Rise of the Tomb Raider Review, Critique, Analysis
Big games are prone to pacing issues; they tend to be packed with all kinds of different systems that each have to adhere to each other’s sense of flow. Skillfully weaving a player’s attention through peaks and valleys in play and narrative is no easy task. Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t altogether sidestep the shortcomings of modern AAA design, but it is an amazingly well-paced game; it’s a culmination of years of practiced game principals — a master-class in design whose highest purpose is to create gripping, explosive action. You would be hard-pressed to find a more state of the art piece of bubble gum.
It’s hard not be sarcastic or dismissive about a game with nothing to say that hasn’t already been said or done before. Right off the bat Rise of the Tomb Raider tries to have it’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009) moment: an in-media res back and forth between an icy treacherous mountain and Lara’s putting together the pieces of her expedition. The introduction remains exciting because of the aesthetic qualities of the action, but it’s a little on the nose for a series reimagined to capitalize on Uncharted’s success. It’s actually a shame that Rise of the Tomb Raider pays any homage to Uncharted, because the game’s cutscenes —featuring a darker, grittier spin on Indiana Jone’s archeology antics— are unanimously the worst part of the game.
Lara Croft races against a group of self-serious, maniacal villains (prone to killing their own henchmen) to potentially discover the secret to immortality. There’s a little bit more to it than that, but the linear narrative largely exists to string together the game’s various set pieces — and it’s pretty effective at doing so. Unless you wanna get picky about things like, “hey shouldn’t so-and-so need a heavier coat in this weather” or “what happened to the bodies of all those baddies I massacred two seconds ago?” the transitions between scenes do an excellent job moving you between vistas without you realizing how sectioned off each area is. The quality of the world building is key, because ultimately that’s what ends up being the gripping through line: Lara versus the environment.
The visceral elements of Rise of the Tomb Raider are awfully impressive; few games do such a great job of making it feel like concept art has been brought to life. Lara plodding through thick snow into the cold black night, while the biting wind whips her hair into her face is completely effective — as are the moments of steep vertigo during climbing sections thanks to the game’s camera work. When Lara is isolated and alone against nature —as opposed to a military militia— there’s a palpable sense of danger. Yes, the game is still extremely violent, and yes the violence is used exclusively for shock value, but the startling nature of the brutality feels consistent with the harsh ‘look’ of the environments themselves … usually.
For all the action, all the bombastic, all the linear moments in Rise of the Tomb Raider, the game manages stay exciting. Core to this is the game’s tombs which functionally reset your intrigue and engagement. The first Tomb you come across is a large ship suspended vertically in a wall of ice. It’s clever, packed with unique design, and slows everything down long enough for the rest of the game’s systems to seem novel all over again — and this is true for all of these ‘side’ tombs. In fact, it might have some of the best pacing and flow of a game in 2015, making it comfort food in the vein of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2013) and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014) — games I couldn’t put down, but can’t remember anything about.
- There are a few spots where Lara has to break a tomb to enter it. I continuously screamed at the screen yelling, "No don't do it! That's history Lara — HISTORY!"
- Pinging for collectibles is one of the more problematic elements I didn't have time to address. Often collectibles are needlessly tucked away not unlike an N64 game. Lots of falling down hillsides to get a little sparkly gem that grants xp.
- Like Tomb Raider (2013), there are more nods to LOST (2004) than I'm comfortable with.
- Lara moves like Mario, not Altair or Sonic — thank goodness
- The plot feels so slapdash, even some of its visual editing feels haphazard.
- I like the ui quite a bit, it's rather unobtrusive after the game has taught you a technique.
- I also think Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider are better about visual gameplay communication (i.e. which walls are climbable) than many other AAA games. They feel ever so slightly more subtle.
- There are a handful of shootouts that have the same The Last of Us-style knee high walls to shoot over — which is mildly disappoint in a game with so much handcraft content.
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