Michael Leparc On November 9, 2015 at 8:04 am

Rise of the Tomb Raider LogoLara Croft is a character with distinguished lineage, both in the context of Tomb Raider universe, but also in the game industry at large. She was at the forefront of the PlayStation’s original success, demonstrating the innovation made possible with the advent of accessible 3D graphics on the console. But eventually a fall from grace with disappointing sequels required a reboot, one which Crystal Dynamics pulled off quite brilliantly in 2013, at least according to both critics and word of mouth. So it was a shock to hear from publisher Square Enix that it had not met expectations despite selling millions of copies. That’s probably why Rise of the Tomb Raider releases this year as a timed Xbox One exclusive, to arrive later next year on PC and PS4. While many are wringing their hands at this decision, if it helped offset the cost of making it, then it was more than worth it.

The plot picks up about a year after the last game, with Lara returning home to tell the tale of the crazy things that happened on the island of Yamitai, only for the whole thing to be covered up and nobody believing her. Behind all this is a mysterious organization called Trinity, which seems determined to make sure all myths remain that. This is obviously at odds with Lara’s motivation to prove that she and her late father aren’t insane, so she sets out to discover the truth to the rumors of a prophet who achieved immortality, which leads her to the ancient lost city of Kitzeh in Siberia. All along the way though she is in a race to discover various tombs and secrets before Trinity does, but those aren’t the only dangers along the way as the wildlife, environmental hazards, and booby traps also besiege her.

Core gameplay remains unchanged since Lara’s last adventure, which means a nice mix of classic Tomb Raider as well as the more combat oriented cover shooting of the Uncharted series. There are a few more things at her disposal this time around, however. For instance, Lara can use a lot more stealth attacks, dispatching her enemies rapidly from hidden bushes, or even from above. That makes for an easy transition for those of us who just finished Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, but even if you’re not familiar with that franchise it’s pretty easy to pick up, and also entirely optional for the most part. There’s a bit more emphasis on wilderness survival as well, since a lot more items can be crafted and upgraded in far more ways using the spoils of hunts, and what animals you can hunt depends on the time of day as well as the weather conditions. Those animals are definitely something to be reckoned with too, as bears and wolves will send shivers down your spine in particular. On top of that, the developers have heard everyone’s snarky comments, and yes, there are more actual TOMBS in the game this time around. Many are optional and puzzle oriented but you will also have to traverse them at times to advance the story, which is great to see. And while certain tombs aren’t necessary to complete, you really should as clearing them unlocks new abilities that can be quite helpful like being able to fire arrows more rapidly from your bow. The skill trees and leveling are back as well, with plenty of cool things to unlock and match to your preferred playstyle. Another neat gameplay element is the ability to translate various artifacts throughout the game, which will help you find coins and supplies to help you on your way. You have to level up each language by working your way up from easier stuff to translate into harder ones, so it gives you an incentive to back track later on in the game. The scrolls and such also are a nice tool for story exposition and feature voice acting just like the previous game. While some people might be disappointed in the lack of multiplayer this time around, there’s still leaderboards for specific challenges, and I would argue that the rest of the game has really benefited from the focus on single player.

Rise of the Tomb Raider clearly takes advantage of the Xbox One’s expanded graphical capabilities, well beyond what last year’s Definitive Edition of Tomb Raider achieved. Facial expressions, hair, the water, and properties of wet fabric are all rendered better than before, and draw distances are stretched further, which Crystal Dynamics has exploited to create much larger environments. The snow effects are the best I’ve seen in any game yet, with Lara and even the animals around her creating realistic footprints with depth, not just decals plastered on a flat white surface. Meanwhile the sounds, music, and voice acting are nothing to slouch off either, really making you feel like you’re smack in the middle of a Hollywood blockbuster.

If you can’t wait for it to come out for PlayStation 4 Holiday 2016 and had been considering an Xbox One anyway, then I believe Rise of the Tomb Raider qualifies as a system seller. Microsoft’s investment was a wise one, and it feels like it could be a launch pad for the franchise going forward now that the series reboot continues to blossom much like its protagonist does in the course of the game.


Builds upon its solid principles to hold up well to its contemporaries like Uncharted.


Makes complete use of what the Xbox One is capable of to deliver some truly impressive visual feats.


As well acted as its predecessor. Lara becomes easy to pull for throughout.


Everyone should be grateful this got made. It’s worth the sacrifices made.

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