Rise of the Tomb Raider Review!

by on February 22, 2016

 

                The
time limited “embargo” that disregarded the feelings of Lara Croft’s fans on PC has been lifted and on January 28 Rise of the Tomb Raider made its
way to the PC.
                The
2013 reboot was set on changing the series’ direction starting with its
protagonist. Once fearless, Lara Croft has been humanized leaving behind in the
process the over-sexualization and her old almost
supernatural characteristics to create a much more plausible heroine. The new
Lara was an insecure rookie overwhelmed by emotions, a girl that could be hurt
and make mistakes that could kill her in terrible ways. She was put in a
situation that demanded adaptation to a hostile environment in order to
survive, shaping her skills into a reborn heroine in a reborn series.
Overcoming the events of the first game was the first step in the
transformation of Lara Croft surfacing her courage and adventurous spirit that
won’t give up.
                Rise of
the Tomb Raider shows a Lara Croft haunted by the past and eager to find a way
to redeem her father’s name which was dragged through the mud in the last years
of his life. She goes off in a new adventure starting in Syria searching for an
ancient prophet tomb that should contain the Divine Source, an artifact which
has the power to grant immortality. Her arrival here isn’t the warmest despite
the weather as she is not the only one hunting this mythical artifact, an
organization named Trinity is just one step behind her. The meeting of the two
parties isn’t very pleasant leaving Lara no choice but to improvise an edgy
escape. But her short trip was not in vain. The tomb provided the revelations
Lara needed leading her to Syberia as she follows on the footsteps of the
Prophet and his followers as they fled from the desert to protect the Divine
Source. Somewhere in the vastness of snow, mountains and dense forests the City
of Kitezh has remained hidden for thousands of years protecting the Divine
Source from the curious eyes of civilization. Lara is dead set on finding this
city and the artifact to clear her late father name.
Driven by unfortunate events into a land that hasn’t seen
civilization since the soviet era, Lara Craft goes back to what she learned in
Yamatai jumping and fighting her way through every obstacle while uncovering a
hidden side of history.
They have helicopters but it’s OK because I have a bow!
                While
the presentation has stepped up a notch since the previous game the quality of
the story has regressed considerably. At its core Rise of the Tomb Raider’s
story follows the same pattern as the 2013 game with a stranded Lara Croft
mostly alone in a forgotten place controlled by a local faction that isn’t in
touch with the outside world. Following a similar pattern is not necessarily a
bad thing but repeating previous mistakes in a progressively quality degrading plot
is clearly not the way to reuse concepts. Lara is again subject to events too
big for one person to deal with, but she can do so nonetheless. She finds
herself constantly held back by exaggerated coincidences just to be saved by
some Deus ex machina moments that don’t do any good to the story. Her past
experiences seem to have been forgotten as she bizarrely reacts with wondering
gasps to heavily foreshadow supernatural forces.              Lacking interesting writing the main story tries to take
the player by surprise with some predictable twists that will require some
heavy overlooking not to see them coming. The redeeming point of the writing
stands in the alternative history created around the main story’s past and
present events. Combining known history with fiction the stories unraveled by artifacts
discovered through the journey from Syria to Syberia opens up new layers of
depth to a rather weak main plot. But having continuity on this alternative
history requires a completist level of effort from the player and not everyone
is willing to do so.
What are people not willing to do for power?
                With
the series’ main enemy revealed Rise of the Tomb Raider’s ending opens up many
pathways for future games while throwing some mystery into the mix intriguing
players about Lara’s past and future. What the ending and the entire game seem
to have missed is the rising that the title points at. Lara Croft’s resolve at
the end of this adventure is not much more different than the one in the
previous game, the only true change being the introduction of a true enemy and
its implication in her affairs.
                My
recent playthrough of Tomb Raider made me realize how faulty my memory of the
game was as it had me dealing with issues that I couldn’t remember but  despite that I did enjoy the story a second
time. Even if the story was a little too bombastic for my style it holds up
pretty well by providing the protagonist’s development and characters
relationships in parallel with its supernatural plot.
The bombastic nature of the action carries in the game at
hand with QTEs and right on time escapes from near death situations, but that’s
not enough to stop then narrative from feeling flaccid. The attempt to have a
less linear action with a better defined villain didn’t work out well as the
story doesn’t manage to deliver either.
Here he seems like such a good guy.
As always Lara slides her way out.
                While
the writing falls flat into predictable twists and unimpressive events, what’s placing
Rise of the Tomb Raider above its predecessor is the visibly improved gameplay.
                The
first big improvement that jumps straight into the eyes is the level design
which is masterfully done. Rise of the Tomb Raider uses the same system of
slightly open ended maps tied together with corridor areas which more often
than not serve as a place for scripted moments that take a leap in the
narrative. The intricate level design gives a labyrinthian quality to the open
ended maps making them marvelous platforms for exploration at any given time as
they gradually open up following the main story progression. Navigating them usually
requires using the environment and gadgets gained throughout the game leading
to a lot of jumping and climbing which is part of the Tomb Raider experience. But
why go to all this trouble in exploring the world?
                As in
the previous game exploring the world helps in understanding it. Artifacts
containing small fragments of a larger story are spread everywhere and finding
them is no easy task. Every nook and cranny has to be thoroughly searched if
one wants to uncover the better part of this game’s writing. But despite having
a beautiful world to show and lots of secrets to uncover the exploration might
not be so enjoyable. The barriers set by various progression systems can prove
to be a nuisance by severely slowing down the process and toying with
non-completists’ patience. Yet, those willing to invest into the exploration
and patient enough to take it step by step will have a blast.
Zoomed in for spoiler reasons.
Weeeeeeeeee!
                Part of
the process of understanding the world is the tombs’ exploration, tombs that
have retained the feeling of being attached to the world and not being part of
it favoring their introduction through DLCs. The new tombs are bigger and
better than what we experienced in the 2013 game, but that’s a low standard of
comparison and doesn’t really say much. In reality the tombs are still small and
much of the time exploring them being lost in slow walking sequences that lead
in and out of the tombs. But it’s not all bad. The unique level design of these
tombs sets them apart and their complexity has been increased managing at times
to squeeze a little grey matter juice through some interesting puzzles.
                In the
end, the treasure hunting is rewarded by uncovering an interesting alternative
history that provides context and meaning to some of the events in the main
plot. It’s up to you to decide how much of that story you want to know.
The water must be so cold.
I need a truck!
                The
world exploration has become more important than providing stories and being
essential in reaching 100% completion. With Rise of the Tomb Raider the
developers have decided to take advantage of the missed opportunity in the
previous game and follow on the trend of survival games.
                Lara
Croft is a resourceful and gravity defying woman, but Siberia’s trials are far
more dangerous than what she previously had to face putting her again in the
position of a survivor who has to start from scratch. She starts off by crafting
a shaky bow from twigs and builds her way up through a varied and powerful
arsenal which is composed of numerous bows, rifles, shotguns and pistols.
G36C pimped up to 11!
                The
crafting system has been improved mostly by being available through a much
cleaner UI, but also by having similar weapons share some upgrades lowering the
grinding necessary to get the gear in good shape.
Crafting consumables and upgrading the gear and weapons
requires a fairly high amount of resources. Wood, cloth, leather and other
materials are in high demand and exploration plays a big role in obtaining them.
What cannot be scavenged has to be hunted, but that is no problem as the new
setting has an unlimited and variety rich fauna.
If PETA finds out how many of these I killed…
                Ironically
enough, these survival mechanics which add a great deal of immersion pay a
price with the same currency. The need for resources forces an excessive use of
the Survival Instincts ability to highlight any lootable objects constantly
breaking the immersion in the process. Nevertheless, the progression has been
greatly improved by giving players a wide range of options. But all this
character improvement through crafting and weapon upgrades has one goal: to
prepare Lara for the combat challenges ahead.
The usual singleplayer wallhack…
                Trinity
is a much more organized enemy capable of sending a small army in the region to
achieve its goal.  Heavily armed
mercenaries are turning these forgotten lands upside down in the search for the
Divine Source. And as the mercenaries weren’t enough of a threat, the land
itself isn’t very welcoming. Wilds animals disturbed by the presence of
civilization are aggressively defending their territories. Bears, wolves and
even agile wild cats see the unwelcomed guests as prey and, despite her good
intentions, in their eyes Lara is as unwelcomed as anyone else.
                The combat
wasn’t very satisfying in the previous game and Rise of the Tomb Raider’s
improvements in the matter are something to be happy about. The first
improvement that adds new layers of depth to the combat is the stealth system
which is much more fleshed out combining new sneaking mechanics with level
design to allow Lara to sneak on enemies and silently take them down one by
one. The AI has been tweaked to deal with the sneaking and enemies react to
sounds and dead bodies alarming each others to group up and hunt down the
intruder.
But those who are not interested to make a silent entry can
easily fight their way through using the varied arsenal and combat consumables which
allow each player to tune their play style the way they want.
Camper!
                Skills made
a return (why not, they are in every game nowadays) and are still split into
three categories but their numbers and utility has been greatly increased
requiring a lot more time to max them out.
I’m guilty of being a completist…
                Unfortunately
the game didn’t get rid of the major problem that made the previous Tomb Raider
combat average. The aiming angle is stiff and isn’t in sync with the weapon’s
barrel creating weirdly rigid animations when Lara is aiming with most of the
weapons. The shooting lacks the feeling of balance and weight that a 3rd
person action should have and if you are expecting something at the quality
level of Max Payne 3 you will be disappointed.
In reality I would be shooting a wall up to the right…
Hey! You got a weak spot!
                Piling
up on the disappointment the game doesn’t offer a challenging enough experience
even on the highest difficulty levels players having way too many tools to deal
with any situation. With a little bit of upgrades while playing averagely it is
easy enough to overcome some of the hardest encounters in the game. The toughest
enemies I fought are the bears. But instead of allowing the players to take on
this powerful animals using everything they’ve got, the developers have provide
an arrow that knocks them out for a few seconds transforming a challenging
fight into banality.
                It’s no
surprise to me that a modern AAA game doesn’t manage to provide a proper
challenge. While I learned to live with this even if I’m annoyed by the problem
I’m aware of the fact that creating a challenging but fair AI in a modern
setting is difficult. What I can’t give this game a pass on is treating players
like imbeciles and Rise of the Tomb Raider does that a lot…
Every time the players have to deal with a puzzle Lara seems
so anxious to finish it that she can’t stop providing hints and repeating the
objective. As a completist I usually take my time with each level and explore
it at my own pace, but playing in my own fashion was hard to do with all that
nagging. I must have heard Lara repeating to herself the same sentences about a
simple puzzle in the main story at least fifty times to the point where I had
to turn off my sound. Moments like this remind me why the tombs are not bigger
and the puzzles aren’t more challenging. Apparently video games have to be so
accessible that even a toddler should be able to beat them.
Go to sleep!
                All in
all the gameplay is good and its visible problems didn’t stop me from enjoying
it but kept reminding me about the spacious room for improvement.
Finishing the game left me wanting more especially since it
took me about 23 hours to get it done with 100% completion. And despite the
fact that I could continue walking around hunting and killing the remnants of Trinity
I felt the game was begging for a New Game+.
There are a few arcade modes that allow replaying parts of
the game for score and achievements while competing on a ladder. The adjustable
difficulty through a cards system which provides strengths and weakness
altering the score modifiers was a great way to add some extra challenge I
didn’t feel attracted by this.
I’m not making it easy for myself.
                The
lack of challenge doesn’t take over everything. In fact, putting up with the
game’s poor optimization was the biggest challenge of this sort since Batman:
Arkham Knight (but without getting its heat). I felt powerless while trying to
configure my (potent) rig into obtaining a playable level of performance while
still maintaining a good visual experience. The performance rollercoaster from
freezes and stuttering to constant 60 fps drove me as mad as Lara incessantly
advising me on what to do and I could do little about the former.
In all fairness the graphics look gorgeous and the physics
are not too shabby either. The character models are detailed, the animations
are lovely to watch and Lara’s hair has never looked better. In general the
graphics are worthy of a game released in 2016. It’s a shame that this
experience is diminished by such horrendous performance problems, but this
probably won’t stop me from remembering this game’s visual quality for snow as
I remember Bioshock’s amazing water.
This is where the performance hell begins…
That snow!
                The
sound design is rarely something that AAA titles manage to screw up and Rise of
the Tomb Raider is no exception from this rule. Syberia it’s brought to life
not only through stunning visuals, but also through excellent sound design. The
combination of creaking vegetation caused by the wind, the howls of wild
animals and the crumbling snow under Lara’s feet transposed me into a sublime
immersion state (which lasted until the next performance hiccup or Survival
Instincts use). Echoes carried my gunshots in the distance reminding me how far
from civilization this adventure took me.
                The
voice acting is on par with the rest of the sound’s quality, but this was to be
expected considering the small number of important characters that have more
than two lines to say.
Really?!?!!?!
Playing toss the chicken!
Contemplating over what could have been better.
                My
feelings about Rise of the Tomb Raider are mixed. On one hand there is this
greatly detailed world that I enjoyed exploring to the last corner and it was so
visually appealing that I couldn’t stop taking screenshots of it. There is the
alternative history that is worth listening to in its entirety and the quality
gameplay which manages to combine survival, stealth, combat and platforming in
a deadly mix of diversity.
On the other hand is the highly unentertaining story filled
with forced coincidences and Deus ex machina moments. There are severe
performance problems which haven’t been fixed even after three patches (it’s time for DirectX 12?!). And to
top things off, there is a Season Pass that costs more than half of the game’s
price for just three DLCs and like this wasn’t enough a microtransactions
system for some useless cards. All these problems salt the wounds opened with
the announcement of a timed exclusivity for Xbox One.
                I like
the new series and the new humanized Lara Croft. But waiting almost three years
for Rise of the Tomb Raider for a slightly improved game is not ideal,
especially when we have to put up with a studio that doesn’t seem to value its
fans. But at the end of the day the quality of the game experience comes first
and Rise of the Tomb Raider reached only part of its great potential.
Pros:
+ High quality gameplay
+ Impeccable level design
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Good sound design, music and voice acting
+ Better contoured survival elements
+ A wide variety of skills, weapons and upgrades
+ Completists heaven
Cons:
– Horrible optimization problems
– Generic story with predictable moments
– Easy
– Way too many scripted events
– The shooting mechanics still need work
– Out of place microtransactions
– Begs for a New Game+
Nodrim

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