Calamity Croft strikes again.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration on PS4
Lara Croft, or Calamity Croft as I like to call her, has the worst luck. Within the opening half hour of the game, she’s branded a lunatic by a tabloid magazine, earned the disdain of her dad’s ex-girlfriend, betrayed by a Syrian driver, and taken a few painful tumbles along the way as well. But I wouldn’t have it any other way; Lara makes a return as a stronger, much more hardy adventurer in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and the result is largely satisfying.
Rise of the Tomb Raider places Lara in the Siberian wilderness where she follows her father’s footsteps in search of an artifact that grants immortality. Things are, of course, never so simple, and she soon finds out that a sinister organization named Trinity is after the same reward that she is.
Following the events of the 2013 reboot, Lara has more or less completed her transformation into a merciless hunter now. I could say a few scornful words about how she’s turned into a completely ruthless killer who cares for nothing but a steadily increasing body count, but the truth is, Rise of the Tomb Raider nails down the combat so perfectly it’s hard to complain at all. Crystal Dynamics promised guerilla combat with Rise, and they definitely delivered.
With an assortment of arrows at your disposal (poison, explosive, fire), coupled with the ability to craft explosives on the go and create traps, Rise does such a fantastic job of making you feel like a stalking predator. One of my gameplay highlights involved me throwing a smoke grenade at a group of four unsuspecting soldiers, quickly taking out a fifth soldier who escaped the smoke, and then heading back into the fray to silently choke out the incapacitated soldiers. The encounter was wrapped up so neatly, and I couldn’t help but feel like a little bit of a badass (a bad arse?) walking away from that scuffle unscathed.
Certainly, nothing beats the feeling of scouting out an enemy encampment by leaping from tree to tree, executing a jumping knife attack when the time is just right either. There are highly intense firefights in the game where Lara herself gets swept up in the adrenaline of the action and shouts taunting remarks at her foes as they repeatedly run into her devastating shotgun finisher combos. I can’t help but cheer along with her. Rise of the Tomb Raider makes the player feel powerful and in control, and the game is all the better for it.
Of course, there is a more human side to Lara as well. This comes through during the monologue segments that trigger whenever she sits at a campfire to ruminate on recent happenings. Rise of the Tomb Raider places a lot of focus on the theme of family, particularly the relationship between Lara and her father. In Rise, she struggles to come to terms with the circumstances surrounding Lord Croft’s death, and she believes that continuing his work will allow her to finally move on. Her interactions with Jonah, who made an appearance in 2013’s Tomb Raider as well, are heartwarming, and help to paint a softer, more human side to her. Voice actress Camilla Luddington has truly brought this iteration of Lara to life, and it’s not hard to sympathize with Lara when she reflects on all she’s been through so far.
So yeah, I guess what I’m saying is, Lara might have slaughtered thousands of men, but she’s still got feelings, y’know?
Along the way, you’ll also run into several NPCs who will ask you to complete some optional missions for them. These usually involve you making your way to specific locations around Siberia and interacting with special objects, or collecting a certain number of resources to be brought back to the base. The quests are a little inane, but incredibly rewarding as you’ll get access to outfits, weapon parts, and useful pieces of gear that help to unlock more rewards. Rise of the Tomb Raider contains a semi-open world environment that’s full of crypts to explore, tombs to raid, challenges to complete, and the aforementioned optional missions. Speaking of tombs, they actually feel like more complex environmental puzzles now, as compared to the ones in 2013’s Tomb Raider.
It’s a good thing, then, that Rise of the Tomb Raider is just so packed with activities to do, as the single-player campaign falls short in terms of narrative. Overall, the story is serviceable, if a little predictable towards the end of it. Rise ends on a rather unsatisfying cliffhanger, complete with a frustrating boss fight that is ‘difficult’ only because of its silly mechanics that don’t make use of any of the skills you’ve picked up and honed throughout the course of your journey. Rise of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay is fantastic, but ultimately falls flat right at the very end because of weak storytelling and unearned loose ends. Without going into spoiler territory, there is little to no explanation about who these Trinity folk are, or what they’re up to, even though they’re supposed to be a huge driving force of the story. It’s cool to go up against a shady, mysterious organization, but not so cool when they end up being just a faceless entity that serves as sequel bait for the next entry.
That said, the PS4 version of the game also comes packed with all previously released DLCs and a few extra modes too. The PS4 exclusive Blood Ties DLC provides more insight into Lara’s connection with her parents, and allows you to explore the grand Croft manor as well. While it’s a little light on the gameplay (the entire DLC is one big puzzle on its own), it does provide some much-needed closure on the state of the Croft family, which is not given in the main campaign. There are also many outfits. Hanging out at a campfire and trying on different outfits for Lara can be very fun.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration also comes with a new Endurance co-op mode where you can go it solo, or pair up with a friend to survive the Siberian wilderness as you hunt for artifacts while making sure you don’t freeze or starve. It’s one of the more enjoyable pieces of extra content, and just serves to hammer home the feeling of living off the land, and scavenging for scraps to survive and outsmart your enemies.
Really, Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration truly shines when you’re playing through the optional stuff. Blood Ties offers an engaging puzzle storyline, the Baba Yaga hunt contains the best boss fight in the game (it puts the campaign’s boss to shame, no question about it), and Endurance mode allows you to enjoy the satisfying survival aspect of the game with a friend. If all that still isn’t enough for you, there are also Expedition challenges, which are basically score attack modes where you get to tackle past missions and additional levels to rack up high scores. And of course, higher body counts.
I’m still excited to see how Lara grows from here; there’s clearly still a lot of story left for the teams over at Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics to tell. While it’s still niggling at my mind that Trinity was introduced in this entry just to lead into a potential sequel, there’s always the hope that we’re being set up for much grander and epic adventures. And even if you’re not going to end up staying for the story, at least the brutal combat itself will keep you satisfied for hours on end. Stay merciless, Lara.
Score: 3.5/5 – Fair