Monday, June 13, 2016

Games Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider

It took me a long time for me to find a game in the long-running and oft-rebooted Tomb Raider franchise before I found a game I really liked, with the recent do-over called, unsurprisingly Tomb Raider. The story Lara before she really gets into the Raiding of Tombs (and a game which features very few Tombs to Raid!), I really liked it back in 2013 and was really looking forward to it's inevitable follow up. And, after a period of being one of those horrible console exclusives on the XBOne,  Rise of the Tomb Raider finally made it to PC and has eaten up most of my free gaming time over the last month of so. Does it, as I hoped, build on the last game? Do we get Tombs to Raid? Well, yes, on both counts. 

We pick up with Lara climbing a mountain in Siberia, an in media res opening that continues the series new tradition of lifting from the Uncharted series. This, and flashback mission to the middle of the desert, serves as the games tutorial levels, establishing both the gameplay basics and the plot setup; a dubious conspiracy has trashed your fathers reputation and it's up to you to finish his work, and find the lost city of Kitezh buried under the Siberian Ice. After a bit more climbing you're left, alone and low of resources, in the wilderness to find yourself against nature and near infinte waves of faceless bad guys. 

In a lot of ways this is a more confident, evolved version of the template set out in Tomb Raider. Lara is young and still inexperienced, she starts vunerable (physically, rather than emotional this time) and grows in abilities and strength as the game goes though weapon unlocks, crafting, and level-based skills. You also pickup new tricks to open up new areas through gameplay, allowing a handy reuse of the game's major hub areas. These hub areas are a real high-point for me, feeding my completist/pack-rat instincts and littered with little icons of things to explore, dig up, and, well, Raid.  

There is a simple joy to the open-world areas of Rise of the Tomb Raider. They're designed with a lot of verticality, so climbing and jumping and swinging across ruins and trees is responsive and rewarding. The hidden Tombs offer both tangible gameplay abilities, but also some of the most interesting visuals in the game until you get into Kitezh itself towards the end of the story. They also break up the more linear sections of plot that fall into a more familiar shoot-stealth-climb mechanic. As you might expect, shooting and stealthing are fine in themselves - both mechanistically improved on the last game - but offer little you won't have seen before. 

But all that said, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a complete package. The rebooted Lara remains a likable and determined protagonist, shorn of any of the worrying pervy imagery of the old games and refashioned into something much more modern. The game looks amazing - breathtaking when it needs to be - but did suffer some nasty slowdown at times on a PC rig that should have handled it with ease. And finally, the story is pretty decent too; overly familiar in places but well delivered and integrated into the environments. I guess there is another Tomb Raider on the way in a year or so, and that this rate it will be well worth the wait.