Lara Croft’s 2013 comeback was very well-received among critics and fans, and brought the character back in a great way. Instead of a goofy, invincible sex symbol, Lara became vulnerable, believable, and–since you need to feel fear to show courage–we got a really badass video game heroine out of the deal. Years after surviving the hell of Yamatai Island, Lara is back in the bigger, better globetrotting adventure Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Yep, you heard right–while the bulk of the game takes place in snowy, unforgiving Siberia, Lara spends the early part of Rise chasing leads and introducing the game’s villains (a shadowy PMC called Trinity) and supporting cast, including a few familiar faces. In the hope of redeeming her father and the research that tarnished his name, Lara seeks out a 10th-century key to immortality that–naturally–has its own dark, bloody history.
The Tomb Raider reboot was pretty direct, focusing on survival, stealth, and sporadic combat (or lots of combat if you weren’t the cautious type). Rise is not only a longer game, but feels more varied while (generally) not feeling padded. In addition to living up to her newfound reputation as “Climbing Axe Murderer Lady,” Lara Croft now lives up to her other, more old-school reputation as “Climb Around and Solve a Bunch of Building-Sized Physics-Based Puzzle Mechanisms Lady.” A heavy emphasis on exploration, climbing, traversal, and platforming makes up Lara’s main quest this time around. Optional tombs still exist for more puzzle-solving (with more sensible upgrades at the end of each one), and feel much more integrated into the overall experience.
Combat is even more flexible than before, offering a tiered level-up system to focus on stealth, Lara’s bow or guns, melee, and her new and very welcome crafting skills. Lara can now craft special ammo, makeshift explosives, healing items and more on the fly for better options in combat or while sneaking around. I discovered that I had a real messed-up affinity for Molotovs, but each player will end up with a different Lara and a different means of taking down Trinity, right down to the game’s satisfying final boss, a clever culmination of all the skills you’ve had to use throughout the game in a big multi-part showdown.
After completing the main game and every optional tomb, I still had plenty to go back and search for. While you still locate treasures and manuscripts, they serve another purpose: developing Lara’s linguistic skills. You can level up languages by discovering manuscripts, documents, audio logs, and collecting cultural artifacts–these will then allow you to translate language-specific monoliths that dot the map (some requiring rather high language levels) to reveal more hidden secrets on each map. Yes, it’s a collect-a-thon and all the good and bad that entails, but for a game about a treasure hunter, it doesn’t feel out of place.
Thankfully, there is no multiplayer–it was a real low point of the last game. Instead, Rise offers challenge maps using sections from the main game, but with new conditions. You can fight off waves of enemies, try to traverse an area as quickly as possible, or try to earn a higher score for a segment by focusing on stealth, or with randomly-earned modifier cards to increase or decrease the amount of EXP earned. Cards can help Lara out (armor or powerful weapons), make things more difficult (stronger enemies), or just make things weird and awesome (big head mode!). The flexibility of these cards allows you to create the kind of challenge mission you want, from total mayhem to tense stealth encounters.
Rise surpasses its predecessor in a lot of ways, but falls short in a few key areas. The story occasionally feels uneven compared to the last game’s focused, driven narrative, sometimes wandering and spending too much time with characters who don’t feel as important as they should. While playing (a pre-release review copy), I ran into a few game-breaking bugs where it would freeze in the middle of heavy combat, but this can hopefully be sorted out with a day-one patch. There’s lot to see and do in the game, but I’d say there were too many collectibles and not enough optional tombs for my taste.
It’s great to have this newer, meaner Lara back in action, and Rise of the Tomb Raider brings the original games’ exploration, platforming, and puzzle-solving together with the reboot’s on-point stealth and combat for one hell of a ride. Rise of the Tomb Raider may not immediately sell anybody on getting an Xbox One, but anybody who did pick up Microsoft’s big black box won’t be disappointed with this top-notch action-adventure.
+ Bigger than the last one, while somehow not feeling padded or stretched thin–lots of bang for your buck
+ Combat and stealth are as fine-tuned as ever, offering more options through on-the-fly crafting
+ Stronger emphasis on platforming and puzzle-solving brings old and new Tomb Raider together in one game
+ Challenge maps are more fun and replayable than the last game’s forgettable, tacked-on multiplayer
+/– Story can be uneven and uninteresting at times, but its high notes are really cool
– The build I played was occasionally glitchy and unreliable–hopefully that’s sorted out when the game actually launches