker that has been breached by Trinity, releasing a chemical pathogen into the air. Baba Yaga: Temple of the Witch is spine tingling chapter which sees Lara investigating the legend of the titular witch from Russian Folklore. I don’t want to say anything more for spoilers but this was my favourite of the additional content included here. The new Blood Ties is another slice of great character development from Crystal Dynamics as you explore Croft Manor and delve deeper into Lara’s family history and her childhood, it’s a much more relaxed chapter than everything else included here, at least for the most part anyway until the undead start getting involved and the guns need to come out.
There’s also a pretty damn tense endurance mode which can be played solo or with a co-op partner, which challenges you to just survive against nature, the longer you survive the riskier and more dangerous it gets, but your rewards also increase too. You can choose to extract and save what you have or try to survive longer and gain more, but die and you lose everything. Added tension comes from your partner being able to save themselves and their loot and extract without you.
If you really do plan to be one of those staunch fanboys that were planning to boycott Rise of the Tomb Raider to take a stand against Microsoft and Crystal Dynamics then honestly you’re the only one who is going to be losing out here. With both this and Uncharted 4, we’ve been completely spoiled for choice with two of the finest action games of the year now available to us within the same 12 months. From start to finish Rise of the Tomb Raider is consistently and relentlessly a breathtaking experience that everyone needs to play. Make absolutely no mistake about it, Rise of the Tomb Raider is not only one of the greatest adventure games of the past decade, it’s without doubt one of the greatest adventure games that has ever been made!
Rise of the Tomb Raider was reviewed on PlayStation 4
+ The feeling of survival is etched into the core of the game
+ Brilliant character development, especially Lara herself
+ Superb level design and the great feeling of overcoming and conquering your enviroment
+ Puzzle tombs offer a solid challenge
+ Looks incredible
+ Excellent additional content in Baba Yaga: Temple of the Witch, Cold Darkness Awaits, Blood Ties and the Endurance mode
– It has to end
– Occasional frame rate drops
Rating: 9.5 /10