After it was confirmed that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be an Xbox exclusive, many were immediately puzzled by the news. Fast forward to 2015 and Lara Croft’s latest adventure is here, and it’s easily one of the best games arriving on both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 this year. With over-the-top action and a wide range of collectibles tying heavily into the meat of the game, however, it quickly becomes evident that there’s not much to the title once the story has been wrapped up and done away with.
Upon booting up the game though, players will be met with gameplay that combines cinematic quality with actual play. Those that experienced 2013’s reboot, Tomb Raider, will immediately feel at home in this environment, and it’s once again well executed in this title – affectively capturing the intensity of Lara’s current situation anytime it’s used. Outside of these action-centric areas are copious amounts of third-person segments that are filled with exploration, puzzles, and a bevy of tombs to raid. This is where Rise of the Tomb Raider really begins to shine.
Placed throughout the vast landscape that players will be running through are open areas that don’t force Lara onto the next portion of the campaign. These larger segments are crawling with various forms of wildlife and hidden secrets, and they can easily suck up hours of a user’s time with their vastness. Even then, there are plenty of obstacles that must be revisited after the titular heroine has secured more gear, which gives the added exploration and ability to revisit locations at a later time more of a Zelda-esque vibe – albeit a much more mature endeavour.
Since a lack of tombs was one of the biggest complaints about the previous iteration, it’s awesome to have a larger number of them scattered about the various locales that Croft can find herself in. Within each of these areas are a number of puzzles that players must solve in order to receive the treasure/hidden ability that awaits them at the end. These areas are easily some of the best featured within Rise, and they allow fans to trek through the dark and damp environments that the series itself has been named after. Suffice to say, the game thrives in these portions.
Another well-implemented system is the ability to upgrade existing gear that Lara has on her, as well as her skills. Whether upping the lethality of the now infamous bow and arrow or unlocking new abilities, the skill tree and upgrade system makes its triumphant return from the title’s aforementioned predecessor, and it works just as well is it did back then. Finding parts, crafting weapons, and unlocking new abilities gives fans a reason to spend time harvesting resources and exploring tombs, and the end result holds endless benefits for those willing to set aside the narrative to toughen up Croft.
It doesn’t hurt that exploring the world is made much more enticing thanks to the added polish brought forth by the extra power of the Xbox One. It’s one thing to enjoy the various vistas present throughout, but the attention to detail is immediately noticeable in the way snow shifts beneath Lara’s feet as she trudges through it or how the various colored glow sticks illuminate a darkened cavern. Crystal Dynamics and its Foundation Engine are impressive to say the least, and those enjoying the title on Microsoft’s latest platform will be treated to some decent visuals as a result.
That said, there is an occasional hiccup every once in a while. For starters, there are some odd physic-based glitches that’ll spring up from time to time. In one instance in particular, leaping from a ledge catapulted Lara the better part of 50 feet to the right, sending her hurdling into a massive body of water which promptly ended her adventure. Outside of that one glaring bug (and a handful of other abnormalities) it’s a smooth experience though.
Meanwhile, the narrative itself is engaging at times, but pretty basic in its execution. The evil faction Trinity is once again up to no good as it sets off to discover the secret to eternal life. Since this was the passion project of Lara’s father, however, the two quickly end up at each other’s throats, with betrayal and explosions rounding out the climax of the story. It works well based on the action-packed genre that Rise of the Tomb Raider falls into, and it’s worth seeing through once it has been started, but getting a better look into the motivation of Trinity would have been a plus.
Once the campaign has been put to rest, players also have the opportunity to play through the game’s ‘Expedition’ mode. Filled with all kinds of challenges to accomplish, it does add a little something extra for fans, but it’s not something that’ll keep players engaged for too long. Even the trading card-inspired system that has been implemented doesn’t really change too much, although earning powers like the ability to utilize chicken bombs makes for a fun distraction.
Fortunately, Crystal Dynamics has put together one of the most riveting action/adventure titles of this generation. Even then, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a game that people will play, love, and be done with, and that’s okay. It’s said to take dedicated completionists over 30 hours of playing to gather all of the hidden treasures, survival caches, golden coins, and weapon parts, which makes for a solid bang for consumers’ hard-earned bucks. Plus, who doesn’t want to fight a bear?
Rise of the Tomb Raider is available for Xbox One and Xbox 360 on November 10, 2015. A PlayStation 4 and PC release are still TBD.