“Tomb Raider = boobs.”
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: January 28, 2016 [PC], November 10, 2015 [Xbox One/Xbox 360]
Platform: PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, PlayStation 4
The statement above was loosely tied to the narrative that a female protagonist had to be objectified in order to be appreciated. Although it has been noted in history and become common knowledge that Toby Gard, Lara Croft’s creator, made her bust robust by accident, it began to paint a picture of how female characters in games would be portrayed.
Many modern games/developers have come to the realization that gaming has become a powerful medium of storytelling. And with that, it has progressed to the point where we as a culture have been undoing much of the work previously done in developing games. With the reboot of the Tomb Raider series in 2013, it was apparent that the developers were looking to make a statement. Lara Croft had proven to be a badass in her own right and now we were going to see more of her origin story. It delivered a glimpse into what made Croft a hardened adventurer capable of withstanding anything thrown at her.
The events of Rise of the Tomb Raider follow up one year after the events of Tomb Raider (2013). We are once again placed in the role of Lara Croft as she searches for answers. The questions she has are more than just dealing with her family lineage. She has been trying to digest events that dipped their toes in a supernatural body of water. This time, we set our sights on Siberia and its frosty environment to kick things off.
In general, there is far more to do in this Tomb Raider. There is more emphasis on crafting, which ties into all aspects of the game. In the 2013 version, you mainly crafted while at your campsite, tying every weapon and item to the site instead of doing it on the fly. And for the most part, it was simply to upgrade items from parts looted in crates. Now, arrows, bombs and even bullets can be crafted out in the wild. Things like trees and bird nests can be looted for additional items that you can craft. Even larger creatures like mountain lions deliver items that can be used to craft important gear. The campsites are still places where you can upgrade weapons and learn new skills but it adds a greater sense of openness to the game. But the way in which these tools are introduced does more harm than good unfortunately. In fact, new things are introduced more than halfway through the game, leaving a sense of anxiety as you pan through the vast majority of items at your disposal.
Playing through the game does bring a sense of mastery but for me, it wasn’t really felt until the very latter parts of the main story. I guess, if you were to explore every optional tomb and do all side-quests, it might have come sooner. But if you are merely playing through the game to reach its end, it can create a sense of confusion throughout. I also found myself stumbling through the Brawler, Hunter and Survivor skill tree upgrades. Neither category seemed to be its own. I feel that this area of the game should have been more clearly outlined and defined. The language development could have become a better used tool if the game had more exploration added to it. Instead, it felt more like an afterthought, even though it was an impressive feature at first glance.
I would have to say that Rise of the Tomb Raider has some of the best combat from a third-person shooter game. You can deliver a stealth kill with the fog delivered from a smoke grande, craft a poisonous arrow and before you know it you’ve killed every merc in the room. This can be done in stealth or with brute force. Much like the last game, an optional crouch button does not exist. Instead, Lara is given a scramble move and ducks behind objects for cover automatically. This is actually something that delivers a sense of fluidity to the game and does not make it feel like every other cover shooter out there on the market. Well, except for one.
I recently started playing through Far Cry 4 in order to bring myself up to speed on the series. Having just played the game in recent days, it was surprising to see many noticeable similarities between the two games. Things like hacking away at a bush for its crafting contents, to things like wild animals being hunted for their pelts, things felt strikingly similar between the two games. Although RotTR is far simplified in its efforts to how it approaches the crafting, particularly considering its less open-world areas, it still does a decent job even if they are borrowed concepts.
With a variety of weapons and defensive items to use, items to craft and places to explore, the game at first comes off as though it’s trying to do a ton of things all at once. Sure, you can eat a full course meal but you wouldn’t want everything shoveled in one mound, on one dinner plate.
Recent news for the launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PC brought with it a few additional features. There were now options for more dynamic foliage and the ability for it to play in 4k. Other things, like the NVIDIA based HBAO+ system, allows for a more detailed feel to the game. The new feature adds a layer of depth to objects, better optimizing the system for performance and lighting details. I did find that this Tomb Raider title was far more demanding than its predecessor. I had recently made an upgrade from an NVIDIA GTS 450, which could handle the game on high settings, only succumbing to performance issues a few times. I currently am using an NVIDIA GTX 960 and had installed the GeForce Experience to pre-optimize the game. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, I did find that the game struggled to run on any sort of high settings. The prior title runs smooth on Ultimate settings with TresFX enabled.
While this is mostly on the fault of the user, I did feel like there could have been better optimizations done considering the game was first developed on the Xbox One. There were also times when noticeable texture pops and odd color flares made their way into a scene. At one point, I saw a large target looking object hanging from the underside of a rock formation. Thinking it was an Easter Egg of some sort, I drew my bow to shoot it. Then, a large bridge fabricated as I walked closer. It seemed that the item was a placeholder for in-game assets but things like this should have been worked out when coming to the PC. Even on medium/high settings, the game was nothing short of a visual marvel. From the sweeping landscapes of Syrian cities, dimly lit cavernous trails, to the Siberian tundra, I couldn’t stop taking screen shots of the game.
Rise of the Tomb raider has a genuine, gripping storyline. This is one area where the game continues to excel. Crystal Dynamics not only nailed the art direction in the game but they’ve also proven that they can weave an intricate storyline that contends with some of the big name movies Hollywood has managed to churn out. I would have like to see more quick-time events within some of these scenes, something that keeps the player involved in the storytelling process. There was a heavy emphasis in Tomb Raider (2013), which didn’t rely so heavily on the cinematic portions. The level of detail to things like clothes darkening when wet, to Lara pulling back her hair when getting out of the water, deliver an authentic feel throughout its campaign.
The Bottom Line
There’s no doubt that Rise of the Tomb Raider excels in a lot of different areas. The game drives home a compelling story, has introduced a ton of new crafting mechanics and has continued to recharge the Tomb Raider franchise. Although the game tends to do too many things at one time, it still succeeds in introducing yet another decent Lara Croft game.
I’m hoping there is future optimization that is done for the game, particularly considering the Tomb Raider (2013) was a marvel and can be played with my current video card on Ultimate settings. I did find some bug issues, such as not being able to put my axe away and draw my bow, texture pops, and an odd color flare every now and then. But for the most part, the game chugged right along.
Although the same sense of enchantment with the series isn’t as strong as when Tomb Raider (2013) kicked off, it still drives a compelling story and a ton of content to keep you busy. It is definitely a must play, particularly if you already journeyed into Croft’s origin story.