Here’s some advice for when you’re playing Rise of the Tomb Raider: Don’t try to stealth knife a bad guy in the back while you’re holding a molotov cocktail – it’ll only end in tears.
And flames. And blackened limbs. And screaming. And eventually, death. How do I know this? I did it. Twice.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is first game in the series made for the current generation – exclusive on Xbox One, for a bit – and guess what? It’s bloody good. Visually, it looks impressive (the snow in the game’s opening level glistens so beautifully and the world just looks alive and lived in) but importantly, it seems developer Crystal Dynamics have learned from the criticisms aimed at the Tomb Raider reboot and made a game that’s much better than its predecessor.
What’s better? Well, for starters, the challenge tombs are much, much better. I’m not saying the tombs in the reboot weren’t any good but there weren’t enough of them and, frankly, they weren’t challenging enough, and they tended to reward you with useless things.
That’s all changed in Rise of the Tomb Raider, where conquering them actually gives tangible rewards that are worth something in the game. The tombs are also a challenge, too, which is what gamers want: A challenge. There’s also plenty of leaping, ledge shimmying, and wall climbing.
Returning to Rise are the base camps, save points where Lara can upgrade weapons and equipment and fast travel to unlocked base camps, and the game world, which revolves around a central hub location, is bursting at the seams with collectibles: Scrap (to upgrade weapons and equipment), survival caches, documents, relics) and animals to hunt and resource. A new feature is that Lara can now craft anywhere if she has the right resources handy and heal mid-fight, which comes in handy if you need a band-aid or two.
The narrative, written by Rhianna Pratchett, is engaging, pitting Lara against the evil group Trinity who are both trying to discover the secret to immortality, but Lara this time around seems much more hard-edged, much more mature She’s not the victim anymore but a young woman who can look after herself.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a rollercoaster ride that paces itself nicely and there’s some supernatural goings-on and simply put, it’s a fantastic game that’s also full of surprises, like when I was searching an abandoned Russian base for hostages and I bumped into what was a dead body – only to discover it was a very much alive enemy soldier!
I tried to see if I could play the game as stealthily as possible, trying not to kill too many enemies, but it proved too difficult as many situations just seemed to lend themselves more to gunplay or aggressive situations. That said, I used the bow and arrow as much as I could, upgrading it as fast as I could. That was my go-to weapon, especially once Lara had learned to craft grenade arrows.
If there’s any sticking point for me, it’s the combat, with some of it stuck in gaming’s past with mechanics that should be retired. Maybe it’s just me but I’m tired of the heavy-armoured/shield carrying enemy that takes a lot to take down or situations where suddenly several enemies attack you in a room. A lot of enemies, especially the tougher ones, seem to be bullet sponges, too, taking several bullets to take down.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a fantastic game that shows what can be achieved when a developer focuses on what works and focuses less on what doesn’t. I know that Fallout 4 is also out this week (what was the publisher thinking?), and will no doubt swamp Rise of the Tomb Raider, but Lara Croft deserves attention in her latest outing. It’s genuinely one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had this year.