Monday, 14 December 2015

Lara rises to raid some tombs

Rise Of The Tomb Raider

Platform tested: Xbox One

Bigger and better, they're the words that often follow a sequel of a game. A cliché perhaps, and not always for the better considering how large games are these days, however for Rise Of The Tomb Raider it hits the nail on the head. I really enjoyed the last TR reboot in 2013, scoring it a whopping six stars, and amazingly enough this game surpasses it in every way! Read my TR2013 review here and 2014's Definitive Edition review here.

Lets make it clear form the start here though; if you're a fan of the classic old-style TR, and did not enjoy the previous reboot, well, then this will game will probably not do much for you. However before you dismiss it entirely, it goes more classic TR than the last game, and has far more rewarding exploring going on. It's less about being stranded and surviving, and far more about raiding tombs and being and adventurer. ROTTR has returned to it's original roots, the introduction of Lara's beginning was done in the previous game and this time it's about rising the Tomb Raider up to it's old self again.

To put a perspective on how this game, from the first minute, pulls the player straight in and holds a firm grip. Proving strongly that it's worth every penny you spent buying it, and to give a scale of how much grander and different ROTTR is to TR2013's dark and dungeon-like introduction. We need only look at the first hour being played:

First we climb a huge mountain, dangerously crossing a glacier and preventing yourself from falling down to your certain death in a dense snow storm. Swiftly the game switches over to a boiling desert-like Syrian landscape, via a cutscene depicting the incredible motion and face expressions the game offers in an ingame cutscene at Richard Crofts (Lara's dad) apartment. In Syria we are introduced to a whole palace ruin set in stone in a valley mountainside, traversing it's tight, dusty and scary tunnels beneath it, before discovering our first tomb. Beautifully lit by sunlight from the cracks in the roof, set in the middle of ruins of an ancient civilization.

Then, once again, it shifts back to icy Siberia. Returning to a snowy and open landscape, following the treacherous glacier climb, where you are left cold and isolated and have to make up a camp fire and hunt animals to survive the night.

The sheer variation in this hour alone is incredible and it's literally one of the best first hours of any game I've played ever. It sets the bar sky high and thankfully it keeps it risen throughout it's 45 hours of playtime. That's right, it's a huge game if you plan to collect and explore everything, making the last TR look almost small in comparison. The open areas are larger and there's just more of them, though luckily it strikes a perfect mix of open and restricted environments, stopping the game falling into just another sandbox game with a random game world built around it. Every spot on each map feels detailed and well thought through.

"'s literally one of the best first hours of any game I've played ever."

There's not just more land to traverse, there's loads more stuff to do. There's a deeper level system to everything, there are abilities to earn, stuff to buy, gun parts to find, tons of secret buried treasures, languages to decipher and a bunch of hidden tombs. Exhausted? How about animals to hunt and crates to find resources for: ammunition, bombs, pouches, outfits and arrows to build? At times I felt I was playing an open RPG game, not the latest adventures of Lara. 

Exploring the hidden tombs, instead of simply giving you XP like in the last game, actually gives new abilities Lara can master. It makes the exploring even more rewarding and being an actual tomb raider pays off. Speaking of these hidden tombs, I felt they were much better implemented this time around. Their locations often wander quite a distance off from the main map and a larger and more complex to solve. Avoiding them and you are really missing out on some of the finest Tomb Raider moments in the game, they really bring back the nostalgia of the older games. Without the time consuming frustration they often brought to the player back in the 90's. Call gamers today lazy, but retrying and failing challenges with hardly any save points isn't something I have nostalgic feeling about.

ROTTR's story also feels improved, accompanying the larger game it feels more bold and grand, yet it sadly contains some typical Hollywood clichés. I really liked some of the set pieces shown at Lara's mansion, filling in the back story further and giving variation to talking scenes. There's definitely more dialogue going on, and I felt it was like being in a large movie playing it. There's tons of extra stories to dig into to, old manuscripts, radio conversations and diaries, though these are optional if you want to find or listen to them.

The game just has this perfect balance going on  between exploration, fighting action and traversing  and surviving the actual environment. It shifts subtly between them, back and forth, never leaving the player tired of repetitive tasks, a perfectly balanced game if I ever saw one. For more veteran Tomb Raider players, like myself, there's just a lot more exploration to do this time around, but it's never anything you have to do and as such the game caters for all audiences.

Sure it might not always keep it's framerate solid, and yes it keeps itself close to the last games winning formula, but the whole package just comes together as this years best game for me. It takes used elements and goes an extra mile with them. It's just a quality game through and through and it keeps you engaged for hours on end. Not only is it this years best game for me, it's also be one of my favourite top three Tomb Raiders of all time. Yes, it's that good.



    + Plus points

    • Bigger, more beautiful and just more content everywhere compared to TR2013.
    • More exploration and tombs for TR veterans.
    • Side missions, more comprehensive level systems and interactions with NPC's are a welcome addition.

    - Minus points

    • Framedrops in some visually crowded areas, though nothing too bad.
    • Too aggressive hinting and tips from the game itself.
    • The main villains are a bit cliché, and one dimensional.

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