I totally loved 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot. I played it to completion on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC…and then I ventured forth two more times when it came to PS4 and Xbox One.
I’m not sure why the Definitive Edition’s visual changes never came to PC as an extra option…and here I am already getting sidetracked.
When Rise of the Tomb Raider first launched in 2015, as an Xbox Exclusive back when it seemed like Microsoft was actually still trying to care about gathering high-profile exclusive content, I lost it in the shuffle of life.
I did that thing I’ve become increasingly good at as I march through my 30’s: I bought it and only touched it for one night.
When it came to PC, I did that again…and now, finally, just after the slightly overdue sequel was officially announced, I picked up the PS4 version of ROTR with all its DLC-containing goodness thanks to a Best Buy gift card from my girlfriend, a sale, and a sudden and desperate need to finally get this game over and done with.
I want to talk about it.
The weirdest thing about the story in ROTR is that it more or less effectively ignores the story of the 2013 reboot.
The events of that game happened in Rise’s world…but they’re only briefly referenced, and there’s one brief cameo by Jonah who now looks entirely different.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is almost like a second reboot…and now the marketing for Shadow is talking about how it’s “The Final Chapter of Lara’s Origin Story.”
It feels like no one at Square/Crystal Dynamics/Eidos wants to write a story that’s beyond Lara’s “first adventures,” but maybe that’s just me.
Fortunately, these games stand on their own okay, and every important piece of info you need is in the game.
Rise takes Lara on a world-spanning adventure to some random side locations and mostly Siberia, in search of a magical relic that can theoretically make people immortal. In the process she has to shoot lots of things and also jump.
That action is still some of the best that video games have to offer.
When Tomb Raider 2013 launched, I was instantly taken by its dynamic cover system. “Finally,” I thought, “the true innovation that everyone’s been waiting for in a third-person shooter since Gears of War.”
Surely everyone will steal this.
Nobody really did…except maybe Mass Effect Andromeda?
In the modern Tomb Raider games, when combat begins, Lara automatically assumes a combat posture, and will take cover behind objects intelligently when you get next to them. There’s no button-pushing. There’s no weird sticky feeling. It’s all completely seamless and natural, handled through animation, and with no impact to gameplay feel or speed.
This leads to fight sequences that are fast, fun, frantic, and quite dynamic. The wide spread of weapons, stealth options, and cover opportunities all make each combat sequence fun every single time.
Rise ups the stakes with way more weapon options than its predecessor, and more close-combat options as well. The result is one of the most intense and exciting action games, disguised as a more accessible Uncharted-style adventure. I’m not knocking the combat in Uncharted, but the Tomb Raider games just do it so much better.
Every third-person action game should feel this fun.
If you’ve ever played 2016’s Doom, it’s sort of like that…it’s a dynamic free-wheeling affair that’s always exciting, and you’re constantly on edge and trying to figure out how to take out the enemies.
JUMPING IN TOMBS
Not only does Rise of the Tomb Raider nail action scenes, it nails platforming too. Sure, a lot of it is lightly-hand-holdy, nudging Lara in mid-air towards edges she can grab. But a lot of it isn’t at all. I’ve fallen off things far more times than in any comparable game, and it was all my fault.
This makes the platforming more enjoyable when you actually complete it.
Crystal Dynamics also added a sprint button to the game to allow players to traverse the larger world faster. This…sort of negates the larger size of the world, since you can get to places more quickly, but it probably would have been more annoying without that spring. So I don’t know. Video games.
Here’s where I admit I cheated and these are screens from my Xbox One X and not my PS4. I took some PS4 screens, but then I forgot to upload them to a USB drive before coming to this cafe.
Even so, this game is gorgeous no matter where you play it.
Even the 360 version looks pretty good, from the footage I’ve seen. I think Rise of the Tomb Raider easily stands up to any more modern video game. It has highly-detailed character models with realistic skin and animations. It has just enough dynamic and breakable objects in its world, with trees and bushes that sway in the wind and in reaction to other physics objects. And it seamlessly loads in as you run through it.
And the lighting. The lighting!
The lighting is very good. Light reacts realisitcally with every surface in the game, and is frequently used to cinematic effect. Sure, that gives the game a slightly heightened, illustrated/cinematic feel when it could have achieved a more brutal realism, but I think it looks cool.
I also still think that the 2013 game looks great, but that is a tale for another time!
WORRIED FOR THE FUTURE
This fall’s Shadow of the Tomb Raider is being developed by Eidos Montreal, and not Crystal Dynamics. Well, CD is listed as a “support” studio, whatever that means. Usually, that just means that they’re providing secondary technical help or art asset assistance of some king.
But otherwise, this fall’s Tomb Raider game has a new writer and a whole new design team. Will it be good? Who knows! All they’ve shown so far is a weird CG trailer and some nice-looking screenshots.
Whatever the case, I probably shouldn’t wait three years to play it.
Please clap for this if you’d like me to write more gaming articles. I’ve got a piece on ROTR’s survival DLC and one on State of Decay in the wings. Please find my other articles here, my twitter here, and my personal site here. Thank you!