Wow, Rise Of The Tomb Raider Was Really Good

I had read our positive review of the 2015 Xbox One version of the game. I'd seen colleagues say it was one of the best things on that console. But I really had no idea how good Rise of the Tomb Raider was until I finally played it the PS4 version last month.

First of all, Rise of the Tomb Raider is gorgeous. Here's a shot of Lara Croft approaching the game's first tomb, which is an old ship frozen in ice.

The game is also just the right amount of weird. Here's Croft dressed up in an optional animal-skull-hat outfit:

Great look, huh?

The game plays really well, presenting players with a quasi-open world adventure set mostly in and below a remote, snowy section of Russia. It presents the expected mix of third-person combat and tomb-raiding, but with a heavy emphasis on exploration. The exploration stuff involves lots of climbing and jumping, some swimming in caves, some swinging from ropes, and lots and lots of keeping your eyes peeled for hidden stuff.

As you play, Croft learns a ton of new moves, all of which control very well. You can sneak and shoot, climb walls and craft grenades. Here's a great one: you can shoot arrows into walls and climb them!

Another winner: You can booby-trap the bodies of enemies you kill so that their buddies who walk by get hit with a cloud of poison

Rise of the Tomb Raider is as much about Lara Croft using her trigger finger and climbing muscles as it is about her using her brain, to the extent that there's even a system involving her becoming fluent in Russian and Greek. This is a game with a language system in which discovering and translating artifacts increases Croft's ability to find more hidden stuff on the map.

This is also a game with a dash of Metroid-like design that encourage you to poke around, memorise obstacles, gain new abilities and then go back and get through those obstacles. This, for some of us, is among gaming's highest pleasures. Sure, you can spend a lot of time in combat against Russian soldiers and members of a deluded artifact-hunting secret society, but you can spend more hours looking for secrets. I spent more than 24 on my play clock.

It's an educational game, at least for her.

The game is friendly and is designed to avoid wasting your time. Is that something you look for in a game? You should. After all, there's not just a huge map to explore, but 45 fast-travel locations (marked as tents here), making Rise of the Tomb Raider pretty much Player Convenience: The Game.

Hell, not only can you craft fire arrows and healing herbs without even opening up menus (just hold the right buttons down when the right stuff is equipped), but the game is so player-friendly that they let you earn an upgrade that lets you ride UP ziplines extra-fast!

Since the game was released for Xbox One a year ago, Rise's developers at Crystal Dynamics have been doling out downloadable content. It's all bundled into the PS4 version (and is available for PC and Xbox One, of course). The Baba Yaga expansion added last spring seamlessly weaves in as yet another quest chain that initially pops up in one of Rise of the Tomb Raider's main zones but then brings you to a new area made just for the expansion. It flows really well.

Warning: the new area can be pretty creepy.

There's also an interesting survival mode and, more recently, a combat-free expansion that adds a narrative-heavy Gone Home-style of adventure to the mix.

Then there's this weird Cold Darkness expansion that turns Tomb Raider into an odd, scored game of seemingly randomly-generated puzzles. This bit is not as highly recommended!

Showing a remarkable attention to detail, Rise of The Tomb Raider's developers made sure that the the enemy grunts you encounter after you finish the game's main story and go back to explore more of its open world have new lines of dialogue. In fact, they talk about how this one woman wrecked all of the enemies in the game — well, all of the enemies except for them.

Goon #1: "Hey did you get any more details about what happened underneath the cathedral? [SPOILER]""

Goon #2: "Yeah, Croft was there. That much I know for sure. But they keep talking about [SPOILER REDACTED]"

Goon #1: "Are you sure they're not just embarrassed about getting their asses handed to them by one woman?"

Rise of the Tomb Raider is the latest evidence that sometimes it's good to wait a year. Let the developers patch things. Let them add DLC. If you haven't played this game, now's a good time. It is excellent.


Comments

    Great to read this, however....

    This is something I've wanted to take Totilo to task over for the longest time, but it's been hard to articulate.

    I think the world of him, straight up. And I am eyeing off this game too, I need to play the first because it looks fan-fugging-tastic on my PC with the settings all way up.

    I remember Stephen's big 'this is what we're gonna do' post about fostering dicussion and keeping coverage on games after release, and I was so on board. But it was always going to be on the proviso he/the site actually followed through on that.

    I don't think he really has, at least in the way he spruiked it at first.

    I don't know how some big fans of the game who are also big Xbone fans would feel about this post, but you can't escape the catch-all "be happy that more people can experience the game".

    I'm not sure I have a point here, but it'd be great to see Kotaku remain true to what they promised - that is, when they cover a game they like, they advocate the hell out of it in a way that is most beneficial to the game itself.

    Picked it up a few days back for ps4 too, had almost overlooked it entirely with the timed exclusive garbage but thoroghly enjoying it. Still running into a large number of clunky control issues but as checkpoints are generous I am not minding too much

    The obvious comparison is Uncharted so it gets dismissed as a Lara Croft themed Uncharted knock-off. Well made but ultimately not a very significant game. However if you actually get to know the game you realise it's not Uncharted at all. Uncharted doesn't do story this way. It doesn't blend like all it's elements together the way Tomb Raider does. The action is different, woven into the story.

    Instead this is Lara Croft's Arkham Asylum. If Rocksteady made a Green Arrow game this is exactly how it would play. Rise wasn't as strong as the original, although it refines the engine in some great ways, but both are must play games if you're into design. It's criminal how under rated these games are.

      I think that's what I was kinda getting at. It could have been the 'darling' of the outlets if not for a variety of issues, and that would have followed on and we'd see it more popular in the 'mainstream' (but still enthusiast) area.

      Almost as if it was as championed a series as Uncharted was, that series' console exclusivity was not a barrier to the amount of enthusiasm it's always received.

      Never played Uncharted either, and TR looks hell of a lot more appealing.

    I bought the game last week during the sales and only loaded it up last night. I personally love these story heavy games. I loved the first one and remembered being really pissed when it was an xbox exclusive (they said exclusively to Xbox in the beginning before they mentioned it was timed) because i don't own an xbox and can neither afford multiple consoles even if my wife allowed it. Still i am happy i could finally get my hands on it.

    I wasn't too impressed with Rise of the Tomb Raider, which is unfortunate because I was honestly really looking forward to it. I loved the 2013 reboot, it was so much fun to play. Its sequel however was disappointing to me, maybe I over hyped it in my head.

    I really enjoyed the combat of the first game but this time around, it felt really repetitive, almost like a chore. I also didn't enjoy the story or the characters, I found both to be bland and boring. The environments, while some were quite imaginative, also felt very samey and repetitive.

    What I like about a lot of games (like Uncharted) is the variety of environments, travelling across the world. Since Rise of the Tomb Raider is set in the (mostly) one location, and I just found it boring.

    While I appreciate the "Metroidvania" style of exploration, I didn't like how the mechanics in regards to upgrading items. I preferred the previous game with its simpler approach. I thought the shop (and digging around for coins) was kinda pointless too.

    In the final chapter, I experienced a lot of bugs that required me to either reload from the last checkpoint, or restart my console. I looked online and didn't find many reports, so maybe I just got unlucky, despite having the latest patches.

    I was disappointed by the game. I was really looking forward to it since I enjoyed the previous one so much, but it just didn't turn out as well as I was hoping for. I'm glad to hear others see it in a positive light and I wish I was among those people.

    In my opinion, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is the superior game, if we're going to draw comparison.

      I agree. I think I would have enjoyed it more had it not been delayed on PS4 and I had played it before Uncharted. I found the story in this one really bland, and too similar to the last one. It had great graphics and good gameplay but really didn't grab me.

        Yup, I agree. Graphically it was great. It had a good soundtrack too, so the presentation was pretty top notch - with the exception of environments. Some environments looked awesome but to me, it felt repetitive and very "samey" over time, because the game is set in the one location.

        I think the game play was good for the most part but for some reason, it just felt repetitive, which is unfortunate.

        If I had played Rise of the Tomb Raider before Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, I think like you've suggested, I may of had a more enjoyable experience with Tomb Raider.

    Oh sweet, I was wondering where to talk about Rise of the Tomb Raider since I finished it last week.

    Personally, I thought the game was really weak. I really loved the previous Tomb Raider game and I feel like this game is a step back. I didn't mind that I had to wait a year to play it, as I went in with neutral feelings despite how much I loved the previous game.

    I really did enjoy the mechanics and control of the game. However, making the game too friendly really hurt it. They present the game as some sort of 'survival' challenge like the previous game. But they are way too generous with your resources. Breaking down a tree to gain 5 pieces of wood and then use that to make 2 arrows sound like it would be a game of resource struggling. But there's too many trees around or even arrow supply areas that I was constantly full. Even by the half way point I was using full trees to build single arrows I had fired to open something. Weapons you get down the road also had this problem. Was constantly full of resources and ammo that I was just spamming the enemies with them. I wasn't desperately trying to make every arrow count, I was spamming gas arrows across the entire area to wipe out the enemies.

    This problem was made worse by the upgrade system. Where you can upgrade the ability to get resources much easier. It had pointless upgrades like getting weapon finishes that you don't need, that were also available at all times in the previous games. There was even an upgrade to instantly kill 3 targets. It made an easy game much easier. Even bears just became a nuisance once you cover their body in exploding grenades.

    This also ties in to the 'Metroid' part where new weapons open up new areas. Except those areas just contain upgrades and resources you don't need.

    I like the added stealth elements that would have really added to the 'survival' aspect. Except it was much faster just to throw grenades.

    I initially thought the health system was really good. Take damage, can't heal, have to use herbs. But again, too many resources and healing was too fast. I thought I would need to desperately take out enemies and duck to recover, but you just needed to tap R1 to heal up. There was even an upgrade to reduce this healing time from 0.5 seconds to 0.1 seconds. It was so pointless!
    Also damage was really confusing. I take a full buckshot to the face, tap R1 and won't heal because, I'm already at full health. With so many resources the only time I risked running out was during the final boss fight, and that's because I wasn't taking cover and just letting them blow me up.

    This game also suffered from Ubisofts map problem. The map becomes so filled with pointless icons that my goal ends up becoming to clear each area to make my map nice and tidy. I don't care what I'm picking up, I just want that icon to stop glowing!

    One tiny thing that bugged me was the survival vision. I can't remember how it was in the previous game, but since it kept turning off I was constantly pulsing it to look for items. This became annoying because it had a cool down period where I had to wait to press it again. Every time I thought it would be ready I try it and get nothing. End up just mashing it.

    One thing that really annoyed me was how they simplified the CoD moments. You know, those moments where something exciting is happening and you gotta run towards or away from something? Felt like another step back because the majority of them was just running away from explosions. Remember that moment in Tomb Raider where you had to shoot away dangers while flying down a river? Or how about trying to avoid trees with a parachute? Or my favourite moment, when I was climbing a radio tower and the howling wind actually made me stop and go slow cause I thought I would honestly fall off. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have, but it did fool me into thinking I would.

    Instead everything either blows up, or Lara just makes a death defying leap. Once or twice is fine. But by the fifth explosion sequence I started to notice how convenient the world would collapse around Lara to allow her to keep moving. Yeah, they always work like that. But they're supposed to mix it up or stop right before the player notices, not repeat itself so many times. I laughed how she gets the ability to breath underwater, a guy dies and falls on her and she grabs it from his mouth.

    Speaking of Lara, she has no character in this game. In the previous game she starts off broken, alone and scared and by the end she's brave, courageous and resourceful. It's a character arc that paces itself well and feels natural. Lara in this game pretty much has one note from start to finish. "I must do this!", "I have to do this!". She doesn't learn anything or evolve as a character. I don't even know what her relationship to her father is. All she wants to do is finish his work to prove to the world that he wasn't stupid?

    I finally gave up on her where upon seeing her bestest friend (who I can only remember because he's black) get stabbed and at risk of dying, decides to just walk out the door with the intention of killing everybody. There's no fear in her voice, she's not worried about her friend. She walks on to the next shoot out segment because she knows the player can't die.

    Now I come to the story and how badly it's told. It has no beginning. The game feels like you've already skipped the intro and started at the middle. Imagine reading the first Harry Potter book, but you skip the first few chapters and start on the train ride. Yeah, it's early enough in the story. But there's no set up to the world or characters.

    My first problem was Lara having some huge hate boner for Trinity. There's no real introduction to them and we don't know anything about them. All we know is that Lara is determined to slaughter every last one of them. Yeah, there's a very short cutscene that reveals that some guy shouted out their name after killing her dad and escaping. But it still feels so hollow. Every cutscene they get just shows them as being evil and wanting to find the secret McGuffin to, control the world? and they're the bad guys for wanting to find it and cure cancer because... uh... people have to die?

    Early on in the game there's a scene where Lara gets captured and, somehow, they manage to kidnap a 'close friend of hers' (who must be several thousand miles away) and pretend to kill her to make her talk. But then, GASP! CHOKE! It's revealed that her close friend was working with Trinity all along! DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN!

    Problem. I HAVE NO IDEA WHO SHE WAS! She turned up in a cutscene earlier on but I didn't even learn her friggen name. Imaging reading Harry Potter again, except the reveal of Professor Quirrell was done right after the train ride. It doesn't work because we have no idea who he is. Then they try to make you feel sorry for her because she's dying and maybe nobody likes her. Then at the very end of the game, right after the credits, some guy snipes her in the head and leaves Lara alone to try and set up a foreboding sequel.

    Then there's the last thing that annoyed me about Trinity. They're apparently a highly skilled group of killers, with a highly skilled group of mercenaries backing them up. But they all lose to a 150 pound woman with no training or military experience. Even their helicopter pilots have trouble pinning her. Then I see some of them being used as a melee enemy. Give me a break.

    In the previous game, it makes sense why some guys would attack you in melee while some shot or used arrows on you. Because they were stranded on an island surrounded by a violent storm. Everything they had they either brought with them or made themselves. With resources so scarce it makes sense why some of them would attempt to attack you with knives. But you're also telling me, that when Trinity was handing out their assault rifles (all of which Lara can't pick up) that when they got to Bob and George they told them to go without. Not even a pistol? Give me a friggen break.

    Oh yeah, once last thing. Remember how in Tomb Raider they revealed a hidden bogey man within the shadows? Setting up tension and adding a huge mystery (that never really was explained). I'll admit, it did lose some of its tension late in the game when Lara was sneaking through 100 of them just standing around. But in this game they repeat the exact same thing! There's a group of hidden magic men in the background that are so brutally unstoppable that they easily wipe out squads of men. Except for one tiny woman who has no trouble surviving against them. In fact, they feel just like re-skinned mercenaries. They even have their own re-skinned grenade that they can throw at Lara if she jumps into the scenery.

    So in the end, I didn't hate the game, but I thought it played it too safe. Every time I think of Tomb Raider I feel like playing through it one more time. When I think of Rise of the Tomb Raider I can barely remember anything and don't feel like playing through it again.

    I enjoyed my time with it, however, i can't remember anything from the game. I can remember not caring about the truly mediocre, safe and predictable story, however and jumping a lot. I honestly can't say it left a mark on me at all. I found it wanting, i wanted a little excitment at least and i can't really work out what makes Lara an interesting character. They seem to try and give her depth but it's generally just a dead family member or something - nothing with an real dramatic potential.

    I just left wishing more chances had been taken, i remember that much.

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