Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 will be the host of two major game launches. As many may already know, the Fallout 4 hype train will make an abrupt stop as it lands on retail shelves this Tuesday. Launching alongside Fallout 4 will be Square Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, the last game included in Microsoft’s ‘Greatest Games Lineup in Xbox’s History’. Will Fallout 4 overshadow the launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider or will Microsoft and Square Enix be able to shine above it and deliver quality next-generation entertainment? Spoiler: It’s the latter.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great game; with few shortcomings. When you aren’t being grasped by the seemingly difficult situations of which Lara Croft finds herself in, you are left with high-action gameplay making you want to enjoy it until the last minute. If you are familiar with Square Enix’s last iteration of Tomb Raider, released on the Xbox 360, you will learn that the developers behind this game like to beat the everlasting crap out of our hero, Lara Croft. Combined with the complicated puzzles and massive environments, the ‘Tomb Raider’ formula doesn’t change much, as she is found narrowly avoiding treacherous situations and life-threatening injuries at every corner you turn. For a lot of people, you will appreciate having a strong independent female protagonist kick all sorts of ass instead of your typical over-the-top jacked man-meat in Armor (Looking at Halo and Gears of War).
“I really can’t define which part of luck she has, the good or the bad, as Lara frequently cheats death by nearly getting crushed, stabbed, or mauled. From start to finish, it’s never a dull moment and that is what I enjoy about Rise of the Tomb Raider.”
To start satisfying your action/adventure appetite, the game starts off introducing the characters and the fate of Mr. Croft; Lara’s dad. After the cinematic’s, you are seen scaling mountains, which seem to get riskier with every step you take. It doesn’t take long for the game to throw you right into the mix of things as you are quickly confronted with the task of surviving. You become separated from your comrade and the only one thing you can do now is survive in what looks like your typical Canadian Winter. It didn’t take long to get you in the center of the disaster and it is from now until the end of the game you put yourself in Lara’s shoes. I found myself asking if I was put in the same scenario that Lara was in, would I survive? The answer to that is: No. The game puts Lara in unescapable odds, yet she overcomes it with dumb luck. I really can’t define which part of luck she has, the good or the bad, as Lara frequently cheats death by nearly getting crushed, stabbed, or mauled. From start to finish, it’s never a dull moment and that is what I enjoy about Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Examples of some scenarios you will find throughout gameplay include being gunned down by helicopters, almost drowning, running across collapseable terrain and falling down from incredible heights. Basically anything you could think of, it’s there. Unlike other Tomb Raider games, almost all of the situations of which Lara’s life was in danger were memorable and it left me standing on my feet as I anticipated how Lara would overcome these obstacles. The issue is that for a lot of these ‘standing on my feet’ moments were during cinematics; not the gameplay itself. Now, don’t get me wrong, the cinematics shown in Rise of the Tomb Raider may possibly be some of the best use of motion capture and facial recognition I have ever seen, with realistic face movements from the emotion being conveyed through the characters, the amount of quality the development team put into this scripted videos is unsurpassed in the gaming industry. However, the incredible amount of cut-scenes made the experience dull in some parts. There is a part in the campaign that you run into where there are three longer cut-scenes found within a half hour of each other, making for a viewing experience rather than a playing experience. This is where I wished the developers cut back a little to expand on the already solid gameplay.
“The storytelling in Rise of the Tomb Raider matches the quality of the gameplay – flawless and left me hungry for more.”
The amount of cut-scenes were some of my only complaints about the game though. The storytelling in Rise of the Tomb Raider matches the quality of the gameplay – flawless and left me hungry for more. After Lara finds herself without her father, who seems to have committed suicide due to the stress of his projects, Lara takes matters into her own hands by traversing upon near-impossible scenarios with little to no knowledge on what the road has in store for her. Along the way, she runs into a group called Trinity who are hunting to reveal the same mystery and find the ancient artifacts. Without spoiling too much, Rise of the Tomb Raider throws you in for a loop especially near the end of the game where everything unravels itself. I was still left with unanswered questions though and it made me antsy to find out more. I was thinking about what happened regarding the fate of a specific individual when it showed a brief cut-scene after the credits and I was picturing different scenarios of what happened. Needless to say, the events which transpired in the thirteen hours of gameplay during my first playthrough were memorable and have made an everlasting impression for things to come in future Tomb Raider titles.
Adventuring throughout the game, you will come across a variety of collectibles like wood, berries, cloth and other assorted materials to upgrade your equipment or build ammo whilst you play. Being a fan of collect-a-thon games like Banjo Kazooie, Crackdown and Yoshi’s Woolly World, I took to retrieve everything I possibly can throughout my travels. Despite this, in one playthrough without any backtracking, I was able to fully upgrade two guns and one skill. This wasn’t an easy task mind you, as the game prepares you to do some backtracking to find gaps, doors, and other barrier’s you couldn’t previously unlock due to the lack of tools you had in your possession. As you play, you will unlock new items like a grapple, exploding arrows and climbing arrows which can be used to reach new areas of the game. Some of these areas will contain tombs, an area where an upgrade is your reward for completing a mini-room of puzzles. The tombs typically take about 10 to 30 minutes to beat depending on your skill and whether or not you suck at puzzle-solving. While the tombs aren’t required to find and complete, they do provide a skill advantage for you as your progress through the game.
Alright, one other complaint. While, I am infatuated with this game, I found the puzzles and problem-solving situations very weak. Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t that tough when it comes to solving puzzles and contraptions. The toughest puzzle for me, was this large spherical room with round metal balls and walls being balanced on spinning bars. It took me about 30 seconds to realize that I had to swing two walls around in order for me to complete this puzzle. While some of the tombs found in the game will raise some objections, I can’t dismiss that the overall game was simplistic and easy to tackle when navigating your way around these obstacles. As an action/adventure game, Rise of the Tomb Raider falls flat in terms of difficulty, especially when completing puzzles.
“When you aren’t presented with an overwhelming sense of action, you are presented with great story-telling and breath-taking environments, even if said environments have the urge to take your breath away in the most violent way possible.”
The combat system plays well though – or at least well enough to not complain like a 9-year-old child who didn’t get that thing he wanted at the toy store. The game lacks the ability to crouch but tries to make up for it by automatically detecting the best scenarios to crouch in. This does work well, by the odd time I will want to crouch and it seems like Lara thinks otherwise. This ultimately ends up being Lara’s demise as we are shot repeatable with assault rifles, but the feature overly works well. Otherwise, the guns do the damage required to kill, even in the hardest difficulties and the upgrade system in place for the guns makes sense as to not feel like the upgrade system is totally worthless.
Rise of the Tomb Raider will make you backtrack if you want to aim for %100 completion. Finding coin cache’s, tombs, and the plethora of notes and documents found throughout the game will be a treat for anyone who enjoys collecting ‘X’ to obtain %100. This will extend your experience from roughly thirteen hours to about 24-26 hours, again, depending on your competency on searching every corner. If you can afford taking your attention away from the non-stop action that is Rise of the Tomb Raider, you could get away with capturing a lot of these collectibles on your first playthrough, but I would strongly recommend not doing so as you may be distracted from the overall experience. Again, the choice is up to you.
For my outro, I will say what I said near the beginning of this review. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great game. There is very rarely a dull moment found inside the game and when there is, there are a variety of tasks to complete whether you are interested in collecting everything or doing side-missions. When you aren’t presented with an overwhelming sense of action, you are presented with great story-telling and breath-taking environments, even if said environments have the urge to take your breath away in the most violent way possible. Yes, the game has a LOT of cinematic’s, and the puzzles were easy, but it made up for it with rich story-telling, excellent visuals and great experiences. Microsoft has proven themselves worthy this year by calling 2015 the greatest games line-up in history, because out of all the titles that were released, Rise of the Tomb Raider is arguably one of my favorite action/adventure games to date.
+ Beautiful story-telling kept me playing from start to finish
+ Satisfying campaign length
+ Cut-scenes looked great. Excellent use of motion capture technology, however…
– …There are lots of cut-scenes; takes a bit away from gameplay
– Puzzles were simple and counter-intuitive
Thanks to Microsoft for providing us with a review copy of Rise of the Tomb Raider for Xbox One.