You’re reading Short Takes, our sort of first impressions/mini-review hybrid in which we provide our opinions of a game in slightly truncated form. This may be a game we’re eventually going to fully review, it may be a game we don’t have time to play to completion and review right now, but it’s a game on which we want to share our thoughts. There are tons of games that come out every week, and we can’t play and review all of them, so this is our way of joining the conversation and chiming in on the titles that interest us as we work through the weekly release schedule. Short Takes will not include a numbered score.
Fall 2015’s onslaught of the year’s biggest titles is nearing a close. For many, instant classics were born with Halo 5: Guardians, Fallout 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, but the (in my humble opinion) truly great gems of this holiday — like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Rise of the Tomb Raider — may be brushed off in favor of these extremely popular franchises. Rise of the Tomb Raider looks to continue rebuilding the legend of Lara Croft, but does it have the muscle to compete with the hot releases surrounding it?
Title: Rise of the Tomb Raider
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Platforms: Xbox One (version played), Xbox 360 (PC/PS4/PS3 versions coming in 2016)
Price: $59.99 ($149.99 Collector’s Edition available from the Square Enix online store)
What Is It?
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a continuation of 2013’s gritty reboot of this beloved franchise. Taking the criticism people lobbied at the prior entry in the series, Rise is packed to the brim with content including optional tombs, collectibles and side missions for players to explore and engage with during their travels. A crafting system also makes its debut as players can gather resources to craft various bow types, explosives and medicine on the fly. Building upon the basic features players enjoyed in the previous game, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great leap for the franchise as it continues to establish its place amongst its contemporaries.
Optional Tomb Enthusiasts Rejoice
If I had to single out just one thing from the first game, it would be that the optional tombs were not only too few, but too simple as well. While many of the optional tombs here are still gated off because I have not obtained the right gadgets to access them yet, the few I have done have been a little more challenging than last time around. The very first tomb I encountered required me to pay attention to my environment and use several strategically placed clue-type items to solve the puzzle laid before me. I felt a satisfying sense of accomplishment once I had made my way up to the tomb’s chest. Completing these optional rooms nets players either a perk or piece of gear that’s extremely helpful on their journey ahead. I’m looking forward to completing more of these, as I know they’ll ultimately be worth the rewards hidden within them.
After unsuccessfully starting up the last game 3 different times, I can safely say that I will not have a problem sticking with Rise of the Tomb Raider. I found it extremely difficult to set the controller down as I made my way through the first several hours of content. Having no idea how the first game concluded, I’m definitely going to need to go back and tackle that one once I wrap up this game as the story seems very compelling and has already thrown out a few interesting twists.
Graphically, the game looks fantastic. Environments are nicely detailed from murky caves to snowy mountain peaks, and I love seeing trenches form as Lara trudges through thick layers of snow. The attention to detail is incredible, highlighted by the snow glistening in the sunlight and Lara wringing water out of her ponytail after climbing out of water. Cutscenes can be heavy on the action and, unlike Halo 5, can have scripted spots where players get to control Lara and navigate her through the action. Oddly enough, there is a noticeable difference in quality from cutscene to gameplay. Scenes seem a little jittery at times compared to the smooth gameplay that follows. There’s yet to be any severe differences between cutscene and gameplay, but due to how amazing the game looks and plays, this was a noticeable — if ultimately minor — detail.
Speaking of how the game plays, I can’t think of another game out there right now that utilizes a bow and arrow so well. It’s the perfect weapon to compliment my (often sloppy) stealthy approach I try to take going into battle. This is an indispensible tool for Lara as she can form rope bridges to make her way across gaps, bring down structures, and take out snipers with an arrow to the face from a cozy tree branch. The bow is so fun to use in fact that it makes using guns feel a little sloppy. Guns serve their purpose just fine, but for me, I needed to adjust the in-game sensitivity because they’re not quite as user friendly as that sweet bow. When compared to the bow, guns initially felt much harder to aim and get a good shot in on enemies that were closing in on my location.
When Lara enters an area that has enemies, the music swiftly changes to this intensely rising ensemble, and she automatically kneels down to sneak around the area. At first, it kind of bothered me that this wasn’t a dedicated button prompt. However, I came to appreciate that it was an automatic reaction on her part as it alerts the player that some form of danger — whether human or animal — is near. It also feels like using her scramble is more efficient since she’s already crouched, and once the area is cleared of danger she stands back up. This is a nice touch, as I think we can all relate to being annoyed at one time or another at that jerk who was lurking around the corner with a shotgun that we had no idea was still there. Enemy encounters can be approached in a variety of different ways, whether it be sneaking around the area to take out enemies, going in guns blazing, or perching up in a tree to pick off the snipers before finishing off the remaining henchmen as you see fit. Lara isn’t an immortal bullet sponge like many of the characters we get to control these days, so players will likely never feel overpowered when tackling combat scenarios. This sense of vulnerability is a trait that Tomb Raider nails very well, as conquering a group of enemies feels like a well-earned victory.
What I’ve Played So Far
I’m roughly 8 hours in, and I have completed several optional tombs as well as a handful of story missions and side quests for some characters I’ve encountered. According to the game, I’m at 23% completion! It’s easy to get side tracked in Rise of the Tomb Raider, whether it’s doing a side quest, looking around for an entrance to an optional tomb, or just gathering materials to craft more arrows. It’s clear that a lot of backtracking will be necessary to collect everything, but given how important finding everything feels, it’s a task that seems like it’ll pay off in the long run.
Should You Buy This Game?
Absolutely. If you’re a fan of third-person action games, or just need a break from Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider is worth every second of your time. Crystal Dynamics took everything people loved (and critiqued) from their 2013 outing and made it better. From visuals to gameplay to the story, Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like the natural evolution the series needs to continue establishing its well-deserved place amongst the other great action-adventure games out there.
Frankie loves pizza, video games, and controversial opinions. Follow his gaming exploits on Twitter @Vyprstryke.