Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise (and the developer’s second, after the last reboot by them in 2006) was very well received, and gamers were left eagerly awaiting a follow up though the announcement of the sequel was met with some criticism from the decision to make the title a timed Xbox exclusive. The PC version of the game has now released several months later, though sadly PlayStation gamers will have to continue waiting until the end of the year.
Taking place a year after the previous game, Lara finds herself up against the mysterious organisation Trinity after discovering the possible location of the lost city of Kitezh that may hold the secret to immortality and journeys to Siberia where the city is reportedly buried. Lara must race to find the city and the secrets within before Trinity use it to their own ends.
Lara initially starts off with just a bow and arrow and needs to hunt to survive stranded in the Siberian wilderness though this aspect does fall away somewhat as she gradually builds up a fairly wide selection of weapons. There are several options each for the bow, pistol, shotgun and machine gun though thankfully you don’t have to fully upgrade each one for 100% this time. Combat is quite satisfying and accurate, as expected and the weapons are balanced a little better so I didn’t find the bow becoming useless later on in the game and stuck to it pretty much the whole way through.
As with Tomb Raider, Rise takes place in a fairly large mostly open world area. As you progress through the game, you unlock quick travel points that allow you to travel around as you like to find collectibles you’ve missed and access areas you couldn’t get to before acquiring new skills and upgrades. I did feel that the game led you back to a couple of areas a little too often, with a couple of the areas acting almost like hubs, and despite Crystal Dynamics’ claims that the map is significantly larger it didn’t feel like it – some areas certainly are physically grander, but this was mostly in terms of large chasms or landscapes and it didn’t seem to me like there was any more to the world this time around.
Tombs again take an optional role, there are a number of them dotted across the game’s map that grant treasure and new skills but can all be skipped to finish the game should you wish to. I do quite miss the grand intricate tombs of the older games and do hope for some kind of return to this in future.
One significant omission is the lack of the competitive multiplayer mode. While not the most popular part of the reboot, it’s somewhat surprising to find it absent given the games industry’s current tendency to add multiplayer features wherever possible. Instead, Crystal Dynamics have opted for a friend leaderboard comparing scores for each section of the game.
This becomes more competitive in the Expeditions game mode, where you replay sections of the game with a selection of challenges and cards to increase your score, with the intention of trying to beat both the gold medal score and of course all of your friends.
The ingame trading cards are the Tomb Raider franchises’ first foray into microtransactions, as not only can they be purchased from credits earned by playing Expeditions but you can also buy them with actual money from the marketplace of your platform of choice. Each card will have a power up or effect on gameplay when selected, with cards that disadvantage you giving a score boost and ones that help you reducing it.
As with Tomb Raider you spend the vast majority of the game in the same part of the world, this time Siberia. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of snow but there are several areas that have different looks to break things up visually but I had hoped for a bit more of the globe-trotting adventuring that Tomb Raider has always been known for. The high quality of the game overall I feel just about gives it a pass this time, but if the inevitable sequel does the same again then it would be significant concern.
Some of the upgrades are a little annoying, too. Lara was perfectly capable of making fire arrows in the previous game, yet it’s a significant way into the story before she can do so again, after you’ve passed several areas that you know you need fire to get through. Did she just forget how to make them? I understand from a gameplay perspective the need to have the character gain skills through the course of the game and that you don’t want to overpower them too much at the start but it seems a bit of a stretch for her to go back to complete basics at the start of the game, especially when the overall character arc for Lara is that she’s growing into the super competent character that had been around in the older games that you’d expect her to start with a few more abilities on her second adventure.
It’s very possibly the prettiest game I’ve ever played. Partnering this time with Nvidia for the PC version (the previous game being optimised for AMD) and ported once more by the great Nixxes, the full range of PC customisation options are present including some ridiculously high settings that I’ve seen much more powerful hardware than mine struggle with. I didn’t want to sacrifice all of the shininess for performance and ended up with a happy compromise of around 45FPS with most settings on medium to high and gameplay felt very fluid throughout with the exception of some rare dips below 30FPS. There have already been a couple of patches to increase performance across the board and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to fire the game up a couple of months from now and be getting closer to 60FPS on the same settings.
The environments and character models pack significantly more detail than the previous game, and show off a wider range of visual styles too. Even on lower quality settings than I was running at the textures still look pretty sharp, and with all the bells and whistles turned on it looks pretty spectacular. Vegetation and fabrics blow around convincingly in the wind, and deep snowy areas have Lara sink into them displacing the snow as she moves. There were however a few watery areas where there didn’t seem to be any movement on the surface of the water as Lara passed through it which, given the high quality otherwise, was a bit of an immersion breaker.
Cutscenes use even higher quality versions of the character models, and these look incredible. The amount of detail and animation packed into them is staggering and verging on animated movie quality, and somehow manage to mostly avoid the uncanny valley situation of not quite looking real.
AMD’s TressFX technology impressed last time around but that now looks rather crude compared to the Nvidia Gameworks powered PureHair effects on display. With PureHair active, Lara’s hair moves (mostly) very convincingly and when coupled with areas where snow collects in her hair looks fantastic.
Control wise, it’s very similar to the first game though Lara does have a couple of new abilities that lead to a little reshuffling of the buttons. Lara can now heal herself while in combat, no longer requiring you to hide for a while for her health to come back automatically, and she can thankfully now also sprint to get about areas quicker as well as the return of the throwing hook and climbing rope last seen in Tomb Raider Underworld. This leads to the survival instincts being relocated to a click of the right analog stick and putting sprint on the left, with the left bumper now used for the first aid skill – outside of this though, everything else is unchanged.
There are a couple of new game modes being added post launch, the first is already available in the form of the Endurance mode that sounds very interesting with a huge emphasis on survival with nature against you and the upcoming ‘Cold Darkness Awakened’ promises to be a cooperative multiplayer horde mode which feels to be a much better fit for the franchise than the traditional multiplayer of the previous game.
Anyone playing Rise of the Tomb Raider without first playing Tomb Raider will likely find it absolutely amazing, and while I did enjoy it very much I did find myself starting to think that it was just too similar around half way and had a bit of a slog to get through for a little bit until the action picks up in the third act. It’s certainly not that it does anything badly, simply that it’s so very similar to the last game that it has little new about it to make it stand out – if you liked Tomb Raider then you’ll definitely like this as it’s more of basically exactly the same thing.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is available now for PC and the Xboxes, with release on the PlayStations due towards the end of the year.