Rise of the Tomb Raider, Review by Jenni Contrisciani
Lara Croft is back in Rise of the Tomb Raider and she’s as deadly as ever. The developer, Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square Enix had some big expectations to live up to after the success of reintroducing Lara Croft in the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider: A Survivor is Born. While I enjoyed this game, it didn’t produce the visceral feelings I had playing the first. Perhaps I had just gotten used to balancing on sheer precipices or dealing with people trying to kill me, but this version lacked some of the soul that I found so endearing in the original. Some people complained about the psychological play that Lara went through in the first Tomb Raider, but as a geek girl gamer, I found it intriguing and more realistic. I felt the chills in me as Lara was hunted, as she fought to survive, and as she explored spooky places. I didn’t quite feel that the second time around. Granted, she is a bit more hard core now after having offed multiple attackers in the first version, but I can’t believe she had turned into a callous killer by episode two. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great game, and it still has a ton of character development, especially in the complex relationship Lara has /had with her father so this is by no means a simple shoot-em-up game.
Mechanically, Crystal Dynamics has pioneered some great effects including the movement of Lara’s hair during normal gameplay, and the effects of moving through snow. Lara now has to craft more items, which adds a bit of realism. Before you hunted for experience, now you have to hunt to get materials to survive. Lara also can now swim, and use more stealth and distraction to defeat enemies allowing for more of a mental aspect to combat versus sheer force. This type of combat appeals to the more ninja-like and cerebral amongst us, as opposed to the true berserker Viking warrior. Her main weapon of stealth is still her bow, which some gamers have said makes her a Katniss Everdeen-light, but I found it satisfying conducting well planned and lengthy stalked stealth kills with the quiet death of her deadly arrows.
Lara is pretty much covered up in this episode. In the first outing, Crystal Dynamics had her clothes gradually get shredded on Yamatai Island. While realistic, I suspect this was done as much to tantalize teen boys as much as to provide a realistic sartorial scenario. Now, Lara is covered in a fur parka in the snows of Siberia which may be a let-down to male gamers, but provides a smirking satisfaction amongst we girl gamers who are used to our characters being half-naked. Physically, Lara remains within normal anatomical proportions which was always the joke in the previous cartoonish versions of her in earlier games.
The plot in Rise of the Tomb Raider revolves around finding a relic before a quasi-religious order known as Trinity retrieves it for their own nefarious purposes. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the use of the term Trinity for the bad guys as it seems Christians seem to be taking the fall in a lot of games as the bad guys these days, but we can always imagine them to be a diabolical offshoot of fanatics, in the vein of the DaVinci Code books. There are some decent plot twists, and the characters, both good and bad are better defined than the average video game characters.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more introspection and angst from Lara as she moved through this story, but it was still far better than the average game, and ages ahead of its time in its treatment of female characters. I give this game two thumbs up with a smile that is close to, but not quite as wide as the first Tomb Raider. I guess a part of me will always be left on Yamatai Island, just as Lara was.