Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 10 November 2015
With the announcement of Rise of the Tomb Raider, came the news of its exclusivity 0n the Xbox One. Some people hated this, while others embraced it as an opportunity to dive into a new console purchase. I have to say that even if Lara’s latest adventure is hitting other platforms next year, you do not want to miss out on this one as it is not only the greatest game to ever hit the Xbox One, but it is the best Tomb Raider in the series. Few games came along every year that leave such a lasting impression on me that even thinking about moments in the game, leave me with goosebumps. Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the greatest experiences to date, and we have no one else to thank than the amazing team at Crystal Dynamics, who developed a masterpiece of action and adventure.
A few years have passed since the events of Yamatai, and Lara is stronger than ever. One thing that still plagues Lara, is her father’s mysterious search for the answer to immortality. His search left the Croft name scorned as he failed to provide answers to this so called “Prophet”, a man said to have the power of immortality who has appeared throughout history. Lara now picks up the pieces that have been left behind, not only to prove the world wrong, but to make her father proud. There is one issue though, Trinity – a well-funded organization that has been on the hunt for the Prophet and his immortality since the dawn of time.
To say that Rise of the Tomb Raider is a new game would be an understatement. Although it plays exactly like the reboot from 2012, everything in the game has been improved on. During the first few hours into the game you are welcomed into a breathtakingly spectacular world of architectural brilliance, whether you are exploring the main hubs, or taking your first dive into a lost city hidden away in Syria. Characters look fantastic, facial animation is spot on, and let us not forget that the environments are beautiful. Everything seems to have been given a bit of polish, even animations are flawlessly smooth, from the leaps from cliffs, to the chattering of teeth as Lara tries to warm herself up next to a fireplace. It is the attention to detail that makes Rise of the Tomb Raider shine.
Lara has not only matured, she also has a new set of skills and equipment that she gains throughout the game. Some of this might be familiar from the last title, while most of it is actually new. This also means that 90% of the gear you had in the last title, you will have to obtain again, this goes for the fire arrows, shotguns, rope arrow and a few more. This also limits your exploration near the start of the game as you will know what you need to pull down a barrier wrapped in rope, but you will have to come back to the area as you do not yet own that piece of gear. This is not a major issue as the pace of the game keeps you on your toes at all times, so you will not mind skipping a cave and coming back later.
In Rise of the Tomb Raider Lara has a couple of weapons she has at her disposal, she still her has normal bow and arrow, handgun, and axe, but this time there are different variations of each of them. These although need to be obtained in a certain way, be it by completing side-quests that are given by the people scattered around the hubs, or by gathering a set number parts to craft them. These parts only being obtainable by finding them in the many Optional Tombs that are scattered around the world. Each of these weapons that you can find, have their own unique attributes. One bow would let you zoom in more than usual, while the other had a quicker pull down time than the rest. This might be a great improvement on the past title, but it is not enough to force you into switching to them constantly, you would rather just stick to the weapons you find by default. You can also purchase weapons and attachments from a store using Byzantine coins that you gather throughout the game. These coins are found by picking up a coin stash lying around, or revealed by reading monoliths that require a certain level of dialect, this which can be obtained by reading murals scattered around the world, each with their own language. The attachments are unique to the store, these range from a laser sight, to a grenade launcher for the shotgun, yes that one we got near the end of the last game.
Other than the weapons, Lara can also upgrade her main equipment by using animal hide and gear that she loots off enemies and find in the wild. Lara also needs to actually gather resources to stay alive and use her weapons. Wood needs to be gathered to make arrows, berries need to be picked for health, and animals need to be killed and skinned to upgrade ammo pouches. Skills are very much the same in Rise of the Tomb Raider as they were in the past, but many of the best skills are only obtainable by finding them in the optional tombs. This, combined with the weapon parts, make the optional tombs a must, compared to the past title, where they just gave you a bunch of XP.
Each and every area that you enter in the game is around 3 times the size of the last title, and there is so much to do that you often get distracted by this. Aside from the side missions, there are crypts, optional tombs, challenges, artefacts, hidden stashes, and much more. The challenges are by far the best side activity when running around an area as they offer great variety when playing. One of these saw me running around chasing chickens to toss them into a pen, and the other saw me finding hidden targets in trees and shooting them down by hitting a bulls-eye. Let me not forget to mention how beautiful and well-constructed these hub areas are. From a frozen Soviet installation, to a wetland with gushing waterfalls leading into large lakes. You often stop just to take it all in and listen to the sounds of the water trickling through rocks, down a hill. It is really something so unique to the game.
When it comes to Lara kicking ass, she does not need to be told how to. Everything she has experienced in the past has moulded her into a badass fighter, with or without guns. She can now stealth kill enemies when the chance arises, not matter what situation she is in. She can pull enemies into bushes and end their life, and even gran them and drown them in a frozen lake as she lurks under a layer of ice. there are also a few weapons that can only be crafted on the go by picking up a certain object. Lara can craft a smoke bomb or a Molotov by picking up an empty can or bottle and holding down RB. There are a few of these items scattered around each area occupied by Trinity, so it is up to you how you deal with them. You can sit back and headshot each of them from a distance, or if you want to, pull out your shotgun and go all Rambo on them. I often just felt that the shotgun route was easier, but there is so many ways to take on a combat area, that you often switch it up for the fun of it. Later in the game the enemies do get tougher, but it is nothing you have not seen before, and thanks to Lara’s new ammo types, enemies like the shield mercenaries can be taken down with a simple explosive arrow, rather than doing the whole “dodge to the side and attack” move.
When you feel like messing around outside of the main game, you can take on the Expeditions mode. Here you an create your own missions using cards which you unlock by purchasing packs. You can also play other player’s creations that they have created and uploaded to the server. Some cards get consumed once used while others can be used at anytime when creating a level. The cards that you can obtain, range from activities that need to be completed, to rare guns, even some of them add character modifiers to the game. It is all about your collection of cards, and what you do with them that create unique playthroughs of each area. Each mission also has a scoring method where the better you do, the higher your score. You then can compete with other player’s scores online. The expedition mode plans on keeping the game going after you have completed it, which I am sure it will do so, but we will have to wait and see what the experiences the rest of the world can come up with as the game releases.
Rise of the Tomb Raider excels on more than one level, it shows excellence in game design, character development, and high-octane action. It is truly a spectacular experience from the start, all the way right up to the end. I clocked in at 21 hours, and I did not know what to do with my life once the credits rolled. Rise of the Tomb Raider is the definition of excellence.