The 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise is one of the most successful of recent times and the quality of that earlier release got me very excited for the follow up titled Rise of the Tomb Raider. Sure, it was frustrating having to wait an additional year for a PS4 release but at least we got a version that contained all the Xbox paid DLC for our patience. The big question is, I guess, was the wait worth it?
The story follows Lara as she hunts for the Divine Source, a mythical item that can bestow immortality to anyone who wields it, using the research of her disgraced father. Of course, she is not alone in this quest and a nefarious group known as Trinity, lead by wooden stigmatic Konstantin, are also in hot pursuit of this desirable prize. Lara's journey takes her through Syria in search of clues and eventually to a hidden valley in Siberia where she must traverse her way through abandoned Soviet facilities and villages populated by an indigenous peoples called the Remnants. The story is your typical Indiana Jones fare and it works well until near the end of the game where I felt it faltered somewhat.
In typical Tomb Raider fashion you are required to guide Lara through a myriad of dangerous locales, scaling cliffs, leaping across impossible gorges, swimming through submerged ruins and mowing down hordes of poorly trained soldiers without a care in the world. Progressing through the game awards the player with new equipment that unlocks previously unreachable areas such as a grappling hook to swing across even larger chasms, a rebreather that allows for unlimited underwater swimming and sturdy arrows that allow climbing to once impossible heights. Hunting wildlife and scouring the surroundings also plays a big part if one wishes to forge additional ammunition and improvise explosives and traps on the fly.
The single player mode is quite short with only a handful of locations to explore, although some of these areas are quite large. I managed to finish the game with 100% completion in only a few days, with roughly 15-20 hours playtime. Thankfully there is a lot of other content to keep you busy afterwards. As well as story missions there are the usual offerings to keep you busy: collecting documents, uncovering hidden stores, undertaking optional missions and besting some rather strange challenges such as chucking pumpkins into barrels. As already mentioned, as the game was released a full year after the Xbox version it is essentially the ultimate edition and contains all paid DLC bundled at no additional cost. Beyond these additions the game also contains a score attack mode that I haven't dedicated a great deal of time to just yet.
Graphically the game is impressive and there are a number of luscious sights to admire including semi-ruinous temples, giant cascading waterfalls and creatures flitting in and out of the foliage just like in real life. One thing I did find jarring, however, was on close ups in cut scenes where the characters' hair can look odd, as if all the cast are wearing wigs. The game sounds great too, with fittingly ominous ditties when entering tombs for the first time and tense compositions reserved for use in the highly fraught of battles. Voice acting isn't the best, though. Obviously this game will draw many comparisons with Uncharted and although it stands up well against and even surpasses that series in many regards, this is one area where Nathan Drake and company come out clearly on top.
The gameplay resolves around discovering new areas and solving puzzles with the odd gun battle and stealth section thrown in for good measure. Here are a number of weapons available throughout the game (bow, handgun, rifle, shotgun) available in a number of altered forms but most of them offer little noticeable difference from their counterparts. One shotgun seemed almost exactly the same as the next and I paid little notice to which one I had equipped at any time. Until late in the game I relied almost entirely on melee (which can be used to interrupt enemy attacks and is massively overpowered) and the bow which can one hit kill pretty much everything once you upgrade to poison arrows quite early in the game.
After a number of tasks are completed you will gain access to skill points that can be used to upgrade Lara's attacks and perks. I played on Survivor difficulty and, although the game started out as a challenge, once I had upgraded a few areas using skill points the game became far easier. I actually found, near the end of the game, that it was almost impossible to die – having failed in an attempt to unlock a trophy I would intentionally position myself for enemies to kill me but often they would need thirty seconds or so to take me out. The easiness of the game is, for me, typified by the final encounter which was almost insultingly simple. In fact, rather than in battle, most of my deaths in the game came from falling off buildings because Lara didn't grab onto the ledge I'd aimed her at, something that happened with annoying frequency.
To make things even more simple, enemies show a distinct lack of intelligence at times, too. There was one point in the game where I was hidden in bushes and I was able to sit in the same spot and clear out an entire area one enemy at a time as they all walked the exact same path past me. They will also frequently blow themselves up as well by stupidly throwing explosives at walls whilst aiming for you.
Despite this simplicity, the combat is still enjoyable for the most part. It is undeniably satisfying to pull off a stealth headshot from long distance with the bow, drop unobserved on an enemy from above, poison ten enemies at once with noxious arrows, and chain stealth kills, headshots or melee kills for additional XP bonuses.
I feel it important to note that I experienced a number of crashes while playing, including one major incident where I had to unplug my system as my pad inputs were rendered useless– luckily the game autosaves regularly so I didn't lose anything as a result of these problems. Additionally, there have been a few updates since I purchased the game and with each one I experienced a crash at the title screen upon starting the game for the first time afterwards – I'm not sure if this is common for others as well. I'd highly recommend you make backup copies of your save just on the off chance that one of them becomes corrupt and you lose your progress.
So was the game worth the one year wait for its arrival on PS4? I'd say yes, definitely. Rise of the Tomb Raider, despite being quite easy even on Survivor difficulty, still offers a lot of fun during battles and the sense of wonder and discovery at unearthing another hidden crypt never gets old. Playstation users get the added bonuses of all the DLC Xbox users had to pay to access and the 20th Year Celebration edition (my God, does that make anyone else feel old? I can still vividly remember the release of the original Tomb Raider like it was yesterday!) contains a collector's booklet showcasing some development and fan art depicting our acrobatic heroine throughout her many guises. The game has enough content to keep you busy for a while and this sequel did enough to already have me eagerly considering what the third instalment of this reboot will offer.