9.5. That’s the highest review score I’ve ever awarded to a game, and it signifies one that is truly magnificent in nearly every way. Rise of the Tomb Raider improves greatly on the 2013 reboot and brings an experience that I will contest is worthy of our Game of the Year award when the time comes. It may be the most polished, beautiful and well-rounded game I have ever played.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (Rise) picks up after the events of Yamatai that took place in 2013’s Tomb Raider. Lara has since been digging into the documents of her late father and finds that he was on the verge of making a life-changing discovery: he had nearly found the secret of immortality.
Unfortunately, evil mega-corp Trinity is just as close. When Lara sets off for the frozen landscape of Siberia, she finds that Trinity is already there searching for the same artifact she is. It will be a race to find the Divine Source first. She has a duty to herself and to her father to find it first and a duty to the world to keep immortality from falling into the wrong hands.
On the topic of the story, I have to say that it was not as strong as Tomb Raider’s. This is the only instance in which the sequel does not build upon the original and at that, only barely so. Although the always lovable Jonah has stuck around, Rise doesn’t have a cast of characters as strong as the first. I felt a bond with my crew on Yamatai, but that level of friendship is not present in Rise.
Nonetheless, there are still believable characters to be found. The villains running Trinity don’t always seem so evil, and the friendly characters are noble if nothing else. In all, the characters are good, but they aren’t as well-rounded as Tomb Raider’s.
The story is well written and the voice acting is film-worthy. There are a couple twists in the tale that caught my surprise in exactly the way I can only assume developer Crystal Dynamics intended. For example, there was one revelation where I realized what was happening at exactly the same moment as Lara. I never had any sneaking suspicion that it was going to happen, and it was very natural and well-timed that I didn’t see the event coming until it actually happened, just like the main character. That’s a storytelling success.
The story also ended on a riveting note that has me anxious for a sequel. Unlike Halo 5: Guardians that is essentially an entire game acting as a set-up for the sequel, Rise manages to be a fulfilling game with a solid story. At the same time, it sets up for a sequel without being cheap.
On a spoiler free note, one of the major questions I walk away with is this: what’s the deal with immortality? All of the Lara Croft games since 2013 (including Temple of Osiris and Lara Croft GO) deal with immortality in some way, and it makes me wonder why. Why are Lara and her late father so infatuated with it? I hope that the next entry dives into answering that question.
The gameplay in Rise is outstanding. One of the main complaints I had with Tomb Raider was the looseness of the controls. Either the sequel fixes these issues or I’ve just gotten better; I didn’t have to fidget with the controls at all, and they feel great. Gunplay is tight, and battles have a high-octane fight-for-my-life feel.
Lara’s suite of weaponry is much larger than in her last outing. Instead of just having a machine gun, for example, Lara ends up with a machine gun, an SMG and a long-range rifle to choose from and to upgrade by the end of the game. The pistol, shotgun and bow all have several variants as well.
Each variant has strengths and weaknesses and can be upgraded with new parts salvaged from the environment. These upgrades allow the player to play the way he or she wants. For example, I chose the SMG over the long-range rifle because I fight with a style that’s much more up-close and personal.
Lara’s abilities can also be upgraded with far more options than in 2013’s adventure. Dozens of upgrades from increased salvage capacity to new combat maneuvers can be unlocked with Skill Points earned throughout the game.
Rise also solves one of the community’s main issues with tombs present in Tomb Raider. No longer does Lara find modern weapon parts in ancient tombs. Instead, she finds codexes filled with knowledge and techniques from the ancient people of Kitezh. This development makes far more sense in the grand scheme of things.
Speaking of tombs, there are nine tombs to raid in Rise, and they all vary in difficulty and the techniques required to solve their puzzles. Some only took me a few minutes to blaze through, but others took upwards of 20 minutes and a lot of head scratching to figure out.
Graphically, Rise is incredible as well. I’ve never seen a game on the Xbox One that looks as gorgeous as this one. Textures look realistic, the colors are vibrant and well balanced, and the vistas are jaw dropping. I have to applaud whoever designed the environment in Rise, because they did a fantastic job. I would gladly take snapshots from this game and frame them on my walls. The views are stunning, and I can only imagine how much better it will look when it launches on PC.
The world is large and there’s a lot to explore, so it’s a small miracle that there are no game-breaking bugs in Rise. Nonetheless, I did encounter a couple small ones. Lara’s hands glitch through surfaces sometimes. On one occasion, I was fighting a warrior who suddenly assumed a T-pose and stopped moving until I killed him. Lara’s body glitched and warped while sliding down a slope once. A bear I killed (oh, killing a bear is awesome, by the way) was sucked away by an invisible black hole.
None of these harmed the game in any way, but they did break the immersiveness of the experience a bit.
Outside of the main campaign, Rise also features Expeditions for Lara to embark upon. These range from time trials in previously completed story segments or tombs to user-created challenges. Modifiers can be added in the form of cards. Some harm Lara (start with no ammo, take more damage from fire, etc.) and result in more points that can be used to buy new cards. Some add strength (instant reloading, upgraded weapons, etc.) but result in fewer points earned.
These modes are fun, and although they won’t result in most players sinking an incredible amount of time into, they do add some replayability and some fun “what if” scenarios into the standard formula.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is truly a must-have exclusive for the Xbox One and a must-have game in general. The game is better than 2013’s Tomb Raider, and is a nearly perfect masterpiece. Its only shortcomings arrive in the form of odd bugs and a story that is very good but not quite perfect. Other than these small points, Rise of the Tomb Raider soars to new heights and has effectively created a new front-runner in gaming franchises.
Make no mistake: Rise of the Tomb Raider is incredible, and anyone with an Xbox One should snatch up this game.