Many reviews of both Tomb Raider 2013 and Rise of the Tomb Raider derided the platforming with some riff on the phrase: “It’s easy, like jumping in Uncharted. And that makes it bad/boring/rote/whatever.”
While it does share Uncharted’s love of crumbling platforms and outstretched hands for visual player feedback…most of what the new Tomb Raider games do jumping-wise goes well beyond the majority of Naughty Dog’s half-tucked-shirt quadrilogy.
Tomb Raider has hugely vertical levels, and devotes the majority of the controller’s face buttons to platforming, building an engaging set of mechanics around the art of getting around.
It’s not just about pointing an analog stick and pressing a jump button. In fact, the platforming has much more in common with the seminal 3D Prince of Persia games…which were lauded critically for their jumping.
Both Tomb Raider 2013 and Rise of the Tomb Raider employ a comical amount of verticality in their levels.
They’re filled with mountains, towers, rivers that run into valleys, and lots of broken vehicles that are somehow precariously perched on columns.
In both games, the player is often given the freedom to explore these vertical spaces. You can use climbing axes to scale certain walls. You can use rope arrows to create ziplines between different points. In Rise, you gain access to arrows that allow you to create your own climbing paths up certain areas, and a grappling hook for your axe that can latch on to all sorts of things.
The games don’t overly shout about any of this.
They’ll just plop down an objective arrow at the top of an area, then say “okay use these tools to get there.” Sometimes they’ll remind you of a mechanic that you might have forgotten about.
That’s quite a different design from the linear jumping that pervades most of Uncharted’s earlier entires.
And then, just to re-emphasize the vertical girth of the game, they’ll often send you careening back down the very slopes you worked so hard to climb, in dramatic fashion.
This extreme verticality is one of the highlights of the world design in both modern Tomb Raider games, and yet often goes overlooked.
BUTTONS BUTTONS BUTTONS
Now, I’m not saying that Tomb Raider is devoid of linear jumping areas. It’s got plenty of those. But it mixes things up by requiring the player to press different buttons throughout the sequence to complete them successfully.
The 3D Prince of Persia games employed this same trick. It increases the sense of player agency and control, even during a highly scripted, linear sequence.
The climbing axes have their own dedicated button with a different behavior once you get the grapple. The arrow shooting mechanics are used in platforming for rope swings, zip line creation, and climbing arrow placement. Dodging has its own button too. And occasionally, Lara will lose her grip on a surface, requiring a quick button press.
It may not seem like much. But spreading the movement mechanics around the controller both makes them more engaging and gives the player more options. And it makes the linear sequences a bit more interesting than just hitting a single jump button over and over again.
Both games do a great job of balancing their platforming gameplay between linear, fast action sequences and more thoughtful moments where you can just wander the world at your leisure.
Those moments encourage you to use the mechanics they’ve taught you in the heat of the moment while platforms were crumbling and a helicopter was chasing you.
The traversal mechanics pervade every moment of the game, and add up to a genuinely enjoyable action platforming experience.
This article is basically done already. I don’t have any real final thoughts. Here’s a weird nugget for those of you that made it this far:
My secret favorite 3D action adventure is Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.
That’s right, the one that was awkwardly shoved into the middle of the Sands of Time trilogy, and timed to release alongside the movie even though it didn’t really tie into the movie. I’ve played it to completion numerous times over numerous years, and I think it’s completely brilliant. I might even call it essential.
But that is a tale for another time!