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Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One) artwork

Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One) review

"Enjoy it before it starts looking old."

Still with deep pockets -- perhaps helped from a comically short exclusivity deal with Microsoft -- Crystal Dynamics commits further to their Tomb Raider reboot with its first sequel. Lara visits Syrian deserts, Siberian cold lands, and mountainous jungles this time around, environments of considerable size in the context of a linear action adventure game. It keeps the bridge breaking, zip lining, and pickaxe clinging of its predecessor, and multiplies its resource collecting and number of puzzle tombs three times over. I couldnít ask for more.

But I could go for less. Rise of the Tomb Raider has surpassed humbleness and now enters the scale of a Hollywood epic. Whereas before Lara was scraping by the skin of her teeth in creepy caverns of cannibals and cultists in a B-Movie horror setting, sheís now after a divine relic that grants eternal life, competing against an impossibly funded and motivated organization of zealots called ĎTrinity.í Itís sort of like Mass Effect 2ís Cerberus in that itís a hell bent and omniscient obstacle that helps create sequels. Though the set pieces are still spectacles, Rise is carried more by cliche and melodrama than ever before.

Rise has a lot of exposition involving the dying wishes of father Croft, and the mysteries behind his sought after divine source. Lara has an obsession with it, and while the script is obviously trying to depict this as passion, it becomes uncomfortable. She is psychotic and feverish in her enthusiasm to drop everything and fly to war-torn Syria to climb a mountain based on a hunch, or take her best friend on a suicidal pickaxe climbing in Siberia. Reason does not register for this girl, and she becomes less human -- and even annoying -- for it, and I canít lie in saying it had no effect on my gameplay experience.

Itís not a good script, either. I was beginning to skip the ending portion of cutscenes once I got the gist of what each one was going for. Any time Lara discovered a clue I knew that Trinity will either bust through a window, hold a friend at gunpoint, or tie me up. Always one step ahead those Trinity bastards! Oh itís so terrible. But it isnít surprising given any or all of Rhianna Pratchettís previous work in the games industry. Not as nauseating as Mirrorís Edge, no, but it's from the same pen, a constant attempt to depict the protagonist as an extraordinary person. Flashback to Lara's childhood? Oh look! She's already climbing through windows on the 2nd floor of her mansion, a true little tomb raider already! Get out of here.

Rise of the Tomb Raider greatly stretches the Tomb Raider 2013 experience into a bigger game, and not too thinly. Thereís side quests from NPCs in the larger areas, craftable items and ammo, and pieces of language to read and become fluent in. Every few steps it feels like thereís a box to crack open, a relic to examine, a small tree to snap into wood, a bush of berries, and more than a few rabbits and birds to shoot in any direction. There are pools of oils to collect for fire arrows and death cap mushrooms for poison arrows. Ore can be yanked from cavern walls to create bullets, baskets of cloth for bandages, and everyday items to craft into throwable bombs. There is such density of resources that I was mostly at my limit for the entire playthrough, and more than a little tired of reading diary entries and listening to private recordings.

Itís a completionist aspect certain types of gamers will love. Have at it. But for me it lacked any tangible in-game satisfaction. I did not need most of the skills from the Survival, Brawler, or Hunting progression trees, so the extra EXP never amounted to anything. I didnít need 3 types of special ammo for my bow, a laser sight for my rifle, or 90% of the weapon upgrades that reduce recoil I could never detect anyway. At one point I collected enough gold coins (dug from hidden patches in the dirt) and met a merchant whose only offerings were more equipment Iíd never use. A silencer for the pistol? The bow works fine, thank you. A headshot is a headshot.

Lara is very powerful in combat this time and only needs the basics to get by, or just the infinite amount of resources she lugs around from the rich environment. Even on ĎSeasoned Raiderí difficulty I had enough instant heal bandages to make up for my mistakes, all of which arose from reckless attempts to have fun. Killing comes so easy that thereís no opportunity to revel in the violence. Itís all over in an instant. When a combat scenario begins, you can bet thereís an explosive barrel beside every entrenched enemy. I throw one Molotov and the entire sequence is finished. Iíve got all these sweet finishers, weapons, and combat abilities, but unless I deliberately give the enemy a fighting chance, Iíll never get to see them. Lara is this total butcher, a ferocious panther who, to my disappointment, never is given time to play with her food.

My best effort to do so is opting for stealth, but that too has become more automatic than ever. As if it were difficult without it, activating Survival Instincts now labels enemies who are safe to kill silently. Instead of observing patterns or setups, I merely pounced when I saw the green light. You canít screw this sort of thing up. Enemies are just playthings in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and only serve to fuel Laraís new image as the perfect hero out to annihilate an entire organization of SWAT teams, help local native populations, and all in all, do Ďthe right thing.í

Enjoyment of Rise of The Tomb Raider comes down to its production values and itís admittedly the best looking game out there, surpassing The Witcher 3 handedly on the PC. Itís nuts, really. I regularly felt a level of disbelief just running Lara through a jungle pass and all of its canopy shadows, detailed foliage, and glinting mud puddles, popping rifle rounds at deer and wolves, and loving every bit of animation. Platforming, if automatic, and puzzles, if small, are the biggest beneficiaries to the technical side of Rise, creating a space where movement and environments can be appreciated for their mere visual existence. Pick it up soon and enjoy it before it starts looking old.

bbbmoney's avatar
Community review by bbbmoney (February 07, 2016)

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