Raiders of the lost… divine source?
When Crystal Dynamics decided to reboot the Tomb Raider series, they were met with great success. Tomb Raider chronicled the origins of Lara Croft after she and her crew washed up on an abandoned island. The subsequent series of grueling events were steeped in realism, and Lara’s first kill was one of the most intense moments of recent gaming history. The gameplay in Tomb Raider shined, and even the multiplayer was functional and fun. Together, it was a complete, successful package – one that could rival Uncharted.
During the Rise of the Tomb Raider announcement, the sequel instantly entered murky waters. Microsoft and Crystal Dynamics/Square-Enix, much to the dismay of PlayStation owners, brokered a timed exclusive launch on the Xbox One. Did the rough announcement translate into a rough final copy?
In some aspects, yes. Rise of the Tomb Raider finds Lara Croft scavenging through Russia and Siberia to locate the divine source, a mythological artifact that shamed her father and resulted in his death. Lara’s sole mission has been to research and locate the whereabouts of the source, leading her to the snowy mountains of Siberia. Of course, an evil organization known as Trinity, an institution that believes it has been chosen by God, also seeks the divine source. In a race to locate and secure the artifact, Lara befriends a collective of natives who appear to guardians of the source. The plot then focuses on the defense of the villagers and exploration of the atlas, an object that holds the secret to the divine source.
The unfortunate thing about Rise of the Tomb Raider is that the plot itself isn’t terrible; the writing was. Thrown together in between bouts of Lara’s consciousness are a few, minor flashbacks that spell out how Lara ended up in Syria. Essentially, Lara discovers she is being watched, and, after an argument with a friend, is attacked at her estate. It’s all rather droll and obvious, as is the majority of the game. You see, I felt that the game wanted to present a clever plot, something that would make the players gasp towards the finale. What it gave gamers instead was a telling – I guessed all of the major plot points before any of them actually happened. The game itself felt nearly unbelievable – and that doesn’t include the fantastical elements that players have accepted in the lore of Lara Craft.
On the brighter side of the game, Crystal Dynamics successfully recreated the tight controls of combat and platforming that made the original game so enjoyable. Lara finds herself with three types of guns (pistols, shotguns, and rifles), a bow, and a pickaxe – each upgradeable, and the actually projectile weapons with numerous variations. Skill trees, weapon and gear upgrades, and camps reflect the interface from Tomb Raider, offering little in the way of new content. Still, with that said, the skills are certainly useful during combat (or treasure hunting and platforming). The executions from the final tiers of skills are as brutal as ever, though I found myself rarely using them. In fact, until the climax of the game, I rarely found myself in open combat. Most of the game can be beaten stealthily, which yielded more rewards than simply run-and-gun combat. This isn’t a bad element, of course, but after some of the intense shootouts of Tomb Raider, Rise of the Tomb Raider felt a bit empty in comparison.
But where tight gunplay and solid platforming succeeded, Crystal Dynamics faltered in its addition of actual tomb raiding. The tombs in the reboot were thoughtful puzzles that required the player to put a little effort in to solving. Here, Lara’s tombs required minimal effort in solving, and none took me much longer than a couple minutes. In fact, I had more trouble reaching the actual puzzle in some of the tombs than solving them. This is really unfortunate, too, because the tombs added the final touch of success on the already stunning reboot.
To continue with the downward trend and to top off the review, I’d like to mention that Crystal Dynamics removed the multiplayer element from the game. In its place is a sort of challenge options, where you can compete with your friends’ times. Usually, I don’t mind if multiplayer is omitted from games, but Rise of the Tomb Raider, outside of its enjoyable, if inconsistent, gameplay, offers little else outside of its paltry narrative. Luckily, Square-Enix revealed that a third Tomb Raider title was already in development, which gives Crystal Dynamics another shot at success.