Rise of the Tomb Raider Review (Xbox One)
Lara Croft's return to form in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot was very well done, but it lacked a few key features that made the franchise as legendary as it is today. Her followup adventure, Rise of the Tomb Raider, tries to bring those elements back and infuse them with the upgrades already in place. The result is a fun return to classic Tomb Raider form that takes a big leap but can't stick the landing.
On the surface Rise of the Tomb Raider is very much reminiscent of the previous game, to the point where someone passing through a room with Rise playing might mistake it for the last entry. Lara once again finds herself in all kinds of sticky situations and must use her cunning survival skills and coldly efficient combat abilities. Just like the last game there's a robust upgrade system to make Lara's equipment more powerful and an RPG-like leveling system that allows Lara to become stronger herself. All of these things are nothing new for those who played 2014/2015's Tomb Raider.
On one hand this approach is fine; it worked wonderfully in the first game and if it isn't broken, don't fix it. On the other hand I wish some of these elements were expanded on a bit more, There is one big new feature in the crafting system, allowing Lara to create materials based on items found in the wilderness, and while that adds another RPG element to the game it's not the major new step for Tomb Raider I had hoped for. In practice it's essentially the upgrade system, but instead of adding materials to make weapons or items stronger, I'm combining items together to make other items. Hooray franchise evolution!
Even the stories line up pretty significantly, albeit with a few tiny changes. Before I was saving my friends from some fanatical cult after crashing onto a remote island, and here I'm trying to keep a fanatical cult from achieving immortality. I found myself less engaged with learning this tale as opposed to the first story, as I felt like I heard the same thing before. Although if I did take one thing out of the story, it's that Lara must have some major issues with fanatical cults.
Mechanically the game is a mirror image, but once I stepped into the first tomb I finally had that feeling of "Okay, this is Tomb Raider." Tombs are trap-laden puzzle wonderlands straight out of the Tomb Raider of yesteryear, and I searched high and low across the entire game to seek them out. Each one is a labyrinthine maze that relies less on my ability to fight enemies and more on my intelligence and wits. Just like how tombs were the highlight of the older games, tombs are easily the best part of Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Think about it: the original games weren't at their best when I had to shoot at enemies and dive away from gunfire. I was at peak enjoyment when I was finally solving a devious puzzle and advancing through a mysterious tomb where danger lurks around every corner. Rise brings back these tombs but amplifies the sense of wonder and exploration, really scratching the itch that went untouched in the reboot. There I was told to focus on Lara and her origins, while now I've been turned loose into gigantic underground treasure troves and I absolutely love it.
Whether out in the wilderness or deep inside a lost tomb, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an incredibly pretty game. The facial recognition tech used here is astounding, giving the characters real emotions that aren't normally seen in games even today. I can see Lara's chattering teeth as she huddles next to a fire or feel the anguish in her just by watching her eyes. The scenery is just as beautiful, with a few viewpoints and vistas that I would love to save as my desktop background on my personal computer. I don't know what those wizards at Crystal Dynamics have going on, but their world-building technology is top notch.
Rise of the Tomb Raider isn't setting a tremendous new bar for all of action video games to follow, as much of this game stems from things we've done before, but it's still a neat little adventure buried in the God-forsaken wilderness. Exploring tombs fills me with wonder and the best type of nostalgia, while the rest of the game plays like the reboot that brought Lara back from the brink. Those seeking innovation in their Tomb Raider experience will be sorely disappointed, but action fans like me who want to just jump in and start exploring will be sucked in for days.
This review was completed using a digital copy for Rise of the Tomb Raider provided by the publisher for Xbox One.