It’s fair to say that PlayStation 4 owners were a bit miffed at the announcement in 2015 that the next Lara Croft adventure from Crystal Dynamics would be an exclusive Xbox One title. After fan outrage, Square Enix confirmed that it was a timed exclusivity, though PS4 gamers would have to wait for 12 months to get into the sturdy boots of the baddest archaeologist in the world again. That wait has come to an end and it’s not been easy for some, but Rise of the Tomb Raider is now here, and with it all the DLC and a few new features to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the series. If you’ve held out this long, should you think about giving it a bit more time?
Rise of the Tomb Raider sees Lara Croft on an expedition with her team into Siberia to track down the Divine Source, which is the Holy Grail in all but name. Lara’s father had been searching for the elusive artifact up to his death several years earlier, to the point where his reputation and the family name had virtually been destroyed. Joining a more seasoned Miss Croft after the events of the reboot that happened a year before, and after a revelation in the game’s prologue about the lost city of Kitezh (pronounced kit-esh) and a man simply called The Prophet. There’s clearly more than just the ramblings of her dear, departed dad to the myth of eternal life, so she heads out to prove its existence and restore the Croft legacy. This is all assuming the sinister Trinity doesn’t get in her way.
Taking significant cues from the last game, Rise of the Tomb Raider’s structure, mechanics and core gameplay will be instantly familiar to those who visited Yamatai with Lara, especially if it was more than once when the Definitive Edition released. Siberia is a semi-open world with substantially sized free roam areas linked by linear sections that really do give a fantastic impression of distance and the journey you take across the landscape. It isn’t a new concept, it’s just refined and honed to provide a tight, story driven adventure that feels like it’s got scale and size across the tundra. Movement between zones, and for accessing new places in the current area, is usually based on discovering new equipment or learning a new technique. An encounter with a bear acts as a subtle guardian battle for getting out of the first area, one you can only win if you’ve got the right bow upgrade, so forces exploration and thorough investigation. There will always be things Lara comes across that she can’t deal with until later on, giving reason to revisit for those who want to 100% complete everything, or grab enough bonus pieces to make things easier at the end.
Campfires serve as reload points, level up areas and fast travel hubs, just like in Tomb Raider, and with 40 overall you’re never too far from one. It’s a simple idea that works well to break up the journey, and stumbling across one means you’re not going to get attacked whilst in its warm glow. Danger is ever present in the form of Trinity soldiers who, like all good videogame PMCs, aren’t the brightest sparks if you remain stealthy, but do unerringly find a way to get bullets into your torso. The combat approach is a typical third person cover shooter, with Lara automatically crouching whenever in range of enemy AI. Lowering her profile and sidling into the undergrowth, or leaping up the nearest tree, opens up opportunities for stealth attacks that Batman would be proud of, and makes a lot of the weapon focussed sections more forgiving. Because you’ve got one young woman against an army of bad dudes, being stealthy and utilising guerilla tactics makes a lot of sense, and Crystal Dynamics have littered the areas with plenty of opportunities to be creative. Picking them off one at a time is most effective: using radio lures, booby trapping bodies and creating your own explosives all pay off nicely. That isn’t to say the gunplay isn’t solid – the gunplay is satisfying if things go pear shaped – there’s just a tendency to want to play this as one, vulnerable person making her way through hostile territory. People have highlighted the dichotomy inherent in Nathan Drake lightheartedly slaying everyone in his path… Lara Croft grits her teeth and gets on with it. It’s a means to an end, it’s brutal and essential to her survival.
Weapons aren’t just for murder though, each one you find and utilise has an alternative use, and in particular the bow implementation is superb. Whether it’s swinging across chasms, pulling levers or destroying barricades, you will not make it through the wilderness without it. On top of the multiple functions there are different ammo types, and everything continues to get upgraded even right up to the final part of the story. Unless you’re absolutely determined to complete every activity before finishing things off (and the game telegraphs the point of no return), then there’s plenty left to do once the credits have rolled. Each area has challenges to complete, crypts to uncover, weapon parts to find, and best of all – the optional tombs return. All of these are self-contained puzzles outside the main story that demand experimentation and logical thinking. Whilst none of them are too difficult, there’s usually one or two that make your brain itch for a few minutes. Then there’s hunting to find materials for crafting to manage the gun and equipment upgrades, and new kit that comes from helping out the locals too. Interaction with the people who live in the mountains extends beyond simple conversation, with quite a few of them offering up secondary missions to tackle. Ranging from attacking troops to shooting pigeons down, there’s a nice variety to here that helps add to the fact you’re in and amongst another population that needs to defend itself from aggressors. It really helps flesh out Lara’s motivation and reasons for not just grabbing the loot and running.
With this being the 20th celebration edition, and a year behind the Xbox One version, it comes with all the DLC and a few new pieces too. There are two in-game missions with Cold Darkness Awakened and Baba Yaga that crop up at appropriate points and form part of the help you’re giving to the locals. There’s Lara’s Nightmare that has you fighting the undead in Croft Manor in a horde type mode which is a lot harder than it sounds. Endurance challenges you to survive the elements and uncover secrets around inhospitable Siberian forests and made me think in terms of Don’t Starve as I managed heat, hunger and wildlife. Score attack becomes available for areas and encounters completed in the main game and puts a nice spin of what you’ve already seen and done if you decide to use the Remnant Resistance option and choose how you want those areas to be. Then there’s the playing cards gifted in packs that can be applied to most of these bonus modes that allow gameplay modifiers like outfits and weapons, as well as increased difficulty for greater points rewards. And finally there’s Blood Ties that takes the form of a narrative only tour of Croft Manor. Interestingly, Blood Ties is PSVR compatible so you can explore the extent of the manor in a more immersive way. The controls take a bit of getting used to – you look at a location then hit a button to move there – though this is preferable to moving around in first person because that really does induce nausea. There’s a warning accompanying this mode to make it really clear that the disconnect between the movement and your brain can upset your stomach, it’s not lying. Aside from that there’s a lot to be said about feeling like you’re really inside the mansion and the discovery of family secrets pays off at the end.
Rise of the Tomb Raider has a lot of content and a lot of story, there’s easily 40+ hours to sink your teeth into, and there’s a lot of replayability and scoreboard driven “beat your friends” focus too. It also has a few bugs, glitches and the foibles were used to with Lara. NPCs got stuck in scenery or each other, audio froze and looped, and a foot long section of laser sight detached from my pistol and stuck to my shoulder. Then there’s the controls that aren’t really designed for close combat – stealth works well, but one-on-one fighting has the camera usually swinging away from your opponent so that you get hit in the back. Lara is also too loose in the air when jumping – slight nudges on the sticks can have you overshooting your landing platforms by some margin, or switching direction entirely. This is all piddly though, a handful of issues over the entire time with what is an always stunning, always smooth game will not at all impact your enjoyment of this latest instalment.
It might have been a long wait, and one that was hit with rumours that the game would never come to PS4, but that doesn’t matter. Great games aren’t defined by the platform or when they were released, you forget all about that the moment you’ve spent some time in them. With Rise of the Tomb Raider that’s the first couple of minutes trekking up a mountainside watching the snow get displaced with each step taken, as the sun starts to set and a storm comes in. It’s impressive scene building and defines the visual fidelity of what you’re about to experience. This is a fantastic game, extremely well designed and executed, and even though there’s a tease at the end about continuing the adventure, it in no way feels like a cheap cop out or that you’re left short changed. The only thing left to say is that every gamer should own this.
A PS4 review copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider was provided by the Square Enix PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.