Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Rise of the Tomb Raider for PS4, Xbox One and PC

I was quite excited to finally get my hands on this game after a year of Xbox One exclusivity; I really liked the last Tomb Raider game and it got good reviews at the time. Oddly enough, the year delay in release may very well have affected my enjoyment of this game for one simple reason; Uncharted 4 came out since the Xbox One release and outdoes this very similar game in pretty much every way.

Rise of the Tomb Raider sees Lara Croft trekking into the mountains of Siberia is search of the Divine Source, a fountain of youth of sorts which provides everlasting life. Lara’s father Thomas had been obsessed with it before his death, which had seen him ridiculed in the press. Lara’s experience on the island back in the last game has opened her mind to the possibility that her father was right and so she sets out to salvage his legacy. She is opposed by the sinister Trinity, an ancient group who seek the Divine Source for their own nefarious ends.

Put simply, the story in Rise of the Tomb Raider is unbelievably boring. The narrative of the first game worked because it was fundamentally a survival story about someone learning to harden themselves to the horrors around them. This element is naturally missing in the sequel and all the Divine Source nonsense had my eyes glazing over. The biggest feeling was that I’d seen all of this before; the villain Konstantin is so stunningly generic that it’s a wonder the writers felt comfortable to use him and Trinity are like any other evil organisation we’ve seen in any number of games. None of the characters, perhaps excepted by Lara’s friend Jonah, are particularly likeable, communicating almost entirely in portentous and dramatic dialogue. There’s none of the lightness or humour or charm of the Uncharted games in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Lara needs to be quipping every 10 seconds like Nathan Drake, but everything is so po-faced and serious and lacks a sense of fun. Exciting treasure hunting stories can’t really get away without a sense of fun. I had close to no investment in what was going on.

Thankfully, the core mechanics are strong enough to mostly make up for it. The term ‘game feel’ has come under some ridicule lately, but I don’t know a better way to describe the ineffable feeling of something just feeling good to play. Perhaps it’s the frame rate, perhaps it’s controller sensitivity, perhaps it’s the animations, or maybe all three and more, but this game just feels good to play. Leaping around the Siberian wilderness as Lara never really got old, with good core platform mechanics. Much weaker is the combat; I don’t know if it’s gotten worse since the last game or if my standards have simply got higher, but the shooting in this game simply isn’t good. Stealth fares much better, but it is not uncommon for the game to deny this as an option and to throw you into a shooting gallery. Dodgy shooting mechanics in stealth games is fine as they are meant to incentivise stealth, but by so regularly denying you even the chance to use stealth you’re left with them just being bad because…well, they’re just bad.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is just as guilty of all the open world tomfoolery you get in everything these days; namely an infuriating map filled with collectible knick-knacks with no discernible purpose. The most interesting parts would be the audio logs which fill in the back story if…y’know, the story wasn’t crap. The main story stuff is actually really fun and I’d recommend just focusing on that, with one notable exception; the Challenge Tombs. These are the best part of the game and left optional, which is interesting. I wonder if they expected audiences raised on the simple gleeful joy and scripted platforming found in the Uncharted games to resent puzzling and exploration based interludes. Either way, there are 9 in total and they’re undoubtedly worth seeking out and doing. The puzzles are never particularly difficult or anything, but they’re neat and satisfying and actually make Lara feel like a proper tomb raiding archaeologist than just another marauding adventurer.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is helped immeasurably by just how bloody lovely it looks. The icy setting works very well and offers a nice change from the lush jungle of the last game. In the incredibly dull PS4 Pro announcement, this game was shown prominently as one which shall be boosted by the extra power of the console. Well, Rise of the Tomb Raider has had the opposite effect on me because I realised that I don’t need games to look better than this. I’m sure there are people who will notice little drops in frame rate and visual niggles, but for me who’s not observant about that stuff, Rise of the Tomb Raider already looks close enough to perfect. I very much appreciate the team behind this game resolving my decision on the PS4 Pro, although I doubt Sony would see it that way. The environments are gorgeous, the weather effects hugely atmospheric and the character models expressive. This is s sumptuous and gorgeous game. The music is entirely forgettable and the voice acting bland, although that could be the writing, but those visuals were honestly enough for me to keep coming back.

I really expected to like this game more than I did. It is good but I couldn’t shake the niggling wish I was playing Uncharted 4 again instead. When the sequel hits (and this game makes abundantly clear there will be one), I hope that a lot of the niggles are fixed, although I doubt they will be. Excellent general ‘game feel’ and stunning visuals only get you so far when core mechanics like combat are so poor and the game seems so willing to waste your time with pointless collectibles and a bland story. Unfortunately, Rise of the Tomb Raider never lives up to its potential.
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