Rise Of The Tomb Raider

PC, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Square Enix De­vel­oper Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics For­mat 360, PC, PS4, Xbox One (version tested) Release Out now (360, Xbox One), early 2016 (PC), late 2016 (PS4)

The tone, you’ll be re­lieved to hear, is spot on. For all there was to like about Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics’ 2013 Tomb Raider re­boot, at its core lay a fun­da­men­tal dis­con­nect be­tween the sup­posed – and re­peat­edly ex­pressed – vul­ner­a­bil­ity of its star and the stack of bod­ies she left be­hind her. At the start, you’d see her hud­dled up against the cold and the fear, apolo­get­i­cally skin­ning a deer; by game’s end, still ap­par­ently ter­ri­fied, she was spend­ing her skill points on flashy shot­gun fin­ish­ing moves. With the messy ori­gin story out of the way, Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics can de­vote the en­tirety of Rise Of The Tomb Raider to Lara Croft as the stu­dio sees her in 2015: Sam Fisher with a pony­tail; Mar­cus Fenix in tight trousers; Nathan Drake with a thigh gap.

The death count is sig­nif­i­cant, but when you have a com­bat sys­tem this good, it would be a shame to waste it. In bat­tle, this is largely in­dis­tin­guish­able from Croft’s pre­vi­ous out­ing: there was no need to mess with the meat of Tomb Raider’s com­bat, and so Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics hasn’t. In­stead there are a few sub­tle but in­tel­li­gent changes around the pe­riph­ery. Croft’s De­tec­tive Mode equiv­a­lent, Sur­vival In­stincts, now shrouds nearby en­e­mies in yel­low or red to sig­nal if a stealth kill will alert oth­ers. Bot­tles and cans dot­ted about the place can be turned into molo­tovs or grenades. Ar­rows and ban­dages can be crafted on the fly. This is se­quel­mak­ing best prac­tice, build­ing out the pos­si­bil­ity space with­out com­pro­mis­ing the al­ready-sat­is­fy­ing core.

The same ap­plies to the plat­form­ing, which takes Croft’s 2013 toolset, makes her un­lock it all over again for some rea­son, then throws in a few new toys. She can grap­ple-hook across large gaps or up to high ledges. Ar­rows can be em­bed­ded in walls, ei­ther fired from afar or driven in mid-jump, to form makeshift plat­forms. They are mar­ginal bolt-ons, adding new things to look out for in this slyly colour-coded land as well as pro­vid­ing new ways for Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics to chop its pseudo-open world up into dis­crete, gear-gated chunks.

In fairness, it’s quite the world. Rise Of The Tomb Raider looks out­ra­geous at times, es­pe­cially when there’s ice on­screen. Bright, crys­talline and gleam­ing in the Hi­malayan sun, it looks al­most too good to plunge an axe into, but there’s an avalanche com­ing and you do need to get a shake on. It is a world of con­sid­er­able va­ri­ety, too, with hill­top set­tle­ments, old Soviet in­stal­la­tions, crum­bling an­cient cities and no end of caves, mines and un­der­ground lakes in be­tween. Like its pre­de­ces­sor, it’s beau­ti­fully lit, and hangs to­gether well, the only signs of a strug­gling Xbox One be­ing a hand­ful of fram­er­ate drops as you ap­proach larger ar­eas.

This level of artistry and fidelity is eas­ier to achieve when you are send­ing the player down a fun­nel, of course. While many of Rise Of The Tomb Raider’s heart­thump­ing set-pieces are still ex­er­cises in hold­ing up on the stick, the ex­panded plat­form­ing moveset means there’s more to think about, and there are enough sharp turns and sud­den changes of pace to make you feel you’re do­ing more than play­ing along to a cutscene. Else­where, al­lies of­fer up sid­e­quests, while chal­lenges – dis­able alarm bells, take down Soviet flags – aren’t de­liv­ered and must be dis­cov­ered through ex­plo­ration.

The knock-on ef­fect of this gen­tle broad­en­ing of scope is a slower pace. That’s no bad thing in it­self, but does mean Rise Of The Tomb Raider takes a while to get into its stride, es­pe­cially since Croft must reac­quire the tra­ver­sal moveset she learned two years ago. Once she’s lim­bered up, and the story’s setup is out of the way, things im­prove sig­nif­i­cantly. Croft is on the hunt for an arte­fact, be­lieved to hold the se­cret to im­mor­tal life, the fruit­less search for which drove her fa­ther to his ap­par­ent sui­cide. Also rather keen on this im­mor­tal­ity-grant­ing MacGuf­fin is a shad­owy PMC called Trin­ity; in be­tween are the na­tives, whose trust Croft must earn be­fore the fun stuff can be­gin. Off we go, even­tu­ally, to the lost an­cient city of Kitezh, where yet an­other in­ter­ested party shows up to com­pli­cate things. It is, once again, pulpy, pre­dictable and thor­oughly en­joy­able, a Satur­day mati­nee se­rial with an X-rated body­count. Un­like its pre­de­ces­sor, it makes sense. Rather than turn a trem­bling gap-year stu­dent into a one-girl army, Croft ar­rives here of her own steely will to prove that the trea­sure whose ap­par­ent nonex­is­tence sent her fa­ther, dis­graced, to his grave is real – and if she has to cre­ate a few or­phans her­self along the way, then so be it. Those hop­ing for the re­turn of the less com­bat­ive, more ex­ploratory Croft of the mid-’90s will be dis­ap­pointed Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics has lost lit­tle of its blood­lust, in­stead find­ing bet­ter jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for it.

No less po­ten­tially de­flat­ing are the over-hyped tombs them­selves, which in re­al­ity are pretty much the sin­gle-room puz­zle cham­bers of the re­boot. They’re bet­ter hid­den and less bla­tantly sign­posted, how­ever, and the jour­neys to them are gear-gated, lengthy and of­ten com­plex, hint­ing at some­thing rather grander than what you ul­ti­mately find: a large cham­ber with a prize on a high ledge and a physics puz­zle in the way. The world it­self is, in fairness, more full of tomb-like ar­eas than be­fore, es­pe­cially as you close in on Kitezh.

Rise Of The Tomb Raider is a com­pe­tent, con­fi­dent, hand­some se­quel to a com­pe­tent, con­fi­dent, hand­some game. This is a gen­tle re­fine­ment, iron­ing out kinks, sewing on a few ac­cou­trements, and leav­ing ev­ery­thing else the way it was. It is a lit­tle safe, but then Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics is prob­a­bly en­ti­tled to tin­ker with a se­ries it only rein­vented two short years ago. Quite where Croft goes from here is an­other mat­ter – many will con­tinue to call for a re­turn to the quiet, pa­tient puz­zling on which she made her name – but on this ev­i­dence she’s in safe, if blood-cov­ered, hands.

It’s quite the world. Rise Of The Tomb Raider looks out­ra­geous at times, es­pe­cially when there’s ice on­screen

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