Monday, February 15, 2016

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review - Killer Croft

Score: 9.25 / 10
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Ps4 - Xbox One - PC
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: November 10th, 2015

  • Visually stunning vistas and detail
  • Familiar and easy to grasp gameplay
  • Plenty of side content to explore
  • Slew of weaponry and upgrades to obtain
  • Tombs have more depth than before
  • Does not venture too far from established gameplay of the first
  • Stealth needs fine tuning to really work efficiently

From the opening moment, Lara Croft felt like a more seasoned adventurer, a stark contrast from the previous installment. I felt more capable of handling larger groups of enemies thanks to a plethora of tools at my disposal. I felt deadlier as I upgraded each tier of abilities, taking out three enemies at once with a single charged bow shot. I felt a sense of satisfaction at solving a tomb and finding the last hidden piece of  a collectible in an area. Despite sticking close to the formula of the first game, after playing Rise of the Tomb Raider, I felt like I was playing a Croft.

Bah, not a single Uber for miles...

Lara survived a traumatic experience on the island from the last game, and that is shown in this installment. We see a more headstrong, determined Croft, seeking answers and justification in clearing her father's name by searching for the key to immortality known as "The Divine Source". We see a more seasoned adventurer jumping headfirst to tackle impossible odds or escaping from dire situations with a more calm demeanor. We also see a character that has a lot to learn in her quest to find the Source, as she inadvertently leads the deadly group "Trinity" to her goal as well. Along the way you will meet a more distinct cast than the last installment, with a few surprise twists thrown in to mix things up. You could nitpick about aspects of the plot, but the overall story is a step up from the first game with more established companions and enemies with better purpose than just world domination.

Not only has Croft stepped it up as a character, but the developers have matured with her in crafting one amazing presentation. The step up in hardware has allowed Crystal Dynamics to create stunning locations with plenty of panoramic views that stop you in your tracks. Grandly presented vistas ranging from snowy mountainsides to lush green forests are enticing to explore,  finely detailed character models with stellar voice performances, and a heart racing soundtrack during intense firefights create an atmosphere of an adventure film. Camilla Ludington once again crafts a strong persona for Lara, and helps boost your vested interest in her outcome. Finer details like squeezing water out of her hair upon exiting water or shivering in the cold are the icing on the cake for one great looking game.

...I know it's grim but one of you has got to have ammo on you

Like the previous installment, it is all about exploration. You navigate from bonfire to bonfire along a linear path, with new areas opening up as you unlock near gear. Despite being linear, the world still has some open areas and plenty of off the beaten path segments to investigate. The game encourages you to investigate these areas, which can be a good and a bad thing. Side content is plentiful in terms of collectibles and tombs, but these are dangled in front of you with items shining or pop up tutorials reminding you there is a hidden tomb nearby. These are fun to collect and explore, but kill any sense of urgency within the campaign. I relate it to going to the store for milk but being distracted by the candy aisle on the way there.

Not only has Lara evolved as a person, but her experience is shown in her capabilities when engaged with her foes. Her approach can be as loud or as stealthy as you prefer, leaning your experience points toward one of three talent trees more heavily. The most significant aspect is the ability to craft items on the fly to use in both situations. Like a modern day Macgyver, Lara uses cans and bottles from the battlefield to craft molotov cocktails or plant bombs on bodies to lure enemies to investigate. The game provides a pretty open space considering the linear feel of the main story path, allowing you to pick off enemies one at a time or take them head on in a firefight. While both tend to work great, there are moments in stealth that tend to falter, such as leaving a radio bomb and despite being nowhere near the site, instantly being thrown into combat.

 So glad they cannot look up

The side content, despite being dangled in front of your nose, is enjoyable. Primarily, you will invest time in tackling the tombs. These smaller segments usually involve a physics puzzle of some sort to acquire loot as well as abilities that are unavailable by leveling. Tombs are much more fleshed out this time, instead of being small rooms with a simple solution and are much more established areas. I found myself pulling levers and shooting things until the final "ah ha" moment occurs. It is a satisfying experience, as many of the tombs have an interesting solution and are less straight forward.

No matter your action, you will gain a multitude of experience and materials to strengthen Lara. A leveling system allows you to invest points toward new abilities like softer footsteps while landing or more fortitude in taking bullets. You can strengthen Lara however you desire, leaning more towards your preferred approach in combat. You also gain a bunch of materials to craft items and upgrade equipment. These materials can be found or hunted from the active wildlife, improving bow damage or reload speed for a weapon. There are even coins scattered around that can be used to purchase unique items and weaponry.

Rise of the Tomb Raider sticks close to the first game's formula, but that did not lessen the thrill of the campaign. The story is more interesting, the gameplay more diverse, and the side content more alluring. There is even a score attack mode or expedition mode to vary up the gameplay. It is everything a sequel should be; bigger, better, prettier. It had me eager to see where the franchise was headed, because if Rise of the Tomb Raider is any indication, it will be a bright future indeed.

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