Leaping To Greater Heights

Original: https://www.gameinformer.com/games/rise_of_the_tomb_raider/b/xboxone/archive/2016/01/28/rise-of-the-tomb-raider-review-game-informer.aspx

Crystal Dynamics set a solid foundation when it rebooted the
revered Tomb Raider series back in 2013. With a bigger world, more varied
combat, and more high-octane action, the follow-up, Rise of the Tomb Raider, is
better in every way. This new path for Lara is intriguing, making her more
complex while capturing the struggle of surviving in the harsh world. Just as
Lara remains determined to keep moving forward, so does Crystal Dynamics with the franchise.

The most exciting parts of Tomb Raider occur as Lara makes
her way through harrowing situations, and the stakes have only been increased
since last entry. Expect plenty of close calls, death-defying leaps, and
exciting escape sequences – I often felt like I was just escaping by the skin
of my teeth. Rise of the Tomb Raider features a quasi-open world that's split
between hubs each in which Lara is surrounded by resources for crafting along
with hidden caves, hideouts, and tombs to explore. She must platform, solve
puzzles, and break through obstacles to navigate them. These areas have so much
to do that staying on the critical path is hard, and I was constantly lured
away from the main story by worthwhile discoveries. Siberia's brutal, snowy
landscapes are great venues to test your survival instincts, offering high
points to climb, dangerous wildlife to fend off, and collectibles stashed on
high ledges and concealed paths.

The excitement of exploring tombs is one of this entry's
major improvements over its predecessor; players can raid nine optional ones,
along with having a few required for the main story. These are much more
expansive than caves, usually featuring one big puzzle, where you use Lara's
tools, such as her rope arrow to eliminate obstacles, and platform using her
pickaxe to land big jumps. For example, one was flooded and had me using Lara's
rope arrow to get a boat around and find ways to drain the water. You can still click
a button to see points of interest, lighting up what you can interact with.
This comes in handy when you're trying to find new paths or are struggling with
a tough puzzle. However, just because you can see the parts involved doesn't
mean the puzzle is solved. They go deeper than that, requiring you to pay
attention to things like water levels, timing your jumps to reach moving
platforms, and finding a way to light something on fire that's blocked by
running water.

The action excels just as much as the exploration and
puzzle-solving; just when you think it can't get any more bombastic, it does. I
reveled in reacting on the fly, whether it was taking out a swarm of enemies or
racing to flee a collapsing tomb. Combat is much more strategic now, providing
multiple ways to tackle every situation. Sometimes you can plot and sneak up on
enemies for surprise attacks, and other times they come charging in at you,
forcing you to react in the moment. I loved using a stealthy approach; however,
throwing a molotov cocktail or firing an arrow to land a perfect headshot were
just as entertaining.

Lara has plenty of combat prowess, but objects in the
environment also provide opportunities for explosions. I liked using melee kills
to sneak up on enemies, but sometimes their animations put you into vulnerable
spots during battle. The gunplay is solid; using your bow-and-arrow and
crafting explosives are more esoteric ways to kill enemies though. Supplies get
scarcer later on, so you might have to resort to using your guns more in the
final battles. These later sequences
often feel like Lara versus the world, and feel repetitive as you're
eliminating wave after wave of enemies. This breaks the momentum of the
otherwise exceptional action.  

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You upgrade Lara's skills to cater to your playstyle, which
made me excited to spend every point I earned. For instance, you can increase
your chances at getting more resources when you scavenge, or gain damage
resistance for a short period after a stealth kill. The challenge also
constantly ramps up in battle, forcing you to use your wits and new strategies.
Don't always assume you'll have everything at your disposal. Sometimes using
special arrows, such as poison, are the best to get the job done; other times
you'd be crazy not to craft bombs to get rid of enemy waves. The complete
experience is well-balanced; you're alternating between climbing, fighting, and
exploring regularly.

When you're not in the adrenaline-inducing moments, you're
searching for supplies and secrets. The world is larger this time around and
littered with cool collectibles and hidden tombs. I loved stumbling upon a new
weapon upgrade and collecting resources to craft new gear. That's where Rise of
the Tomb Raider excels; you progress by finding a new item or getting a new
tool that suddenly changes how you traverse the world. Similar to the fun of
Metroid, returning to previously explored areas will open up new secrets with
new goodies to track down.

Every hub-based environment also has special challenges and
missions you can do for extra bonuses, such as cutting down flags or delivering
supplies. The areas also have cool backstories that you can uncover by
searching the land and talking to people along the way. I spent a lot of time
getting lost in these areas; you never know what you might find by climbing a
mountain or entering a cave – it can even be a pack of wolves lunging your way.
I didn't want to leave any stone unturned, since everything you find has value.
I was haunted by not exploring an additional path or seeing if a dead end revealed
a treasure. Finding documents and murals show points of the interest on the
map, but the lack of a minimap is unfortunate, since it forces you to pause to
check the map.

The expansive world and depth of exploration is the real draw
of Rise of the Tomb Raider, but the story also provides some interesting
revelations. In the previous entry, a young Lara Croft faced harsh realities,
confronting death and betrayal. Rise of the Tomb Raider picks up a year later,
showing a more experienced and cynical Lara. Despite this shift, one thing
remains true: her trust in her late father. This devotion runs through the
storyline as Lara studies his research, determined to prove the secret to
immortality is out there. The story is predictable, but has memorable moments.
The most interesting threads are learning more about Lara's relationship with
her father and this evil organization named Trinity. I won't
spoil anything, but the last scenes turn everything on its head, making me
excited to see where Crystal Dynamics takes the narrative next.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
captures the thrill of being an adventurer and leaves you thinking about Lara's
next move. You have daredevil sequences, heroic moments, fun exploration, and
exciting fights that even Indiana Jones would envy. If Crystal Dynamics keeps
raising the bar from here, I can't wait to see what's next for Lara. 

Microtransactions?

You can replay certain areas and tombs by choosing the expeditions option on the title screen. By using coins you earn in the game or using real money, you can purchase cosmetic perks that can add funny details and challenges. However, this whole mode is ancillary and the transactions aren’t intrusive, so they don’t impact the fantastic core experience.

Editor's Note: This review was originally posted on November 9.

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