NOW PLAY­ING: RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Phil Iwa­niuk

It’s the sort of ca­per late-’90s Brendan Fraser would have eaten his own arm for: young ad­ven­turer trots the globe in search of ar­ti­facts and an­swers to a fam­ily mys­tery, stop­ping in Syria and tak­ing root in Siberia. Bears are shot, men are choked out from be­hind, rab­bits are skinned and eaten. And along the way, Rise Of The Tomb Raider treats ev­ery sec­ond of its screen time like a Hol­ly­wood block­buster.

And in fact, that’s what put me off. As a mem­ber of that be­fud­dled older gen­er­a­tion who re­mem­bers Tomb

Raider as a bas­tion of finicky jumps be­tween im­prob­a­bly square Hi­malayan rock for­ma­tions and pis­tol shootouts with Tyran­nosaurs, I’d long fos­tered the idea that these new­fan­gled Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics ti­tles were a bit too… well, a bit too late ’90s Brendan Fraser for me. Al­ways blow­ing things up or lev­el­ling them to the ground, char­ac­ters wag­gling their eye­brows at the cam­era when­ever they could. No, Tomb Raider

III was where I pulled up the stumps, for fear of be­com­ing alien­ated with Lara’s con­tem­po­rary es­capades.

I think ul­ti­mately it was the sheer beauty of 2013’s Tomb Raider re­boot, and by ex­ten­sion this even love­lier look­ing game, that fi­nally eroded that re­solve, and I’m glad of that per­sonal weak­ness. Be­cause in truth it did take two games for Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics to achieve a sort of equi­lib­rium be­tween old-school, hon­est-to-good­ness raid­ing of tombs (com­plete with finicky jumps) and the new-school Michael Bay ac­tion game ma­te­rial. But achieve it they did. Space in­vader All the more im­pres­sive is that Rise

Of The Tomb Raider re­tains a sense of se­ries iden­tity while also weigh­ing into the in­dus­try-wide ar­gu­ment about what should be done with all this ex­tra game map space we’re now ap­par­ently re­quired to have. It isn’t an open-world game, not re­ally, but it does find a happy mid­dle ground by set­ting it­self in a se­ries of in­ter­con­nected hubs with gen­er­ous boundaries. In this way, Lara’s free to spend her time hunt­ing and for­ag­ing if she prefers a newer in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ac­tion-ad­ven­ture gam­ing. And if she’s feel­ing nos­tal­gic for past ad­ven­tures (re­ally fu­ture ad­ven­tures, given the labyrinthine se­ries time­line) she can fol­low a fairly lin­ear path and get on with the job. That re­ally takes some do­ing, from the game de­signer’s per­spec­tive. How of­ten have you heard pub­lish­ers bleat about ‘play it your way’ and sim­i­lar empty plat­i­tudes on con­fer­ence live streams? And, by con­trast, how many games have you played that al­low you to ac­tu­ally play them your way? Well, quite.

Let’s take a minute to be clear about which bits of Tomb Raider past are ac­tu­ally worth pre­serv­ing, be­cause frankly the Core games play like crawl­ing through bro­ken glass to­day in many ways. I don’t need a mod­ern Tomb Raider to recre­ate the old way­ward cam­era, which at times seemed to be ac­tively work­ing against you, veer­ing off to pur­sue its own se­cret ob­jec­tives while you wres­tled the tank con­trols down a cor­ri­dor flanked by spike pits. I’m not cam­paign­ing for a re­turn to those con­trols, ei­ther. What I hold dear is the sense of won­der.

The sense of be­ing in an enor­mous and dan­ger­ous puz­zle box, filled with pul­leys, pres­sure-pads and booby-

traps. Press­ing any given but­ton might re­veal that long-sought path to­wards com­ple­tion, or it might in­stantly im­pale you on the afore­men­tioned spike pit. It felt like an ad­ven­ture, in a way that’s sel­dom de­liv­ered to­day for fear on the de­vel­oper’s part that you might get a bit bored spend­ing three bam­boo­zled hours in the same un­der­ground room and sim­ply never play it again.

And that, I’m dis­cov­er­ing, is what Rise Of The Tomb

Raider puts back in. Tombs, and the raid­ing thereof. Be­ing left alone to fig­ure out the in­tri­ca­cies of a par­tic­u­lar en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zle, and thus be­ing able to en­joy the glory when you fi­nally solve it. Some­times these crop up as op­tional di­ver­sions in among the busi­ness of pro­gress­ing the main story, and some­times they’re placed at cen­tre stage for you to mull over. It’s unashamed vin­tage plat­form puz­zling, with new tricks thrown in that don’t feel like they’re tar­nish­ing the old tra­di­tions. Those rock wall sur­faces that can be leapt at with aban­don, and latched onto us­ing your climb­ing axe, ac­tu­ally feel the op­po­site – es­sen­tial mo­ments of edge-of-yourseat plat­form­ing that you’d feel the ab­sence of in older games.

“Treats ev­ery sec­ond of its screen time like a Hol­ly­wood block­buster – and that’s what put me off”

As a born-again stu­dent of Tomb Raider’s mod­ern re­design, I’m also by proxy a stu­dent of an­cient mythol­ogy, and Siberian ge­og­ra­phy. Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics have ob­vi­ously spent un­told hours with their heads in the books in or­der to dec­o­rate ROTTR’s bit­ter cold en­vi­rons with the­mat­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally ap­pro­pri­ate ar­ti­facts, and whether or not you have the pa­tience to sit and read the ac­com­pa­ny­ing text of ev­ery new find, there’s no doubt that this en­thu­si­asm for the set­ting and sur­round­ing mythol­ogy on the de­vel­oper’s part is in­fec­tious. Even if that en­thu­si­asm only ex­tends as far as stay­ing en­gaged with the main plot.

Keep­ing abreast

About that, ac­tu­ally: it’s not very good. Games rarely are when they have to retro­fit deep per­son­al­i­ties and rich back­sto­ries to char­ac­ters who were orig­i­nally in­tended only for mar­ket­ing and tit­il­la­tion. We’ve all heard the story about Lara’s boobs be­ing en­larged in er­ror, af­ter all, and left at that spine-trou­bling size for the ben­e­fit of teenage boys world­wide. Does that sug­gest a char­ac­ter who was in­tended to have a re­lat­able per­son­al­ity, and com­plex mo­ti­va­tions? (An­other bit of ‘old-school’ game de­sign that can get in the same bin as

Tomb Raider’s cam­era and con­trols.) Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics do their best to tell the story about a young wo­man deal­ing with the death of her fa­ther, and her des­tiny as a trea­sure hunter, but in re­al­ity while that’s prefer­able to a game about a mute anatom­i­cal cu­rios­ity it’s told too earnestly to re­ally get its hooks in. In the end, it’s the back­ground lore that proves much more en­gag­ing, and hap­pily that’s the stuff you see all around you in the game, sec­ond by sec­ond. What a tightrope be­tween old and new Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics walked here, and with ex­pert poise. Maybe you’ve been pro­tect­ing those ’90s mem­o­ries by giv­ing new Lara a wide berth too – it’s time.

Ab ove The game’s never short of a spell­bind­ing vista or two.

Ms Croft’s lat­est has a way with rock for­ma­tions and com­ple­men­tary light­ing con­di­tions. far left

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