Rise of the Tomb Raider Review – A Paradoxical Gaming Nightmare

Crystal Dynamics unleashed the second part of a wider trilogy with their timed Xbox One exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider which follows on from the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. The game will be appearing next year on PC and PS4, but for now Xbox gamers have the chance to experience the all new ass-kicking Lara Croft character in full effect. Regardless of what other games are out there at the moment, as an action adventure in its own right is Rise of the Tomb Raider worth picking up? Take a look at our Rise of the Tomb Raider review for the full picture.

Rise of the Tomb Raider Review:

Today we’re taking a look at the timed Xbox One exclusive Rise of the Tomb Raider which comes hot on the heels of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot and features a completely overhauled Lara Croft character. To begin, let’s get this out of the way first. If you have any preconceived ideas about the Lara Croft character prior to Rise of the Tomb Raider and the previous game then developer Crystal Dynamics wants you to forget about her. The sexy, inappropriately dressed, sassy and often times humorous Lara is buried away somewhere in a sealed off tomb, in favour of a supposed more realistic character in every way. In part, the design team succeeded in Tomb Raider 2013 as Lara was very much a rookie explorer finding her feet having to react to unforeseen and highly volatile scenarios being unwittingly thrust into a true character building exercise, of which she survives. There was a real empathy with Lara and her plight due to her vulnerability as a gaming character despite the fact she could still kick 10 shades of ass in a heartbeat. In Rise of the Tomb Raider the same tenacious character returns except this time there’s no room for any light hearted moments as a far more focused, and determined single minded character is presented.

The game is neatly packaged in a meandering story across a few locations such as Syria and the icy climes of Siberia where Lara is up against a clandestine Trinity organization whilst admirably looking to continue her now dead father’s work searching for a potentially world threatening artefact. The premise ties the package together well enough, but presents some generally run of the mill story telling throughout which although the enjoyment here is subjective comes across as the game’s weakest tenant. In aiming to present a more serious and mature themed experience, the story telling simply lacks any charm as is bathes far too readily in its own over-dramatized juices. There’s simply no redeeming qualities about the story or the players on the stage which make for quite a dull and lacklustre experience to sit through. In this instance, the quest for realism and a darker tone comes at the expense of empathy towards the characters unlike the reboot.

If you ignore the palatable and often predictable story, there’s an excellent and encompassing game here where players have much freedom to explore open hub areas and find alternate off the beaten track locations to dig a little deeper or make use of Lara’s navigational skills. There are darkened caves filled with wild beasts, optional “Tombs” to investigate which house clever lateral puzzles and a greater emphasis to locate documents, hidden artefacts and resources as they all tie in with Lara’s development and provide a bit more background information. It’s a revised yet similar approach to the last game with items of interest being highlighted on the map or seen with Lara’s focused vision. In many ways it is cleverly crafted in how everything effortlessly melds together providing a greater sense of purpose for everything you do. Whilst we don’t see as diverse locations as the previous games in the series, there’s enough variety in each zone to keep the game fresh even if the snowy theme takes precedence for the most part.

Rise presents a far more skilled Lara Croft character this time which is made apparent in how the game handles the combat. There’s a wide range of upgradable lethal weaponry to unlock and utilize at every turn such as various bows, a rifle, shotgun, pistols and such like. Players can pick favourites and take on the enemy through scripted moments with wanton destruction. Whilst the shooter mechanics could be a little tighter, they are rewarding especially as a single rifle shot can often kill which is great. That said, the AI could be a little smarter rather than the overuse of grenades to flush you out from cover or simply rushing rather than using flanking tactics. It all works well enough and feels satisfying which is good even though it’s really does feel at odds with the Lara Croft character who is merely trying to survive – except she’s so expert and vicious that it’s jarring to see her in more pensive moments outside of the combat. She comes across as very much a Jekyll and Hyde character which can leave you having no affinity towards as a result.

The hub areas can be devoid of human adversaries in favour of friendlies who provide extra missions, challenges or wild animals who can be hazardous to your health. Players are free to progress at their own pace which is most welcome. There are many moments throughout the story missions where combat comes thick and fast, brutal and forced though providing a neat balance between exploration and combat. Stealth gamers have some choices to sneak past or exercise their right to confuse and pick off enemies from behind one by one, but these moments aren’t uniform across the entire game which means killing is obviously the preferred and rewarded course of action by design as XP plays an important role in defining Lara Croft’s skills and attributes which fit into three distinct levels of Brawler, Hunter and Survivor.

In terms of visuals Rise of the Tomb Raider provides some fantastic set pieces with great physics effects and plenty of Hollywood explosions and such like making for a visceral well animated experience. Even when the game offers less dramatics there’s some great attention to detail with things like Lara’s teeth chattering when cold, snow flakes resting on her hair or just the warm glow of lighting in darkened caves. It’s a very pretty game which is locked at a steady 30 frames per second which feels rightfully cinematic and well polished viewing all round.

The audio is also top quality and provides some great performances from all concerned with speech bathed in ambient sounds and just the right amounts of music when required. The audio visual element overall is well presented making for possibly one of the best looking games on the Xbox One to date in some instances.

Gamers can sink a fair number of hours into the story with countless additional tasks to complete if desired. For those who just want to get stuck in can do so, and return afterwards to mop up anything else missed. There’s a ton of side content to mess around with in the main game but what comes as probably the best use of a single player replay value for long time is the expedition mode which allows for not only replaying the story sections again, but increasing the difficulty and adding modifying cards which include things like increasing the difficulty, or making it easier. The cards serve as an excellent way of building a collection of items which can be useful for the game rather than meaningless items. It’s well clever in how its designed and although real money can be used to purchase additional cards, those who invest the time and build up in-game currency can equally succeed in unlocking more of the game’s delights. The expedition mode offers the chance for players to compete against each other’s scores and most importantly allows for custom missions to be created where the card modifiers come into full effect. With unlockable outfits to use and silly things like big head characters there’s much to do once the story is bested which other single player games should take note of.

Rise of the Tomb Raider turns upside down the Lara Croft character into a lean mean fighting machine who lacks any sort of likeable qualities this time due to a story which takes itself far too seriously and opts to ignore any light-hearted moments to add some contrast to humanize the character – and when it attempts to do so it’s a paradoxical nightmare where the gameplay bashes its head against the character development in such a way it just doesn’t fit. As a result there’s a pure action focused heroine here who’s at odds with an attempt at realism every step of the way making for a dull single minded personality who you’ll either love or loathe. Character aside though, there’s an excellent, well made game here which is shrouded in neat touches which have to be commended. The graphics are stunning, the animations fluid and varied and audio well polished to make for a game which has obviously had a lot of love poured into it. The extra content in absence of a multiplayer mode is incredibly awesome as well which can’t be hailed enough as a true evolution for single player games. If you’re a fan of action gaming with a bit of puzzle solving and plenty of exploration woven into its core then Rise of the Tomb Raider is well worthy of your time, a must have even. The only element which stops the game from receiving the highest of accolades is its lacklustre story and poor characterization. If these things aren’t important to you though then Rise of the Tomb Raider is probably as good as action gaming gets.

Review code supplied by Microsoft Xbox.

Written by: Robert Cram

Robert Cram has hundreds of video game reviews and thousands of articles under his belt. He aims to remain objective and fair in his analysis. With years of experience, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement is entirely optional.