Rise of the Tomb Raider Review – Charted Territory (PS4)
When Rise of the Tomb Raider released on Xbox One a year ago, I subconsciously put myself on a media blackout (it’s not terribly hard to avoid news on an Xbox release while writing for a PlayStation site). The idea was that I wanted my own experience on with it PS4 to be a fresh one, rather than feeling like a slightly worn hand-me-down from a time gone by. Then 2016 reared its digital head, games like Uncharted 4 caught my attention, and I put the impending PS4 release of Lara Croft’s latest adventure out of my mind. Now that the robust 20 Year Celebration is out for Sony’s platform, it’s time to catch up with the tomb raider.
First loading up the game gives a great idea of just how much content is packed into this release as notification after notification feeds information about what comes with the 20 Year Celebration. The main game, Baba Yaga DLC, endurance mode, Cold Darkness Awakened were part of the season pass that Xbox owners were treated to, but there’s also the Blood Ties and Lara’s Nightmare DLC , as well as a PlayStation VR mode in Croft Manor, each newly releasing with this 20 Year Celebration. Sure, as PlayStation owners we’ve had to wait a full year to play this proverbial Game of the Year edition, but looking at it from the perspective of a new PS4 release? There are few other games that have released with such a content offering. PS4 owners really are getting the good end of the deal here, if you can get over the whole timed exclusive bit that has finally come to an end. My recommendation? Get over it. Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration is a game worth playing.
Tomb Raider was an awesome game, despite — or possibly because of — the comparisons to Uncharted that it received. As Uncharted itself received comparisons to the classic Tomb Raider games when Nathan Drake took the stage, it’s hard to look at Rise of the Tomb Raider without drawing parallels between the two, particularly having just come off of the stunning Uncharted 4 earlier this year. Rise of the Tomb Raider follows Lara as she seeks the path of an ancient prophet and something called the Divine Source. She’s following up on some of her father’s research, and there’s somewhat of a personal story here, but I felt that it lacked a lot of heart. While making my way through the massive environments and learning more about the history of the world I was playing in, I found the narratives of the prophet, the people in the valley, the Soviets, and even some of the men in Trinity’s army, to be vastly more interesting than Lara’s place in the story. Where the first game was about a girl growing into the tomb raider that we’re all familiar with, being brutalized while she tries to save her friends. This game lost that personal touch.
Ties that Bind
I don’t feel that Lara’s character grew much by the end, I didn’t feel a strong emotional attachment to any of the characters, and the couple of moments meant to meet some emotional quota felt forced into the narrative just for the sake of trying to personalize Lara’s journey. That’s not to say that it’s a terrible story. It’s a treasure hunting adventure that’s a lot of fun, but it lacks that certain spark. All is not lost though. That spark is hidden within Blood Ties, which actually creates a much more believable motivation for Lara to pursue this treasure. It plays out like a Tomb Raider version of Gone Home, learning the Croft family history as Lara works her way through Croft Manor. I would have much preferred to see this as an opening to the game, or scattered throughout the chapters as flashbacks to help sell why Lara was so hellbent on completing this quest for her father. Blood Ties does stand as a nice addendum to flesh out the story, though I’d recommend playing through it before taking Lara on a pilgrimage after the prophet.
Graphically Rise of the Tomb Raider puts on quite a presentation, though lacks the same kind of polish found in Uncharted 4. While it doesn’t quite attain those lofty levels (though gets quite close with varied and interesting areas throughout), Tomb Raider does provide a more open gameplay experience, complete with side missions, item upgrades, and a wealth of hidden secrets in each massive area. Everything feels naturally placed in the environment, making the world feel alive. The contextual storytelling helps to drive the urge to complete everything, and I found myself constantly deviating from the path just to explore one more crypt or raid another secret tomb. These tombs turn up the nostalgia with puzzles reminiscent of early Tomb Raider gameplay. The survival crafting elements and third person gun play are still there, but there are a lot more puzzle filled tombs this time around, however optional they may be.
A Long Expedition
The campaign alone takes upwards of 13 hours to complete, but to 100% can take more than 30, with another couple of hours for the Baba Yaga DLC, which gets baked right into the middle of the story naturally. Add the score attack mode and you’ll find a ton of replayability in the campaign side of things alone. That’s before you start diving in to all of the extras. Cold Darkness Awakened is a mixture between a zombie survival game and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, as Lara is walked through proper procedures for shutting down a Soviet installation. Lara’s Nightmare is a zombie mode that takes place in Croft Manor — an alternate reality version of the Blood Ties story. Endurance is a survival mode that sees players fending off hunger and cold while searching crypts for artifacts in the Siberian wilderness, and can be played solo or cooperatively (online only).
None of these additions feels like entirely tacked on experiences, except for perhaps Lara’s Nightmare, which serves little purpose or replay value. In fact, in many ways they almost make the main game feel like the side content. That’s the most important aspect of the 20 Year Celebration. Just squashing content into a release for the sake of saying it has a lot of stuff is a weak strategy that gets outed pretty quickly, but Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration doesn’t have that problem. Many of these additions take on the nature of roguelikes, starting over at the beginning after each win or failure, and randomizing the experience for the next playthrough, providing endless possibility on top of the replayability of the main campaign.
If I wanted to, I could nitpick the little things about Rise of the Tomb Raider. There’s the way Lara’s hair on the front of her head seems to defy gravity, either by way of the strongest hairspray ever or invisible bobby pins. There’s the lackluster and nonexistent water effects in a game filled with water. And can somebody tell me how it is that the glowstick she hangs on her back hip can somehow bathe her face in an orange glow despite being behind her? I could nitpick, but I won’t. Those small things do nothing to diminish the quantity and quality present in Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration, and while the story doesn’t exactly pop, as a PS4 player, I’m happy to welcome Lara home.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.