Rise of the Tomb Raider made its PS4 debut in October of 2016, a little under a year since its initial debut on Xbox One and Xbox 360 in November of 2015. I enjoyed the 2013 reboot of the franchise a few years back, but not enough to justify the purchase of a new console, so I waited until the PlayStation 4 release of the game a year later. With all of the downloadable content included, what did I think of the game? Read on and find out.
In 2013’s Tomb Raider, I found the supporting cast lackluster, aside from Lara Croft’s mentor Roth. The two characters held engaging dialogue, and their relationship was believable. Thankfully, the supporting cast in Rise of the Tomb Raider is a bit better than in 2013’s Tomb Raider, but not by a whole lot. Jonah is a friend of Lara’s who appeared during the previous title, and he accompanies her during her latest excursion – to discover the lost city of Kitezh, and acquire an artifact known as the Divine Source. A man named Jacob is also met along the journey, who proved to be a more interesting and likeable character than I initially expected. Lara and Jacob’s story offers a satisfying conclusion, but I can’t say the same for Jonah and Lara’s. The storyline never explores exactly why they are friends beyond their shared desire to acquire the Divine Source; I never felt too worried when Jonah was in trouble, because the game didn’t exactly provide me with a reason why I should care. Lara is proven to be a fierce warrior more than capable of looking after herself, and I wish Jonah provided some vital ability or quirk that Lara required to complete her journey. Instead, I felt disappointed by their relationship, as it feels like it didn’t go anywhere.
The main villains, on the hand, are better fleshed-out than the relationship between Lara and Jonah. The actions they take during their race for the Divine Source are harsh and unforgiving, but I found their reasons for taking those actions to make sense toward their reasoning for them; in other words, I found them believable villains. I believe that in most dramatic works of fiction such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, a compelling villain is one that should be more than just a cackling, evil warlord; they should be someone who has a reason for their terrible acts, one that can be understood by the viewer as a person who does terrible things for an understandable cause. Take Magneto from the X-Men, for example. He is a ruthless, cunning super villain that wants the best for mutants, his own race, even if that means bringing an end to the non-mutant human race. His means of bringing peace for his people are flawed, yet understood. The X-Men films which explore Magneto’s past expose the audience to the reasons why Magneto has become the man he is, and they are shown why they should feel sympathy in his plight. Despite Magneto’s evil intentions, his end goal is understandable, given the hardships that he has endured. A villain that is human and possesses good intentions accomplished in an evil way is not fitting for every work of fiction, but for the ones where it does work, it provides an extremely compelling villain that is not easily forgotten. This method of explaining a villain’s intentions probably wouldn’t work too well in a Mario Brothers game, but the way it is handled in Rise of the Tomb Raider is adequate. That being said, the main story itself was fine. It didn’t have many surprises, no shocking twists or strong character development, but it was a fine backdrop to keep me moving forward.
Rise of the Tomb Raider controls near identically to the previous game; so for players that went through the first one, they should expect more of the same. There are a few new traversal options that spice things up, such as the broadhead arrows which allow Lara to scale walls by shooting arrows into specific spots she can climb upon. Aside from a few exceptions, expect to use similar climbing gear from 2013’s Tomb Raider to scale tall cliffs and ancient debris. I was not a big fan of the combat in 2013’s Tomb Raider, feeling that it was a bit too clumsy and frenetic for my liking, and that aspect remains mostly the same in this sequel. It remains serviceable, and shooting targets from a decent range feels fine; but once enemies get up close, hitting them becomes an awkward process, even when using firearms. The melee attack that Lara possesses is weak and unsatisfying, although it does open up possibilities for violent finishers that are appealing to watch. Some of the executions on human enemies seem rather brutal and uncharacteristic of Lara to perform, but I excused their brutality simply for the fact that Lara has been through Hell and back during her previous journey. Upgrading Lara’s gear during the journey is accomplished using the many collectibles scattered across each terrain, and it was satisfying to put these resources toward improving weaponry and learning new abilities. The frankly extensive list of costumes that Lara can don is also a neat feature, most of them offering perks to combat or exploration. I enjoyed the combat encounters the least during my playtime, moreso enjoying the game’s massive, explorable environments, but the gunplay was definitely serviceable and didn’t often frustrate me. Lara continues to rock the bow and arrow, and I hope that trend continues in future installments.
Many comparisons can be made between the last two Tomb Raider games and the Uncharted series. 2013’s Tomb Raider adopted some of the big set-piece moments that the Uncharted series became known for in the late 2000’s; this is ironic, considering the Tomb Raider series is one that has persisted since the PlayStation One era, and Uncharted was the one being accused of ripping off the Tomb Raider games. With that being said, I’ve always found the set-piece moments in the last two Tomb Raider titles to be rather bland, aside from a couple of exceptions. There’s a few in Rise of the Tomb Raider that stand out, but I can only remember a single bombastic moment from 2013’s Tomb Raider, whereas I’m easily able to recall most of the set-pieces that take place in the Uncharted series. I think future Tomb Raider titles should attempt to incorporate even more big set-piece moments, because if there’s one thing that I think Tomb Raider does better than Uncharted, it is giving the player control over more of the experience. There are a few too many times in the Uncharted games when character control is wrestled away from the player only for a cutscene to play out, but I haven’t found that Rise of the Tomb Raider suffered this problem, which is great to see. I don’t necessarily have a problem with cutscenes used in games, but it can be frustrating when there are long stretches of time spent not playing the game, instead watching a short film in place of it.
All of that being said, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a solid game. The set-piece moments aren’t as bombastic as I’d like them to be, the gameplay flows decently enough, and the story isn’t much interesting; yet despite these issues, I enjoyed my time in Lara Croft’s world. I found Lara’s backstory to be interesting, where they focus on the relationship she had with her father, and I hope to see more of her past explored in future Tomb Raider titles. The stinger after the end credits sure guarantees we’ll see another Tomb Raider, but really, was there any doubt?
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. If you’d like, let me know how my writing can improve, as I’m always looking to do better each day. Have a wonderful week.