The most annoying thing about the newest Tomb Raider game is that it has disappeared into another letter in my Steam Library. Granted, it’s only three lines above the rest of the games, but when the entire series is in one place, it seems like a bit of an oversight. Minor gripe aside, I actually think that Rise of the Planet of the Tomb of the Apes is a pretty good game. The series was rebooted with the previous game by Crystal Dynamics, which I managed to smash through in one weekend and about as many sittings.
The new game continues Young Lara Croft’s adventures to become Angelina Jolie, in her bright-eyed, bushy tailed and tessellated hair phase. Following a disgrace in the family, Lara decides she wants to go a bit mad in the search for a magical artefact that can bestow immortaility, dragging her PTSD-ridden survivors from the last adventure along for the ride. I couldn’t remember any of their names, but that’s not important because you’ll be on your own before long anyway.
You are thrown into the middle of the excavation, halfway up a mountain and looking for the next clue. It’s a beautiful setpiece to begin with, although the tutorial is achieved mostly by pushing forward to progress. You are quickly reunited with your trusty, all-purpose ice picks and ‘do it or die’ quick time event driven cutscenes. The team certainly haven’t lost their morbid interest in making particularly gruesome deaths for Lara, although they are less graphic than the last game.
For actual gameplay, it’s a fairly simple affair; you’re exploring different areas, looking for supplies to craft items and upgrades, as well as clues and ancient bric-a-brac. The more journals and tape decks you pick up, the better you become at understanding different languages – which would have been an excellent skill to have when I was learning GCSE German. With your increased proficiency in languages, you can decode murals and monliths scattered through the map.
Also hidden in the world are optional tombs, challenging puzzle/platforming sections which will grant you a useful perk to aid Lara in her travels. More believable than the previous offering of a modern day rifle upgrade found in an ancient burial chamber, the perks you can earn fit better as techniques or new knowledge.
The main questing ferries you between large, open areas and cramped interiors, utilising the skills and items you pick up along the way to solve puzzles and gun down (probable) Soviets. The reliance on working out these puzzles, using the tools available to you, does make you feel accomplished as Lara snakes her way through ruined and abandoned environments. Most of the zones are a slow build up, following the main questline and picking up ally missions, before stuff inevitably goes a bit wrong and you’re eventually thrown into a crucible with an especially tough enemy.
Combat is challenging, which is fitting for the setting. There are several weapons to pick up and use, from a bow and arrow to a pump-action shotgun, but you are up against a well-trained military outfit – although it may not seem it when they have a knife only regiment who will blunder through the middle of a gunfight to swing and miss your face. You can craft some unique weapons on the fly, shoving rocks into a can to create a makeshift grenade or hastily wrap cloth around an arrow to shoot fire. This is just a matter or holding down a bumper button while you cower like a girl. Same applies for healing, which is the left bumper.
While you may think you’re charging through the unexplored ruins at breakneck speed, somehow there is someone ahead of you by three steps, nice enough to leave their camping grounds alight for you to come across. Here you can craft your ammo, new items or upgrades for your weapons – as well as change our what weapons you’re using – and assign skill points to improve Lara’s abilities. You are also subject to some monologuing, courtesy of Lara and her descent into insanity.
The upgrades you can apply are useful, increasing damage or rate of fire, recoil stability and more, although can be quite costly. When it comes to the outfit section – Lara is a woman with needs after all – you’re better holding on to your special bear skin for a while, because you can unlock some, if not all, of the outfits through normal play. The ammo pouches are quite useful, so remember to shoot a deer when you see one.
There is also a Fast Travel option, so you can backtrack and pick up every tidbit later.
It wouldn’t be a modern game if an online component wasn’t tacked on to it and you’ll be glad to know Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t disappoint. In the style of Just Cause 3, there are is an Online Leaderboard that ranks how well you do in a level on a global scale. It certainly isn’t as intrusive as Just Cause 3 and you probably won’t notice it until you catch a glimpse in the Pause menu, but it’s there. It also hasn’t caused a thousand login errors every 30 seconds, so we’ve got some progress.
You can also obtain reward packs for reasons, which primarily contain – as far as I’ve seen – cards. These cards are used to add challenges and limitations to levels played in Expedition mode. I’ve largely ignored Expedition mode, but it seems to be where you do the levels from the game with imposed challenges, to get points and earn a place on the Leaderboard. As thrilling as that may be to someone out there who likes to collect numbers, I’m not sure why they felt it was a necessary inclusion in a singe player, story focussed and character driven game.
Crystal Dynamics are still doing a great job with the Tomb Raider reboot, and nVidia are still doing an excellent job ensuring that hair is realistic. The levels are lovely to look at and filled with things to do, besides being on the run. I’m certainly enjoying my part in Lara’s “growing up” story, and this is a good continuation of the series. Lara is definitely pushing herself into a position to become the adventurous older self that we all remember from the PS1.