The bridge explodes underneath her and she plummets toward the icy water below. Falling rubble narrowly misses her as she hits the surface of the water; shocked by the fall, her body sinks lifeless into the dark as she watches the last glimmer of light disappear from above the water’s surface. True to Croft’s formidable courage, the scene quickly develops into a literal sink or swim scenario, leaving me desperately searching across my screen for a light to guide her out of the darkness. After what felt like a lifetime, I spot a small glimmer of light and push on toward it, navigating between countless obstructions which threaten to drag her to Davy Jones’ locker. The intensity of the music builds as does her struggle, but she reaches the surface just before the screen goes black. Climbing out of the freezing water she coughs and sucks in gasps of air. It’s then I realise that I too had been holding my breath. She’s only given a second to regain her composure before the distant sound of a helicopter is heard and she turns toward me. She’s exhausted, bruised and battered. For a short moment she looks like there’s nothing left in her; like, perhaps, it’s finally the end … but then she turns around, pulls herself up and puts one leg ahead of the other and once again we’re off, trudging into the brilliant unknown that is Tomb Raider.
What follows is a nail-biting sequence of free-running which tests your agility as a player by forcing Croft to navigate treacherous obstacles as the helicopter rains bullets and missiles down around you. This is just one of the incredible sequences you’ll come across in Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the successful reboot – Tomb Raider – which was released in 2013. This game is set twelve months after the events of the first and we find that despite surviving a life-changing experience, Lara has been discredited as part of a cover up. After uncovering an ancient mystery, she must explore the most treacherous and remote regions of Siberia to find the secret of immortality before a ruthless organisation known as Trinity find her.
Similar to its predecessor, the game casts you out into the wilderness; alone and unarmed. For better or worse this game feels and plays very similar to the original, the early portion of the game – when you have only axes and a bow – are arguably the most challenging, forcing you to be patient and think through a strategy to clear the area of enemies. The introduction of larger weapons and the task of crafting arrows throughout the second half of the game, speed up the gameplay considerably. However, the first 90 minutes of the game – although boasting incredible cinematics and nail biting exchanges with both human and beast alike – feel quite linear, forcing you to follow a narrow path. It’s only when you reach the ‘Soviet Installation’ hub that the game really starts to open up and offer different player options. It’s at this point you can start exploring for collectables; take on missions from the local remnants and search for challenge Tombs. The ‘Soviet Installation’ hub has enough side tasks included that it’s easy to invest hours into exploring it. In the interest of completing the game I initially spent very little time in that area, finding the skills and experience points I had already acquired to be enough to progress the story forward. With the main story taking roughly 9-10 hours – excluding any non-essential exploration or achievement hunting – the game offers a robust and enjoyable experience. The theatrical cut scenes have been beefed up, both graphically and in their sheer quantity and duration. I estimate at least 45 minutes of my play-through was spent watching well-crafted interactions between current events and flashbacks from Croft’s childhood.
What about the tombs?
Crystal Dynamics were transparent in the lead up to this game’s release, sharing that a focus on crafting challenging tombs would be implemented in this game. Similar to the original game however, there’s still no need to find or complete any of the Tombs or Crypts to advance the main story forward. Crypts are small, hidden dungeons that are packed with treasure, offering little challenge. You won’t find any enemies to fight or tough puzzles to solve. You can simply explore, get the treasure and move on. Tombs on the other hand, are much more involved. Each have complex puzzles, plenty of collectible items and you’ll learn more about the ruins and environment you’re in as you explore them. The developers have put a lot of thought and effort in – each one has its own history – which you’ll learn as you discover the relics and documents inside it.
After the credits role…
If you like a bit of variety and add-on content with your games you’ll be pleased to know that at launch there’s four additional game modes called Expeditions, which include Chapter Replay, Chapter Replay Elite, Score Attack andRemnant Resistance. The first two modes are essentially a replay of specific chapters from the campaign, while theElite mode has you playing with the gear from your latest profile data and the other has you starting with a pre-determined inventory and skills. Score Attack is all about finishing the level as quickly as possible and chaining scores together to build your combat meter. The last Expedition mode – Remnant Resistance – is an objective-based challenge mode that is played in the game’s large “hub” spaces, such as the Soviet Installation. You can choose to play existing Remnant Resistance missions made by your friends and the Tomb Raider community, or create your own. A Remnant Resistance mission is composed of 5 objectives, which can involve things like taking down a high value target, collecting intel documents, hunting animals, and more. Difficulty can vary from objective to objective. For example, a normal difficulty objective might be to rescue hostages, compared with a high difficulty objective like taking down a bear. Players familiar with Hitman: Absolutions’ Contracts Mode should feel right at home in Remnant Resistance.
The final verdict
Fans of the 2013 reboot will find themselves right at home with the gameplay mechanics and people new to the experience won’t feel too overwhelmed as the game starts with basic gameplay, before the difficulty curve intensifies after the first hour. Visually stunning, with a beautiful soundtrack complementing the action, it’s hard not to be drawn into the world with Croft. The pacing of the story is good also with periods of desperate escape being balanced by evenly spaced base camp locations. With larger areas to explore and more challenging tombs to raid Rise of the Tomb Raider does a great job delivering what long term fans of the franchise want, while giving them something new to come back for.