Rise Of The Tomb Raider

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Release Date: Nov. 10, 2015 (US), Nov. 13, 2015 (EU)


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Xbox One Review - 'Rise of the Tomb Raider'

by Adam Pavlacka on Nov. 10, 2015 @ 12:10 a.m. PST

In Lara Croft's next chapter of her journey, she must use her survival skills and wits, learn to trust new friends, and ultimately accept her destiny as the Tomb Raider.

A follow-up to 2013's Tomb Raider reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider takes a much more direct approach to Lara Croft's story. Rather than try to portray her evolution from innocent to hardened adventurer, Rise of the Tomb Raider just throws her into the mix, and it's all the better for it.

Things kick off with an adventure level that is more training than action as you learn to traverse icy mountains. Compared to the rest of the game, this introduction is fairly short and heavy on QTE-style encounters, but don't let it put you off. Once the game opens up, the QTE bits are minimized, and the actual exploration is the star of the show.

The majority of Rise of the Tomb Raider is set in open-ended hub levels. You'll traverse these levels as the story progresses, sometimes backtracking as new items are discovered and new abilities open up. For the most part, you are free to travel back and forth to explore at your own leisure. The fast-travel ability is only disabled when it is appropriate for the story. Basically, if Lara isn't in imminent danger, you can fast-travel from one camp to another without issue. If she's under attack, it's not happening.

It's obvious that traversal abilities were front and center when it came to Rise of the Tomb Raider's design. Getting from point A to point B may require some thought (and some puzzle-solving), but you never feel like you're fighting the controller. Lara does what she's told when she's told to do it. This makes running along narrow ledges and making leaps of faith things that are second nature. You don't have to worry about dying needlessly because Lara's not going to do something unexpected.

Where the unexpected does occasionally come in, along with a few cheap deaths, are the timed "escape from danger" sequences. These sequences look great in motion but require you to know where to go and what to do if you expect to survive. There isn't a whole lot of time to look around. As a result, whenever one pops up, expect to die at least once. Then you'll reload and give it a go, often completing the run perfectly on the second attempt.

The only other real area of complaint is the close combat. Rise of the Tomb Raider nails the traversal controls, and the bow and arrow feels like it was crafted specifically for this game. However, the guns and the melee controls fall short of the mark. Gun combat is rough and unwieldy, especially since there is no easy-to-use cover system. Once enemies spot Lara, they always know where she is, so you can't duck into cover and sneak away or double back. Melee combat is passable when dealing with an enemy one-on-one but completely breaks down when dealing with a group, as Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn't make it easy to move from foe to foe. It will often force you into a kill animation, so you must watch Lara execute an enemy while another attacks her. Batman: Arkham Asylum nailed melee combat years ago, so it's a shame to see Rise of the Tomb Raider stumble here.

It's often possible to avoid direct combat, and for those times when it is not, the melee system is passable. It doesn't ruin the game; it just keeps it from hitting that extra level of awesome. When you master one of the traversal challenges, especially in one of the challenge tombs, that's exactly how Rise of the Tomb Raider makes you feel: awesome.

The challenge tombs aren't part of the main story. In fact, you can skip them entirely if you choose, but completing the challenge tombs rewards you with extra buffs that make Lara's journey easier. If you plan on completing Rise of the Tomb Raider on the hardest difficulty level, those extra bonuses are quite useful.

Outside of the main storyline and the challenge tombs, Rise of the Tomb Raider also offers a ton of collectibles for you to find. If you're just racing through to see the story, you can ignore most of them. Players who go for 100% completion are going to appreciate the challenge in getting them all.

Visually, Rise of the Tomb Raider does well, with the game seamlessly moving between live gameplay and cinematics. For the longer cinematics, it's obvious when you're in the film clip, but for some of the shorter ones, it's easy to mistake them for gameplay. Crystal Dynamics has done an excellent job of blending them together.

As a character, Lara feels right at home in her environment, both from an ability perspective and from a story perspective. She's not in over her head. The overall story involves globetrotting, ancient relics and a bit of religious mysticism, so it's par for the course. What's here is well developed, both for Lara and the supporting characters. At least one of the villains is a bit over the top with a messianic complex, but everyone else plays their motivations pretty straight.

If Rise of the Tomb Raider just provided an excellent single-player adventure, it would handily earn its praise, but the game goes a step further with its Expeditions mode, which allows you to replay individual levels, jump into a score attack mode and play custom missions. Optional cards, which can be earned through gameplay or purchased as DLC, can be used as modifiers in Expeditions mode.

Last, but not least, are the broadcast features. The team behind Rise of the Tomb Raider is well aware of the popularity of streaming games online for others to watch. As such, Rise of the Tomb Raider supports a streaming overlay as well as Twitch interaction. The streaming overlay provides status updates on your progress in a border frame. The Twitch interaction allows channel viewers to add modifiers to Expedition missions by voting on a preset selection of cards. Viewers who watch Rise of the Tomb Raider streams via the Xbox One Twitch client will be able to earn in-game credits when a player (with interaction enabled) completes preset tasks, like earning an achievement.

As an adventure game, Rise of the Tomb Raider is up there with the best of them. The story feels like something right out of Indiana Jones, and the game nails the atmosphere that you'd expect from a Tomb Raider game. It's easy to see why Microsoft paid for time limited exclusivity with this one; the game really is that good. Even with the problematic melee combat, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a system seller.

Score: 8.8/10

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