Being a timed exclusive doesn’t stop Rise of the Tomb Raider from delivering a compelling and complete adventure worthy of gaming’s most famous heroine.
Developers: Crystal Dynamics, Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: October 11, 2016 (PS4)
It’s still pretty hard to fathom that it’s been two decades since we met Lara Croft.
You know? Lara Croft. Surely you haven’t forgotten one of the biggest icons in, not just gaming, but pop culture in general. Aside from the games, think about all of the magazine covers, the pair of Angelina Jolie films, comics and all sort of mediums that she’s been in. Yet, through all of that, she’s remained a pinnacle of action-adventure platforming across four whole generations of consoles.
Rise of the Tomb Raider continues to light a new legacy for Croft in her second decade of existence. Combining elements of the past while further adding to what made 2013’s Tomb Raider an excellent experience, Rise finally comes to PS4 with a complete package worthy of gaming’s ultimate femme fatale.
Rise may not be a complete graphical novel with the shift to the PS4, but that’s not to say it’s a bad-looking game at all. Sprawling vistas of snowy mountains, geothermal paradises and even a short stint in the Syrian desert are great to look at from long range. The game does still struggle a bit up close, with some lacking textures hindering Rise from looking nearly perfect.
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Lara herself has always been a focal point of the series’ presentation. Regardless of what you think about some of her more questionable looks in the previous iteration of the series, Rise continues to see bigger strides in character animation. The use of extensive motion capture is evident, as Lara moves around much more like a human than a mindless android waiting for an input.
It should be noted that Camilla Luddington reprises her role as Lara in both voice and motion capture. The motion capture in this game for pretty much every major character is outstanding. Cinematics look like they were cut straight out of a film, and many times I wondered if I should go put some popcorn in the microwave, only to find there was a mission to do as soon as I left my chair.
Luddington gives an extremely compelling performance as Lara with both her kinetic and vocal performances, and is one of the brightest spots of the game’s story.
Set a year after the 2013 reboot, Rise takes Croft on a personal and perilous journey through the Siberian wilderness. The plot takes a few twists and turns throughout the six-to-eight hour main campaign and introduces some interesting supporting characters and somewhat relatable antagonists along the way.
The real star of the show here is Lara herself. She’s in search of the lost city of Kitezh and an artifact holding the key to immortality, a search that led her father, Lord Richard Croft, to his doom when she was younger.
That connection plays an important role, as Lara reflects on tapes left by her dad when arriving at base camps throughout the game. It establishes a deeper, more human character for Lara, which makes her motivations more relatable, even if they are a bit self-centered.
Controlling Lara also feels tight and responsive, for the most part. Movement is pretty spot on as she treks through the Siberian wilderness. Jumping onto climbable cliffs, sneaking through bushes and swimming in likely sub-zero waters is immersive and compelling, especially combined with the earlier-mentioned animations. Real-time events are also heavily cut down this time around, which adds more user control and is a welcome change.
Rise follows the general formula of its predecessor. The semi-linear approach has plenty of things to do along Lara’s journey. Whether you just want to power through to the end of the story, gather some supplies and upgrade certain skills or even visit some hidden tombs (which are awesome, by the way), there are plenty of options to keep one busy throughout a play session.
While shooting with Lara’s trusty bow and arrow is great from a distance, having to take cover and use firearms was a bit of a pain.
Base camps can be found throughout the adventure, acting as either save points or places to stock up on supplies and upgrade certain skills. The skill system is once again divided among three groups, Survivor, Hunter and Brawler; each with their own set of perks, around 50 or so in total.
These can range from accuracy enhancements for ranged weapons to health boosts, as well as XP bonuses and even the ability to snipe two or three nearby goons at once with your bow and arrow by locking on them. Skill trees like this add depth to Rise, as well as some very welcome strategy.
The environment also plays a big part in the game, and in more ways than one. Aside from just typically hunting animals for supplies Assassin’s Creed III-style, Lara will occasionally run into one of the big predators of the forest. Bears, pumas and wolves are among what can attack her as she’s going about her own business; even during a mission.
A good example during my playthrough happened while progressing through an old Soviet station trying to take out enemies. Much to my surprise, a pack of wolves also happened to live in the area, causing my strategy to completely change to avoid being eaten and/or shot. It was a refreshing change of pace that further added depth to what the game had to offer.
Unfortunately, a big dropoff of Rise is in the combat department. While shooting with Lara’s trusty bow and arrow is great from a distance, having to take cover and use firearms was a bit of a pain. Even when tinkering around with sensitivity settings, it was somehow difficult to take down enemies who were just standing still. It’s not even that combat is necessarily difficult in this game (which it isn’t), but this was an extremely prevalent problem.
The AI enemies in the game didn’t pose much of a challenge either. Even on higher difficulties, they were pretty easy to take down and also had some big awareness issues. By that I mean Lara could be right behind them and still go unnoticed. I also had moments where I shot an enemy in front of a pair of others and they were not even bothered by it. This sort of thing took away from the immersion that the game offered, and made the challenge of survival a little less daunting.
With Rise being a re-release of a nearly year-old game, the standard is that it comes with some extras to entice audiences. The PS4 package includes all previous Season Pass content from the game’s original release, along with some new things to help celebrate 20 years of Tomb Raider. For example, the game contains some new skins and a reimagined version of Lara’s iconic orange jacket from the Antarctica level of Tomb Raider III, which is a fantastic-looking addition.
The new content will also take Lara across Croft Manor in “Blood Ties.” The short single-player story adds some more context to the overall plot of this new series. It also marks the first time in any Tomb Raider game since 2008’s Tomb Raider: Underworld that the house can be explored. It’s a nice bit of bonus content for those who are more engaged with the story, but maybe not for those who prefer action to exploration. It also has support for PlayStation VR, which should further add to the immersion of this section.
Endurance Mode also has a new wrinkle with the addition of online co-op. While the chance to try that aspect was unavailable for this review, the mode itself is another nice change of pace compared to the main game. It has more of an emphasis on survival and exploration, which again could be good or bad depending on who you talk to.
This type of extra content is exactly what a re-release should have, and some of the winks and nods to Tomb Raider‘s past are nice for those who have stuck around with the series.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.