As one of gaming’s most venerated franchises to date, Tomb Raider hasn’t survived two decades without a few shake-ups along the way. Rebooted twice already, Lara Croft’s exotic excursions, which has seen the dexterous trinket-pincher scaling precarious rock faces and putting local wildlife on the endangered species list since the PSOne days, has had its fair share of ups and downs, yet has deftly managed to reinvent itself in a post-Uncharted world. Indeed, Miss Croft’s 2013 overhaul proved that this aging series has the action chops to duke it out with the biggest franchises on the market, and with Rise of the Tomb Raider, Crystal Dynamics further cements the dominance of this iconic heroine in the action-adventure space.
Following a year-long fling with Xbox, Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration hits PlayStation 4 with more than just the stonking campaign of the original; there’s a heap of new content thrown into the mix here, including the PlayStation VR-compatible Blood Ties, co-op Endurance mode, and the undead-infested Lara’s Nightmare. More on that later, though.
Lara comes home to PlayStation, and boy have we missed her
Set a few years after the events of 2013’s origins adventure, Rise of the Tomb Raider sees Croft following in her late father’s footsteps for the mythical city of Kitezh, which is nestled in the freezing mountainous regions of Siberia. Naturally, she’s not alone in the search, and has to contend with a mysterious organisation known as Trinity, who give her a reason to whip out her bow and pistol again for another murderous treasure hunt. Unsurprisingly, Crystal Dynamics has adhered to the well-oiled paradigm that made the 2013 game so successful, and it works like a charm here once again. However, there’s a sprinkle of improvements that ensure Rise of the Tomb Raider feels anything but formulaic.
As with the reboot, Lara’s latest adventure relishes in exploration. Yes, the story follows a linear path, but there’s plenty to do beyond progressing through the series of admittedly brilliant set pieces and exposition that punctuates the action-packed combat and platforming. There’s heaps of collectibles to scoop up, from relics, documents, hidden coin caches (used to purchase weapons and gear from vendors), and more, while the non-mandatory tombs crop up again to put the old grey matter to work in some of Rise of the Tomb Raider’s most cerebrally challenging distractions, not to mention providing a brilliant showcase for the game’s stunning level design.
Lara can now also bone up on her foreign languages by reading various inscriptions dotted throughout the environment; doing so increases your proficiency in a particular lingo, allowing you to translate murals that lead to hidden goodies or unexplored caverns. Meanwhile, friendly NPCs dish out missions that cough up some handy gear to give you the edge in combat. Yes, you can ignore these if you want, but it’s all the more rewarding to poke about and explore each location, and this freedom is unequivocally among Rise of the Tomb Raider’s biggest strengths.
The upgrade system also makes a comeback, using Skill Points and scavenged materials to boost Lara’s abilities and weapons so that you can shape her to suit your playing style. Fancy sticking to the bow for stealth kills? Then pimp it out to the max. On the other hand, maybe you fancy equipping Lara with some deadly counter kills? Then upgrade her combat prowess. Nothing feels inconsequential, and there’s a definitive gratification in witnessing Lara grow as the game progresses. You’ll need it too, as Trinity has more than enough armed guerrillas to lob your way. Fortunately, Lara has access to a meaty arsenal of weapons, from pistols, rifles, assault rifles, shotguns, bows, and more, making for some high-octane, punchy combat sequences that are complemented by some pretty solid AI; you’ll be scrambling from cover to cover and dodging grenades as your foes push the attack with surprising tenacity. Repetition does seep through the cracks after you’ve capped your umpteenth, faceless mercenary, but the adrenaline-pumping set pieces and stunning vistas more than ensure these encounters never outstay their welcome.
Rise of the Tomb Raider PS4 dazzles with stunning visuals and sound
Speaking of vistas, Rise of the Tomb Raider definitely isn’t shy of flexing its PS4-sized technical muscle. While not quite as exquisitely detailed as, say, Uncharted 4, the game’s locations are nonetheless a sumptuous showcase for Crystal Dynamics’ eye for detail and character, be it the dusty tombs of Syria to the snowcapped mountains and abandoned Soviet base in Siberia. The lighting effects in particular are gorgeous, while Lara herself possesses a visual flare that highlights every eye-wincing cut and bruise sustained on her teeth-chattering journey through the snowy wastelands. For the most part, the game runs smoothly without any major hiccups; the main offenders being some lengthy load times and occasional frame rate stuttering.
Elsewhere, Camilla Luddington once again does a top notch job of lending her voice to the iconic heroine; Lara’s new-found confidence and toughness learned from her inaugural adventure is present in spades, but Luddington’s nuanced performance still allows a sense of vulnerability and doubt to seep into her performance. Much of Lara’s character is explored in the new Blood Ties mission, which sees you investigating the dilapidated Croft Manor for proof that our nimble heroine has the rights to hold onto the sprawling estate after being threatened by her grumpy old uncle, Atlas. It’s a great, albeit brief, tour of this meticulously crafted abode as you uncover lost documents and recordings fleshing out your parents’ history, with the raging storm outside generating quite the spooky atmosphere.
Lara’s Nightmare is the antithesis of Blood Ties, taking the form of an action-packed zombie shooter that sees Lara gunning down hordes of undead throughout Croft Manor. Here, you’re tasked with dispatching three mysterious floating skulls before squaring off against a boss, pilfering weapons dotted throughout the estate along the way. You can also equip various cards that give you an edge in combat, though these will deduct from your overall score at the end; it’s a fun romp, and while too brief, provides a welcome distraction from the main campaign. Furthermore, Crystal Dynamics’ decision to eschew competitive multiplayer in favor of Endurance co-op was quite perspicacious to say the least; Rise of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay lends itself seamlessly to the concept of aiding your buddy as you fight to survive the harsh conditions and manage your supplies effectively to stay alive.
Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration is a fantastic value package that effortlessly proves that Lara Croft has once again earned her place as one of PlayStation’s greatest. The main campaign would have been enough to suffice, but the extra DLC toppings make this gripping action-adventure all the more sweeter. Don’t miss it.