When it came out in 2013, Tomb Raider rebooted this third-person action series in such grand style that it was easily one of that year’s best games. So it should come as no surprise that its sequel, Rise Of The Tomb Raider (Xbox One, Xbox 360…for now), largely follows the same template, and is thus not only as invigorating and addictive, but is also easily one of this year’s best games.
When Rise Of The Tomb Raider begins, Lara Croft is trying to find an artifact her father had been searching for before his death. But, of course, there some man trying to spoil her fun…again. What follows is an epic adventure on par with the best Indiana Jones movies, with all the explosive action, cinematic moments, and small bits of pulpy sci-fi that implies.
As with its predecessors, much of Lara’s time in Rise Of The Tomb Raider is spent running, jumping, swimming, solving situational and physics-based puzzles, rope climbing, and running for her life. Though it’s when she goes rock climbing that game really shines, as you not only have to figure out where to go and how to get there, but you also have to think fast, since not everything is as sturdy as it looks.
Lara does have some helpful new ways to get around this time. Just as she could run up a wall and grab a ledge before, she can now also run up some trees and grab a branch. She even gets to swing on ropes this time around, something she hasn’t done in a while.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider also has a lot of hunting and gathering, as there’s not only supplies and ammo to be found, but collectibles as well. You can also, using things you find, craft special ammo, as well as improve your weapons and tools.
Then there’s the combat, which often gives you the option of taking guys out all quiet-like, or by going in all guns-a-blazin’. And while the latter doesn’t work as well as similar gunfights in Gears Of War, since Lara isn’t as adept with using cover as Marcus Fenix, she can be as stealthy as Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell, and even knows how to use bottles and other items to distract her enemies. But where the combat works best in this game is when, as you did when you played Wolfenstein: The New Order, you sneakily thin the herd until you feel like going weapons free, or you have to use stealth creatively like you’re Batman from the Arkham games.
As with the story, Lara’s skill set in Rise Of The Tomb Raider also picks up where Tomb Raider ended. Which is why you thankfully don’t have to relearn everything (well, save for some cursory “this is what this button does, let’s put that to the test” bits at the beginning). That said, she doesn’t start off with all of her equipment, nor are her weapons as upgraded as they were when we last saw her, so it is back to square one in that regard.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider also has the same engrossing cinematic presentation as its predecessor, one that makes it look like it was shot by people who’ve made good movies, and not the cheesy B-movies of so many games. It also has some great voice acting — most notably True Blood‘s Camilla Luddington, who reprises her role as Lara — as well as a musical score that’s dramatic but is also subtle and never gets redundant or in the way like so many game scores do.
While Rise Of The Tomb Raider plays very much like Tomb Raider, there are some small differences. You can now craft arrows and other items as you’re running around, not just when you’re at the campfire. You also do a bit of digging for gold in them thar hills. In fact, you spend a lot more time underground this time around, especially if you do all of the optional spelunking.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider also adds some optional quests, which might require you to clear out a wolf’s den, or grab a bunch of chickens. There’s even some new combat options, a greater depth to the skill tree and weapon customizing, and the return to swinging I mentioned earlier.
As great as Rise Of The Tomb Raider may be, and it’s damn great, it’s not without its problems. One of which, annoyingly, was carried over from the previous game.
For starters, Rise Of The Tomb Raider brings back Lara’s “Survival Instincts.” Like “Detective Vision” from the Batman: Arkham games, it shows you where to go and any supplies or collectibles you might want to grab along the way. But like “Detective Vision” and similar mechanics in such games as Halo 5: Guardians, it gets tedious having to hit the “Survival Instincts” button over and over just to find all the treasure that someone left lying around, especially since it doesn’t keep your next objective markers lit for long.
As for the new irritations, Rise Of The Tomb Raider has you running into a supply guy who supposed to be working for the enemy, but he doesn’t like them, so he’ll sell you some stuff…for a price. There’s also rather dubious system by which Lara learns new languages by just reading them. But while neither of these make the game less fun, they do feel rather awkward and out of place with the rest of the game.
Rise Of The Tomb Raider also has a slightly less engrossing tale to tell than its predecessor, though mostly because there’s an urgency and emotional uncertainty that comes when someone’s learning the ropes, as opposed to someone who knows how much weight those ropes can hold. That said, the story is still compelling, and does a good job of setting up the action nicely.
But the biggest issue with Rise Of The Tomb Raider is not about what it is, but what it isn’t. As with the previous one, this doesn’t have any of the clever, inventive, and often puzzling acrobatic moments that made the earlier games so unique. Granted, this does have a bit more of the rock climbing than the previous one, which helps, but you still don’t get to do anything as challenging as a running jump onto a horizontal pole off which you swing onto two others and then do a back flip onto an incline from which you slide down and then do a back flip onto another horizontal pole from which you flip onto a platform.
Some might also lament that Rise Of The Tomb Raider jettisons the multiplayer modes of Tomb Raider, even though they were rather pedestrian. Instead, we get “Expeditions,” in which you replay sections of the campaign you’ve already beaten. You can also opt to play earlier parts with your upgraded skills, play a score-based variation, or modify the experience further with cards you buy or get free for completing parts the story. Though as with similar modes in other games, playing this mode after you beat the campaign feels anticlimactic, even if you do it with such creative cards as the one that causes your enemies to burst into flame when they punch you.
The thing is, the problems with Rise Of The Tomb Raider aren’t all that problematic. Sure, having to hit the button over and over to use “Survival Instincts” gets irksome, but if the worst you can say about a game is that you have to hit a button a lot, you’re not really complaining about much.
In the end, Rise Of The Tomb Raider is an epic, exciting action game that is as engaging and effortlessly addictive as its predecessor. While it may not have the inventive acrobatics of earlier adventures, the creative rock climbing, tense stealth action, frantic firefights, and environmental puzzles make it yet another great adventure for this modern day Indiana Jones.