Credit: Crystal Dynamics

Tomb Raider‘s 2013 reboot updated one of gaming’s most recognizable franchises to be about more than its oversexualized, puzzle solving roots. The focus was on grounding and humanizing protagonist Lara Croft and, for the most part, it succeeded in introducing a new take on a longrunning character.

Rise of the Tomb Raider hopes to continue in that tradition, showcasing the progress Lara has made as a character by not just giving her a new harrowing story but also by offering players more of what the first game lacked: Tombs. Many more tombs.

But do those additions make the title a worthy follow-up to the 2013 title, as Lara embarks on a new journey to finish her father’s work? And do the other gameplay alterations and additions fit into the world established by Rise‘s predecessor, or has Crystal Dynamics broken a good thing? The (currently) Xbox exclusive appears to be a worthy successor, as EW’s Aaron Morales, in his A- review, says the game “restores the epic scale and sense of wonder largely missing in Lara’s previous adventure to deliver the best Tomb Raider yet.”

Read on below for a selection of critics’ takes on Lara’s latest adventure, which is now available for the Xbox One and Xbox 360.

The combat is tight and precise, but Rise gives players more choice as to how to approach each scenario. You can still run in guns blazing, but the game encourages stealth and gives Lara the option of sticking to the shadows and picking off enemies with her trademark bow and arrow. Lara is more agile and acrobatic than ever and can climb trees and stalk prey (both animal and human) from above. There’s a greater variety of wildlife roaming the world, including a memorable early encounter with a giant bear, and packs of wolves and lynx can disrupt enemy encounters. The world is staggeringly detailed and feels genuinely alive, as deer, chickens and rabbits scamper about and provide valuable hides that can be used to craft upgrades.”

“If there’s one spot where Rise of the Tomb Raider is noticeably worse than its predecessor, it’s the overarching narrative. 2013’s Tomb Raider chronicled Lara’s transformation from a regular young woman into a “survivor” — aka someone able and unafraid of taking down an army of paramilitary thugs. It was a little cliché, and it required some suspension of disbelief, but it made for an appealing tale, especially when coupled with the mysteries of the island of Yamatai.

“The lost city of Kitezh brings its own points of intrigue to Rise of the Tomb Raider, but they feel like a retread; where the previous game’s story kept me on my toes until the last act, I knew where Rise was headed within the first few hours. On top of that, Lara’s motivation for the adventure can, by and large, be summed up as, “My dad was interested in this, so I am also interested in it.” What minor growth she sees by the end of the story comes across as forced and, frankly, not terribly interesting.”

“There is a tragic, harrowing, uplifting story at play here, and Rise of the Tomb Raider tells it through details. It’s the way a character’s eyes fall to the floor. It’s how Lara’s fingers choke her pistol grip. She warms her hands over fires, shivers when the wind picks up, and slides her feet through taller piles of snow. If details bring a story to life, Rise of the Tomb Raider is as vital as they come. There’s enough exposition to provide meaningful context, but not enough to get in the way of, well, having fun.”

“The excitement of exploring tombs is one of this entry’s major improvements over its predecessor; players can raid nine optional ones, along with having a few required for the main story. These are much more expansive than caves, usually featuring one big puzzle, where you use Lara’s tools, such as her rope arrow to eliminate obstacles, and platform using her pickaxe to land big jumps. For example, one was flooded and had me using Lara’s rope arrow to get a boat around and find ways to drain the water. You can still click a button to see points of interest, lighting up what you can interact with. This comes in handy when you’re trying to find new paths or are struggling with a tough puzzle. However, just because you can see the parts involved doesn’t mean the puzzle is solved. They go deeper than that, requiring you to pay attention to things like water levels, timing your jumps to reach moving platforms, and finding a way to light something on fire that’s blocked by running water.”

“You’ll do a huge amount of climbing in the game. And as I mentioned, it’s kind of fun. But it gets old. And I always feel a sense of deja vu. It reminds me of Nathan Drake, climbing the buildings and rooftops of the Uncharted titles. When you walk along ledges and almost fall off, it feels like Uncharted. And Uncharted itself can feel like Raiders of the Lost Ark. The secretive Trinity organization reminded me of the sinister secret society in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. And heck, an annoying helicopter gives Croft a hard time on multiple occasions, much like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. When I get these feelings, it makes me feel like adventure titles are derivative. “

“Lara’s means of traversing her world has also been expanded upon. All her tools — which now include a wire spool for latching onto hooks while airborne and arrows Lara can use to climb up vertical surfaces — can be used in quick succession to keep her in the sky for longer. The most heart-hammering moments in Rise of The Tomb Raider come from frantic, acrobatic chases as I fumbled for the right button hundreds of feet above ground.

Lara’s rope arrows get a lot more use, too, and the puzzles which utilize these span a remarkable range. One saw me blowing up a statue, another had me slowly and delicately equalizing the weight on a platform. A couple left me lingering idiotically around a rope-wrapped stump, clueless as to what to do with it, until that rush of relief when I spotted another in the distance.”

“Straight-up gunplay is where the game is at its weakest, dumb enemies and loose aiming combining for a slightly scrappy feel. But there is a satisfying crunch and ferocity to it that means it is rarely less than entertaining. Crystal Dynamics know where the game’s strengths lie, however, and the traditional shooting galleries (Lara behind cover, enemies popping up in the middle-distance) are surprisingly infrequent.”

“And that beauty is electrifying. My Xbox hard drive is filling up with screenshots where I just thought ‘that is so pretty’ I had to take a picture. Pure white snow glistens with sparkling ice crystals in the half-light, and leaves deep footprints when you walk in it. Rays of light pierce dust-laden air in the devilishly macabre tombs. Indeed, the interior settings ramp up the detail to render-quality, as vines, skulls and ancient statues are drawn in magnificent 3D, bathing in the light from Lara’s glowstick. She is a child of the ’90s, after all.”

“Rise of the Tomb Raider will feel extremely familiar to anyone who played the 2013 reboot, but that isn’t to say that nothing’s changed. Crafting is the big new feature that Rise runs with, giving players a total of 16 different materials to find out in the wilderness. These materials will allow you to not only craft upgrades for your weapons and equipment, but also different types of arrows, first aid kits and throwable items.

“The problem is, for a crafting system to work, the things you craft need to feel worth the effort of finding the materials, which just isn’t the case here. Craftable weapon upgrades cost a ton of materials and only offer slight, barely noticeable improvements, which makes hunting the materials feel like a waste of time.”

But Uncharted’s one greatest strength is also Rise of The Tomb Raider’s biggest weakness: the writing. The overarching story lacks the drive of the first game, and comes off flat in its grandest arcs. Aside from one standout performance from the flawed, zealous villain, I didn’t find myself latching on to, even if the moment-to-moment dialogue does its job well enough.

Rise of the Tomb Raider, from Crystal Dynamics, is now available.

Rise of the Tomb Raider
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