Rise of the Tomb Raider
Phil Savage demands more than simple button pushing from his women, but unfortunately that’s all the LinuxFormat team has to offer.
Phil Savage demands more than simple button pushing from his women, but that’s all the LinuxFormat team has to offer.
The opening minutes of Rise
oftheTombRaider had us worried. It starts with Lara trudging slowly through the snow, the only requirement being to press W as the game plays itself for you. All of a sudden, we’re having flashbacks to 2013’s TombRaider reboot and its interminable, set-piece heavy introduction. At one point during a cutscene-laden climbing tutorial, we miss a prompt, fall and die. Redoing the section, we hit the prompt, climb a few feet higher, and watch another cutscene in which Lara falls but is fine. Here we go again? Actually, no.
The opener is frustrating, but exciting and over quickly. From then on, RiseoftheTombRaider sticks to a mostly consistent level of interactivity. There’s still plenty of set-piece spectacle, but these pace-breaking action segments trust you to read the visual clues of the environment and react using the appropriate controls. There’s a level of artifice to these sequences, but they operate within the framework of established interactions. This is emblematic of RotTR as a whole. It’s not that TombRaider’s missteps have been eradicated, but they’ve been dramatically reduced. There are fewer slow-mo QTE sequences, fewer awkward conversations, fewer by-the-numbers mini-boss fights.
Lara’s latest adventure opens in Siberia, and – aside from an early sojourn in Syria – that’s where it stays. Lara is on the hunt for the Divine Source, an artefact that her father had obsessed over before his death. There’s an important difference in the plots of RotTR and its predecessor. Here, Lara has initiated her quest. While things quickly spiral out of control, particularly after the appearance of militaristic cult Trinity, she’s no longer an unwilling participant in events. That’s crucial to how the game treats Lara. In Tomb
Raider, she was frequently battered, bruised and impaled – and that’s just if you were playing well. In RotTR, Lara can fall foul to a number of fatal traps, but in regular play she no longer feels like a victim of her environment. That’s not to say the story isn’t clumsy in places. There are times when the it all goes a little bit Avatar. Lara stumbles across a tribe called the Remnant, and – despite their having lived in this Siberian wilderness for generations – she quickly proves to be the best at hunting, climbing and gunning down an entire army.
Silent but deadly… if you choose to be
Other elements of the story work much better. This is still Lara’s origin, but while she hasn’t yet embraced her role as a globe-trotting murderess, she is at least more accepting of it. There’s a resolve that didn’t exist before, and that means there’s no clumsy disconnect between the story of a woman traumatised by her actions and the gleeful feeling of killing off a camp full of bad guys. It’s just as well, because the combat remains enjoyable. Riseof
theTombRaider– like its predecessor – deftly blends stealth and action. Most enemies begin unaware of Lara’s presence, giving you the scope to creep through bushes and behind cover. With patience it’s possible to systematically and silently clear out most enemy patrols. Often, it’s more fun to take out a couple of guys and then choose to initiate a firefight.
Lara has access to a small selection of weapon types (pistol, rifle and shotgun) with a variety of styles available in each category. Most feel good to fire, the panicked inaccuracy of the automatic rifle being the only real exception. Pistols feel lightweight and clinical, while the pump-action shotgun is a chunky and gratifyingly deadly option. Once again, though, the bow is star of the show. Having to draw back and charge shots provides a nice rhythm to the combat, especially in conjunction with some of the skill upgrades available as Lara levels up.
New for this outing is Lara’s ability to craft combat tools on-the-fly. Arrows and special ammo can be created
at any point, but you can also make use of things found around enemy camps. A bottle can be turned into a Molotov cocktail; an empty tin can an IED. Doing so costs resources, but you never find yourself so low on them you’re unable to set light to a clustered group of soldiers.
Explore the great outdoors
When you’re not fighting for your life – be it against soldiers or the crumbling ruins of an action set piece – you’re exploring one of a handful of large, open hub areas. These are sprawling, intricate environments and for the most part you can leisurely pick through them. The only distractions come from the occasional wolf, bear or big cat that’s taken a disliking to your continued existence.
Each area is packed with things to find, and the rewards for hunting out collectibles often makes their presence worthwhile. Ancient documents fill out the story of the region, and level up your proficiency in one of the three languages you’ll encounter. With a high-enough language level, Lara can decode monoliths that mark down the location of coin caches on the map. Collect enough coins and you can purchase special upgrades. Elsewhere, you’ll find optional challenge tombs that boast some of the game’s most intricate puzzle design.
If there’s a downside to the game’s exploration, it’s that collectibles feel like the end goal rather than a bonus along the way. The route Lara must take through an area is rarely in question, especially when you’re only ever a button press away from Survival Instinct. This is an optional view mode that highlights your next objective, any pertinent puzzle pieces, and any resources or collectibles for Lara to snaffle up.
Outside of the campaign, you’ll find Expeditions: a series of custom score attack modes that enable you to apply modifying cards to alter the challenge. Some card packs are earned for tasks completed in the campaign, and others can be purchased with points gained by playing Expeditions mode challenges. There are plenty of fun mutators that can be stacked to create unexpected combat encounters. It’s also possible to play custom challenges created by other players. The Feral release also comes with all additional DLC included.
In many ways, Rise of the Tomb Raider is peak sequel design: an incredible similar game with a set of expanded and new systems. But RotTR is also better because you’re able to spend more time engaging with those systems. It’s an incredibly competent action platformer.
Lara’s trusty bow still remains the weapon that brings the fun.
Lara zip-lines over certain death. Just another day for Ms Croft.
Ancient ruins, just waiting to be raided.
If your hardware’s up to it, RotTR is a feast for the eyes.
Lara’s always been able to take physical injuries in her stride.