Lara Croft’s determination to probe old ruins, climb up things and fall down horribly multiple times is pretty damn laudable, given that Rise of the Tomb Raider carries on its predecessor’s desire to put our heroine through the metaphorical ringer. Just like in 2013’s impressive series reboot, Lara’s having another horrible day, this time coming up against a murky private military company named Trinity in Siberia, who are searching for lost city of Kitezh, and a promise of immortality.
Because you don’t travel to a remote, near-inhospitable part of the world if you’re not doing it for the prospect of getting infinite lives.
Through a series of flashbacks, you learn that this same quest drove Lara’s father mad and ended in his apparent suicide, but, as she seems physically incapable of being undeterred by anything, she sets out on another perilous adventure, runs into the local indigenous people and helps them fight against the nasty, shadowy invaders.
A lot of what made Tomb Raider a great open world game is still here; great set pieces, impressive visual fidelity and an interesting environment filled with collectables that are begging to be hoovered up. To its detriment, the differences between that entry and Rise aren’t necessarily all that obvious, either; sure, you can try your hand at a more stealthy approach when you run into enemies, and the periodic introduction of new gadgets and abilities freshens things up as you progress but ultimately, this is a sequel with a familiar feel, albeit an impressive one.
A BIG, SNOWY PLAYGROUND
A lot of the elements that made Tomb Raider so enjoyable are still here; side quests, challenges, tombs that fall on the right side of testing and the standard hunt for all of the collectables that you can get your grubby little mitts on. So, if that formula grabbed you a few years back, it’s likely to grab you again here. The change of scenery is welcome, and the heavy Soviet Union-era undertones present offer enough distinction from Rise’s predecessor, but again, the plot isn’t necessarily the meat of the experience.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is great at letting you off the leash early, and prodding you to explore a nicely detailed and pretty-looking map at your own leisure. So, if you fancy waltzing into that cave, scaling that ice wall and seeing what might be at the top, helping out the locals or just casually decimating the population of the local wildlife, you can do so at a pace that suits you. This isn’t a revolutionary approach, of course, but Rise is particularly good at letting you exist in its world without demanding anything from you; it never bombards you with activities, it lets you discover what it has to offer in whatever order you wish, and keeps the plot on ice until you’re ready to tackle it.
That flexible approach is everywhere. For instance, even when you do decide to string a few story missions together, there’s often that much distance between quest markers that you’re essentially guaranteed to run into at least one interesting thing along the way that’ll take you off the beaten track. Discovery feels natural, and everything you do feels important enough to be worthy of your time.
Given how fetishised Lara was when the series first reared its head in the 90s, it’s comforting to see Crystal Dynamics stick to their modern vision of her. Where Rise’s predecessor acted as a fresh origin story, dumping her into a terrible situation with awful people and forced her to become a stunningly adept killer, Rise shows Lara at the top of her game; she knows how to survive, she knows what she needs to do to complete her objectives and is particularly good at not letting things stop her. This is another solo adventure, so that means a fair chunk of her dialogue is in first person, whether that’s offering frequent tips when you’re figuring out a particular puzzle or providing a bit more context to proceedings when you reach a camp fire.
This could have made this version of Lara appear too close to something that we’ve seen far too often in games; a lone wolf, someone who plays by their own rules (nobody else’s. Not even their own) and shuns the help of others as they’re so focused on their own pursuit. Said pursuits have so often been accompanied by grumpiness, gruffness and/or cocky quips, but Lara manages to be a rare combination of powerful, capable and crucially, human. She gladly accepts help on the very rare occasions that she needs it, she doesn’t delight in doling out death to her enemies and she sounds like an actual person when she talks to NPCs. As much as any video game protagonist can feel authentic or relatable when their day job involves ancient prophecies, mystical armies of soldiers and taking on a small army, this version of Lara still feels real, and plausible.
At its heart, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a slightly souped-up reskin of the series’ reboot, but after four years, being presented with another example of an open world action adventure title of this calibre is by no means a bad thing. Combat remains tight, exploration remains fun and every puzzle straddles the gap between being…well, puzzling but solvable, purely because the game is so good at teaching you new skills that you know when and where to apply them.