- + Obsessive amount of detail in every aspect
- + Gameplay is open-ended
- + Backtracking to unlock and explore previously inaccessible areas is rewarding
- - Microsoft’s timed-exclusivity a shame for non-Xbox owners
Want to look beyond the score? Check out the full review below…
Start Replay: “Uncharted Territory”
After booting up Lara Croft’s latest adventure and playing solidly for several hours, it finally hit me. Tomb Raider, in my mind at least, is currently better than Uncharted. It might sound like a bold statement, but Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 revival of the original tomb dweller blew me away with open-ended gameplay and attention to detail. Its successor, Rise of the Tomb Raider, expands on its robust set of gameplay mechanics. All of a sudden Naughty Dog’s upcoming Uncharted 4 is slipping to the back of my mind.
In comparison to Nathan Drake’s linear, yet adrenaline-filled adventures, Tomb Raider has caught up with engaging storytelling and provides a much more open playing field — quite literally. The developers have kept exploration a big part of their revamp, and each expanse they’ve created features a wealth of collectibles for upgrading, not to mention all-important tombs to raid.
Lara’s rise to legendary raider picks up pace in this latest instalment, as the story dives into her scarred family past and the relationship with her father. Featuring a retelling of the ancient tale of eternal youth, Lara continues to follow the research left by her dad and heads to snowy Siberia in search of answers. Though its premise isn’t anything new (ahem, Uncharted 3), there are enough twists and turns that make revisiting this story worthwhile.
After exploring a solitary island in 2013’s Tomb Raider, I immediately pondered how its sequel might be able to replicate its open, yet focused gameplay. The beginning of Lara’s journey is split between flashbacks, before residing all activity to the harsh winter wonderland of Siberia. Locations are split into chunks but still feature semi-linear traversal around a variety of areas. Crafting makes an impactful return, allowing you to gather resources through loose loot and hunting; brought together to aid the development of more powerful upgrades.
All camps discovered on your journey can be used to fast travel in order to further explore each expanse. Should you acquire a new piece of equipment, such as the rope arrow or explosives, you may find yourself able to venture into previously inaccessible parts of the map. I adored this feature in the original game, as not only did it enable me to utilise new tools during combat, it also made me feel a greater sense of progression — both in terms of the story and as a character.
I’m still astounded by Crystal Dynamics’ meticulous attention to detail. Even something as small and insignificant as collecting resources from a bush, made me appreciate how its twigs broke to pieces and crumbled to the floor in a soft and realistic manner. The subtleties of Lara and her movement are also a sight to behold. Her facial expressions, the sway of her hair and the impact each footstep has in the snow; all of it screams passion from a team that evidently love what they do. Together it culminates in one of the most tangible experiences I’ve ever had the courtesy of playing.
Another notch Tomb Raider has against Uncharted is its approach to gameplay. Utilising Lara’s wide array of weaponry and survival skills, it’s your choice how to face each enemy. Sticking to a bow and arrow whilst attempting to perfect headshots is a highlight for me, but going out with a bang is just as rewarding. This unparalleled choice kept me playing for hours on end, amidst my journey to loot and hunt everything in sight.
Taking advantage of Lara’s newly-acquired survival instincts is vital when it comes to locating useful items in your immediate surroundings. Operating in a similar fashion to detective vision in the Batman games, players can activate this mode to find hidden paths, notable trinkets and, once upgraded, rare wildlife. It didn’t take long until I became an absolute instinct addict, tapping the button at every turn to ensure I didn’t miss an item. Unlike detective vision, Lara’s instincts can only be used once static and turn off as soon as you move. I’m glad it does, or else my entire game would become embroiled in a black and white tone, specked with pockets of gold.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of Xbox One’s best looking titles to date. This is hardly surprising given the title’s one year exclusivity to Microsoft’s platform (yep, all you PS4 players have to wait until late 2016.) All facial animations have been dramatically improved and showcase even the smallest of expressions, plus environments breath life via constant shifts in weather conditions. The crisp glistening snow covering the ground is also beautifully rendered, and as a great lover of white powder (not that type of powder), I was in heaven.
Writing this review, I’m having a hard time trying to imagine ways to improve this game. I haven’t even mentioned its expert use of puzzles and the many tombs you can unearth. Sure, the story might cover ground that’s hardly unfamiliar, but it’s still incredibly enjoyable. Some people might find this aspect a clone of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, and that’s their opinion. What I see is an addictive mix of open-ended gameplay, filled with engaging narrative and meticulous detail.
Good luck, Nathan Drake, you’ve got some serious competition.
This isn’t just the best Tomb Raider ever made, it’s a testament to the immensely talented and ambitious team over at Crystal Dynamics. If, for some bizarre reason, you’ve yet to get a taste of Lara’s tomb raiding, I suggest you pick this up without hesitation. It’s a shame fewer people will experience it to begin with due to Microsoft’s exclusivity, but I’d be tempted to suggest you buy an Xbox just to play this.
*Rise of the Tomb Raider was provided to Start Replay on Xbox One by Xbox