Rise of the Tomb Raider

FBT and the Last Crusade

After the TR reboot, I approached this sequel much the same way Lara behaved in the first one; I cried and blamed everyone else. I didn’t want to do this. Afterwards I cried because I should have just ignored the first and played this; this is how you reboot.

Lara’s late father had become obsessed with the supernatural and legends, eventually amassing a kind of archaeologist’s x-files. Discredited, he took his own life. Lara, totally not ripping off Indy and the Last Crusade, is determined to prove her father right and goes looking for ‘the source’, which grants immortality, and catches the attention of Trinity; once a religious sect committed to wiping out heresy, they’re now a paramilitary force looking to use artefacts to further their cause - not at all like the Nazis’ in Last Crusade; there’s even an icy double-crossing blonde. You call this Archaeology?

Following clues to Siberia, Lara discovers a hidden civilisation, the Remnant, who have been keeping the source a secret from the outside world for hundreds of years; unfortunately, Trinity followed her, so it’s a race to find the source before they do.

This time around, instead of dealing with her self-doubt we’re exploring Lara’s daddy issues. Besides constantly banging on about dad, there’s the leader of Remnant, Jacob, who seems to bring out the girlie in our little Tomb Raider; they grown up so fast. She’s constantly fangirling over him, looking up with big eyes and hanging on his every word. Whereas in the first game she was all woe is me, this time it’s ‘dear diary, Jacob said hello to me today, I literally died OMG’. Still, she’s as blameless as ever.

After Trinity decimate a Remnant camp she says “People are suffering because of my actions. It’s happening again. No, I can’t think like that.” Yes, yes you can. The Remnant were happily sealed off for decades before you came along. While she does occasionally squeeze out a few tears, Lara is surprisingly well-adjusted and up for the fight this time around, even though I think she’s just doing it to impress Jacob. And the game doesn’t hate her either, unlike TR.

There’s no rape-attack and few masochistic death scenes. This time if Lara mucks up she usually just dies rather than get mangled for us to enjoy like a Hostel movie. This is a solid adventure story not some grimy exploitation flick. If the first game's Lara was I Spit On Your Grave's Jennifer Hills, this is Ellen Ripley, Sarah Conner; strong and capable but human all the same. Now her yells and screams are of determination not panic or fear, she’s a lot more naturally intuitive and proactive; our behaviour is still a little at odds with the ‘what a terrible turn of events’ Dora the Explorer cut-scenes, but not as obvious as TR.

It could be argued RoTR a bit more generic too. It’s more obviously aping other typical open-world shooters; Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, even Arkham City. Lara is equal to the threats she faces, and often has the upper-hand; she’ll scoot around, hide in bushes, jury-rig Molotovs or smoke grenades, and a nice touch is using Trinity soldier’s CB radios to draw them in – which can be upgraded to a proximity mine; Lara is totally over feeling bad for killing and the game gives you lots of ways to do so. It doesn’t have quite the same level of bombastic moments or desperation, but it’s a more intense, up close game, relying on her honed skills not her ability to withstand being skewered.

There’s even a shop of sorts where you can trade coins you find to buy upgrades – which is actually a bit of an annoyance. She’ll ignore piles of gold but stumble around maps digging up old coins for trading. Why aren’t the Remnant giving her those upgrades, she’s helping. Sort of. And what are they going to spend them on? They’re cut off, not even Amazon Prime can get in here. It would be better to unlock those upgrades via side missions.

We do get some XP-worthy distractions like ‘cut down all those flags’ and actual side-quests like taking out Trinity drones or help sure-up defences for example, although they do occasionally grate; I ignore an impending Trinity invasion to help round up some chickens, and the fast-travel option often undermines the forward-push plot; at one point I’m to clear a path for some prisoners including a critically injured friend; but I pop off to finish burning down Soviet propaganda first - I’ll be back to save you later.

Still, a lot of the fun and exploration you derive from RotTR is because the narrative, while epic isn’t as life-or-death this time. Lara is dedicated to reclaiming her dad’s legacy, but while she and Trinity are equally matched they're also equally stuck here, so it’s a stalemate until you change things, and that lets you actually be a Tomb Raider.

The Tomb Raiding has been more carefully woven in this time. The puzzles are a lot more complex and satisfying, and they unlock abilities rather than being an XP grind. They’re varied, ranging from flooded waterworks to huge caves and abandoned mines, some with wolf packs marauding around. I’m finally enjoying raiding tombs and have time to look around rather than feel like I have to pat Lara on the shoulder telling her it’s going to be okay. And what a view.

The lush valleys, old Soviet blockades and factories, underground caves and mines, freezing tundra and old towns are stunning, while the lost city beneath a huge glacier is a great final location; the level of detail makes it one of those annoying games where you lose precious time poking around, while hunting at night is something special. Each area feels progressively tougher, more complex than the last, with its own play-style and there’s more emphasis on verticality this time, levels are cut into cliff-faces or buildings we make our way up, and swing between. And fall off.

If she does fall off anything or get shot though, this time around it’s my fault not hers. Lara is at home in extremes, capable and ready rather than bursting into tears. A sequence where Lara swims under the ice, picking off Trinity soldiers by tracking the laser-sights on their rifles through smoke bombs and popping out of ice holes to drag them into the depths and drown them is … amazing. Lara has progressed, gets shit done. Every time I thought ‘Lara won’t that?’, she did. Finally, I'm kicking ass.

But she’s not all stone-cold-killer. There’s some nice moments like Lara learning languages by deciphering texts and notes she finds, eventually translating clues and she’s always adjusting her ponytail. Gotta look her best for Jacob. We can pick her outfit for better camouflage or speedier healing, or have her shiver through glacial water in a classic tight vest. Because, you know, it’s nipple-chilly but less restrictive ... Wouldn’t you agree Jacob?

Lara does grow in the game too. For much of the story she’s obsessed with finding the source to prove her father wasn’t mad, but eventually snaps out of it and accepts she must protect the source not expose it. To do so, she needs to get past The Deathless, who were the Remnant’s army before the source turned them into soulless drones. They sealed off their city to stop anyone claiming it and have roamed the ruins ever since. Guess who earlier thought it would be a good idea to shortcut through their backyard and piss them off just to impress Jacob? Good one Lara, he’s noticed you now.

The Deathless behave the same as the Oni from the first game, but blowing them to pieces with a fully upgraded shotgun is satisfying and the fights are different to the Trinity soldiers – while they’re all tactical and cover-loving, the Deathless come charging with huge axes forcing you to dodge and scramble. When you face off against both together, it becomes manic fun.

The end level, where we get to use huge trebuchets (thank you Lord of the Rings) as Lara races against both the Deathless and Trinity to reach the source is a fantastic scrap, with pitch battles, explosions, clambering, swinging, gun-fights, everything thrown in – even an old-school fight boss fight with Lara versus a Helicopter. And it has a satisfying, Last Crusade-riffing ending where you expect Jacob to say “she chose poorly”.

This was great fun and Lara is as close to the Tomb Raider as this narrative can get; with her guilt over dad dealt with and his library of legends to hand, Lara’s off to raid some tombs.

This could have worked perfectly well as the reboot. Its plot is urgent without being overwhelming, Lara survives by wit and smarts and she’s closer to the Lara we love, a determined but still flawed, occasionally bratty adventurer marching into danger to prove a point. But … I found myself weirdly missing the TR Reboot’s more desperate, bleak against-the-odds feel. Throughout that review I raged about it not being more like this, and now here I am whinging this isn’t more like that. What the hell?

RotTR just made me appreciate TR’s intent a little more; RotTR is a fantastic game but it’s also a familiar open-worlder that could easily be a Far Cry. The reboot saw her surviving as much by luck as ability, scrambling through extremes and becoming someone she perhaps didn’t want to be. I see now where they were going with it; yes, it had a masochistic brutality, that rape, the cut-scene blubbing vs game action that cancelled it all out, but I can appreciate what it tried to do; I didn’t like TR but in retrospect I like that it tried something different. This is a lot more generic, but it gives us the Lara we wanted. Now I can’t wait for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. I just hope it doesn’t rip off Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

2015 | Developer; Crystal Dynamics | Square Enix

Platforms; Win | XO/360 | PS4