After over a year of being only available on the Xbox platforms and PC, the most iconic heroine of video games returns to the Playstation with this complete edition of Rise of the Tomb Raider.
The story of this second entry in the current reboot Tomb Raider series has Lara Croft following in the footsteps of her publicly disgraced father in order to find an artefact known as the Divine Source (or the holy grail). This sets you off on your adventure to Syria and Siberia and encountering religious fanatics and a small tribe of the descendants of the followers of a Byzantine man known as the Prophet. The story sounds very Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with a bit of Raiders of the Lost Ark thrown in for good measure so there’s not much mind blowing originality here, but it is decently well told, although I felt it had some pacing issues, but this might be because of my taking my time and doing much of the optional tombs and crypts instead of just doing the critical path. The motivations of all the principal characters are also believable and are all well voice acted. There is also a lack of the ludo narrative dissonance from it’s predecessor, which is good, but Lara as a character feels a bit underwritten. Speaking of Tomb Raider (2013), that game isn’t necessary to play to enjoy this one story wise, however I’d still quickly say here that it’s worth playing anyways because it’s a good game.
From snowy Siberian mountain peaks and wilderness, a former gulag and breathtaking lost cities and dingy crypts and tombs with glittering Byzantine style mosaics and everything in between, Croft’s latest adventure is a visual feast. In certain moments this is accentuated with dynamic camera angles that provide a cinematic intensity to the platforming. Shadows are also generally excellent and animation is of a high quality, even showing the rabbits in the Siberian snow stopping to clean themselves. The game also runs at a stable 1080p 30 FPS with very few hitches on a base PS4 providing a consistent experience that is also surprisingly responsive. There are a couple blemishes, such as a lack of high quality anisotropic filtering and some shimmering happening with the anti aliasing in certain areas but they do not sour the look of the game too badly despite being noticeable. Those who have a PS4 Pro have multiple options for improved visuals or performance as well.
In terms of the mechanics, the game is an excellent blend of exploration, puzzle-platforming and action. The exploration is facilitated by an addictive loop in which, for example, exploring crypts unlocks parts for new weapons or improving language proficiency through finding certain documents or murals allows Lara to decipher monoliths, which reveal coin cache locations which allow you to purchase extra weapons, outfits or items. There are also side missions which unlock extra items as well and while these are often basic kill or fetch type quests, they’re worth doing and there aren’t an overwhelming amount of them so it doesn’t become tedious or make the game feel lazily designed.
The optional challenge tombs, which unlock upgrades that aren’t available through normal gaining of upgrade points see a more puzzle solving focus than combat one that is found on the critical path and whilst these puzzles aren’t the most cerebral ones ever, they are smartly designed and utilize core mechanics, such as rope arrows and platforming. Despite not being overly complex, through the use of intelligent visual cues and design, these sections feel satisfying to complete and are rarely frustrating. All this and the exploration is facilitated in hub areas that too are well designed, look excellent and are fun to traverse and do a bit of hunting (which actually feels useful now!) in.It also does not fall into the trap of becoming overly large with nothing to do, so there is a good density of things to do and collectables to find. The platforming system generally works very similarly to the Uncharted series,although I find it more engaging here because of the different gadgets such as the climbing axe or the wire spool. In the fast paced more cinematic sequences, it is still very engaging and exciting, especially as a bridge collapses or a building burns or you’re being shot at.
The combat, most of which takes place in main story segments is fast, responsive and enjoyable. There is a rudimentary stealth system which works well in thinning the ranks before a major combat encounter, but what the system reminded me of was The Last of Us. There’s no crouch button here however, nor is there a sticky cover system, which favours a high level of mobility. You can also craft things like molotovs and nailbombs on the fly without having to enter a menu screen,at least whenever the required cans or bottles are dispersed through the levels and the game not so subtly encourages you to use them on trios or duos of enemies and it’s very enjoyable to do so. There is also a dodge mechanic, which if timed right enables a QTE encounters or you can tap it twice to roll. There are also four weapons types: pistols, shotguns, bows and rifles, all of which are fun to use. On normal difficulty or higher, there’s no aim assist but with responsive controls, I was able to regularly land headshots with ease. This is all helped with tight level design and AI that is intelligent enough to take advantage of it, with them being able to flank me a couple times. All in all, it’s a highly enjoyable and mobile combat system, however, I would like to see the next entry of the series to blend the combat and platforming a bit more.
As for the extra content of the game, there is the Baba Yaga expansion, which can be considered like this game’s equivalent of the Scarecrow section from Arkham Asylum is accessible within the main campaign and well worth playing.
The Croft Manor section is split into two parts. The first is Blood Ties, which is a much quieter exploration and light puzzle solving aspect of the game that has you explore a decrepit Croft manor to find Lara’s father’s will so that she can keep possession of the property. Through documents and relics, much like in the main campaign, you get a bit of extra insight into the world and the backstory of Lara’s father and childhood was actually quite interesting. This is also worth playing. There is also the Lara’s Nightmare which also takes place in Croft Manor and is basically the obligatory zombie mode. There is also the Cold Darkness mode, which I haven’t spent much time in which is another obligatory zombie mode that is combined with puzzle solving that is inconsistent with the style of the main campaign or other modes and is more like the game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, which is a good game, but doesn’t work terribly well with the mechanics and overall design of this game.
There is also the Expeditions modes, one of which is a self explanatory survival mode and the others include things like score attack or chapter replays. Most of these modes are playable with cards, which are obtained through credits earned in game or through microtransactions, however, this edition of the game showers you with so many credits and cards from the outset that this feature becomes an annoying redundancy. These cards act as modifiers to the experience which can be activated that allow you to say, play the campaign with character models of Lara Croft from the earliest games or other things to do with upgrades or weapons and stats, which might add a bit of novelty should you decide to use them.
Additionally, the packaging of the retail version of the game is quite nice as it comes in a small artbook that has some really nice fan art for the series interspersed with some concept art for this entry. Overall, then, Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration Edition is the best way to experience the game on consoles and the game is just all round excellent whose main campaign alone is worth the cost of entry.