Latest posts by Jake Wilson (see all)
- Enderal – Skyrim Mod – Review - September 12, 2016
- Rise of the Tomb Raider – Review - August 23, 2016
- Simone Bernacchia – Amiga Homebrew Composer Interview - August 22, 2016
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Platforms: PC (review platform), PS4, Xbox One
If you enjoyed Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider series then I have some good news, some bad news & some worse news concerning Rise of the Tomb Raider. The good news is that this sequel is the exact same game in almost every conceivable way. The bad news, is that it’s the exact same game in almost every conceivable way. The worse news is that all the things that are different about Rise of the Tomb Raider are significantly worse than what’s come before.
Take the game’s title for instance, it’s awful yes but what does it actually mean? Surely this title suggests that the series’ iconic hero Lara Croft will have some sort of satisfying character arc, growing, changing and becoming more like the intelligent, archaeologist Lara we know from the old games. Spoiler: this doesn’t happen at all, but she does call someone a c**t then tell them to fuck off so…at least there’s that I suppose.
Starkly contrasting to the crew of the Endurance from Tomb Raider all with different motives and motivations, the supporting cast in this game are pure black & white, good vs evil, with no nuance whatsoever. Lara’s allies in the game are defending something called ‘the divine source’ which can grant eternal life and the baddies are ‘Trinity,’ an evil military organisation willing to murder everyone to get it. The only character with anything remotely intriguing going on is a retconned version of Lara’s dad. He was researching the divine source but was put to shame by the archaeological community because they said it didn’t exist. (Despite Lara & Trinity finding out exactly where it is without any real challenge)
On the other hand, there’s the most under developed character in history Jonah, returning from Tomb Raider 2013. Lara is separated from him at the beginning of the game and he isn’t mentioned once until near the end when he magically knows Lara’s new radio frequency and calls. He then gets captured & stabbed…and the player is meant to care despite zero effort for character development. Poor, poor writing. There are also plot twists at multiple points in the story, all of them can be seen coming a mile away and not one of them was actually built up to in an adequate or clever way.
Terrible voice acting is universal in this game. Even Camilla Luddington as Lara is cringe-worthy at times, seemingly trying to act even more posh than she already is. The worst are the documents found throughout the world which are mostly journals from Mongolian, Greek or Russian people with inexplicable American accents. In fact, none of the history in Rise of the Tomb Raider is treated with any sort of reverence. It’s something which Assassin’s Creed has done reasonably well and something Tomb Raider needs to do even better! For example, I was dying to know about why these different tribes from Greece and Mongolia were traveling through this region and why the conflicts arose in the time period in question. I’m sure the old Lara would have been just as fascinated with it all as I am…but new Lara? She’s too busy fighting a fucking bear.
Rise of the Tomb Raider starts with one of those trendy flash forwards, where you play through a bit of the game then it sends you back to the actual beginning. The section in question is from the boring E3 trailer and it’s almost as boring playing through it. No matter how many times Lara slips on a crumbling ledge, or some ice falls from under your feet it is never going to be as intense as the creators want it to be. Not when you know if you just keep moving along this linear path, nothing will actually make you fall to your death. Compare this to the old Tomb Raider games where bad timing or letting go of X at the wrong moment was gonna send you back to the previous save point. Far more challenging and far more fun. If anything, missing a jump in this game is much more frustrating because it’s the games fault for glitching out and not magnetising you to the ledge like it usually does.
Remember also from E3 how Brian Horton said “We’re making the most human, most believable Lara ever…” Well we’ve already established that he cannot have meant the character so what about Lara’s physical capabilities?…Beyond levitating across chasms. I played Rise of the Tomb Raider on the hardest difficulty level & it was piss easy. Not only can Lara withstand a fair few hits, she has the ability to heal herself in less than 2 seconds, whilst under fire and I never ran out of healing items once. The game also gives you a massive amount of ways to one hit kill enemies which includes the poison gas arrows you get right at the start of the game and can easily craft more of. Once you get the death from above perk meaning you can insta-kill any enemy below you, the sheer speed and efficiency Lara can take these guys out makes it an absolute bloodbath. I’m seriously surprised these highly trained military operatives aren’t running away from this woman screaming.
There is stealth in Rise of the Tomb Raider but of course it’s broken. If enemies get suspicious they head straight in your direction whether they should know you’re there or not. Once you’ve been spotted there’s no way to hide again, you have to shoot it out. I must say that having such a variety of ways to take out enemies is fun at its core. You can pick up bottles to craft molotovs or smoke grenades, try stealth or try out the nice array of upgradable guns…but after doing the same thing for hours without any challenge it got tedious. Plus, why do any of those things when you can run up to everyone, shotgun the hel out of them and heal when needed?
Crystal Dynamics were so lazy that they re-used the idea of the immortal army from Tomb Raider 2013, remember the armoured samurai warriors with more health than a regular guy who run up to you and use melee attacks? These Greek ones function the exact same way except the story behind them is less interesting and barely explored.
The best thing about the game by far are the optional puzzles mainly found in tombs. Not only are these usually the most visually stunning areas (Well, let’s be fair, the entire game is absolutely gorgeous graphically) they also allow the player to use their brain a bit. Some puzzles are more contrived than others, but I found ones not involving any of the games boring, linear climbing were the best. One for example, had me guiding flammable barrels down a river, tethering them where necessary to stop them coming in contact with fire.
Lets talk about the soundtrack by Bobbi Tahouri whose one goal seemed to be to create something even more obnoxious and intrusive than Jason Graves’ previous work on the series. Everything is constant drums, brass swells and ostinato strings pumping away. Even when in the games many optional puzzle tombs which are meant to be the games’ downtime it’s still just…pumping away. I’m sure the only melody that exists in this game is the one that Jason Graves created for Tomb Raider 2013 and it is now being used for every action Lara takes in the open world. (lighting camp-fires, opening chests etc.) The chill down my spine that came from discovering a secret in the old games and hearing that vibraphone glissando is replaced with either that melody, or a single note played on a hang drum. Actually…that kind of accurately represents the amount of excitement I feel when discovering secrets in this game.
I could go in to more detail about some of the open world aspects of Rise of the Tomb Raider which are pretty entertaining at their core. Hunting, finding artifacts, leveling up to unlock perks…but as I’ve said, it’s all the same as before. I enjoyed Tomb Raider 2013 immensely, it felt like the story had stakes and characters other than Lara had agency within that story. I enjoyed building up Lara’s gear from scratch & some of her new abilities actually took me by surprise. I also loved the setting and the horror elements that hadn’t been explored previously in the series and aren’t in this game either. I’ve played Tomb Raider 2013! If I want to play it again, I will do.