Friday, December 11, 2015

Video Game Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Publisher: Square Enix, Microsoft Studios
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform Played for Review: Xbox One

"Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best games of 2015."

One year after the events of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft continues her search for answers to life's enigmatic questions using her father's research. Specifically, Lara seeks to finish her father's research by discovering the lost city of Kitezh and the secret to immortality...

Rise of the Tomb Raider essentially follows Lara Croft as she attempts to complete her father's research. At the end of his life, Lara's father, once revered, was disgraced and humiliated due to his search for immortality - a search that consumed him. Lara is convinced she's found the source and begins her trek, which leads her to Syria. Of course, her adventure isn’t simple. Lara is being tracked by Trinity, a relentless group seeking the same goal as Lara; except, this group, led by Konstantin, has their own intentions for the Divine Source. Lara joins forces with the locals, including Jacob, the leader. The story is obviously a bit more complicated, especially with characters like Jacob and Konstantin, but that's generally the gist. Expect a fast-paced conclusion and a satisfying ending — even the credits were great!

The sense of adventure and discovery is exhilarating.
I genuinely enjoyed the story from beginning to end. Through the narrative, we learn a bit more about Lara Croft and her family, especially her haunted father. I liked these bits of information, even when it was solely presented in camps during brief intermissions. Like its predecessor, Rise of the Tomb Raider offers an amazing sense of adventure. There are plenty of jaw-dropping and chilling moments spread throughout, keeping you at the edge of your seat during some of its more tense moments — and these are only the scripted events, I'll discuss the gameplay in a minute. I will say, though, I did feel this game featured less scripted events than its predecessor. That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. In fact, I felt the stronger focus on gameplay allowed for a more refined plot. I liked this newfound balance. Don’t fret, though, if you love those big "oh, shit," moments, there are plenty of those around.

The combat is engaging and satisfying, featuring more than simple gunplay.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a third-person action-adventure akin to its predecessor, Tomb Raider (2013). For the most part, this installment sticks to the basics. Sure, you can now sprint and there are a few new tools in Lara's bag, like a grappling hook and different types of ammunition and weapons, but the gameplay is practically identical to its precursor — running, dodging, upgrading firearms... it's more of the same. Fortunately, that’s not a bad thing. Although never straying far from the formula, the gameplay is flawless. Traversing is smooth and the shooting mechanics are great. It never feels like it's biting more than it can chew. Don't scoff at the aforementioned "new tools," either. The new gameplay devices, like the crafting system, are a wonderful addition. I loved crafting different types arrows on-the-go, as well as using cans and bottles as handy explosives during tense firefights. Every piece of the gameplay connects seamlessly, in turn, creating a very fulfilling gameplay experience.

The story has plenty of epic set-pieces, as well as detailed areas to explore.
If you're not much into the story and generally don't care for the bang-and-boom gameplay, Rise of the Tomb Raider offers a bit more. First and foremost, many areas can be traversed without combat using stealth. You won't earn as many resources to upgrade your weapons, but the variety is there. The hubs are also much larger than the previous game, allowing for more exploration and freedom. You can also complete a variety of simple side-quests — destroy this and destroy that. The tombs really set this game apart, though. The tombs are comprised of several smaller puzzles used to unlock a path to your treasures. There not the most difficult, but some offered a few head-scratching moments. If you need a break from the story, these activities are a welcomed breath of fresh air.

"The game is a visual powerhouse."
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a technical marvel. The game looks magnificent on the Xbox One — perhaps the best looking game on the system. The environments are lush and detailed, the particle effects are vibrant, and the animations are fluid. The game is a visual powerhouse. This was actually the first game I that actually compelled me to use the system's screenshot feature. On top of the superb visuals, Rise of the Tomb Raider also boasts a powerful soundtrack. The score further amplifies the sense of adventure. The framerate was stable through most of the game, although some cutscenes have some minor but inconsequential drops — it didn't bother me at all. The voice acting is also great from the main cast. Camilla Luddington returns as the constantly grunting and groaning Lara Croft; kidding aside, I think she did fine in the performance — an improvement from the last installment, too.

Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a fantastic video game. It takes all of the great from the reboot and makes it better. Crystal Dynamics have improved on every aspect from their reboot while adding welcomed additions, like the crafting system. If you liked the TR 2013, I strongly believe you'll enjoy Rise of the Tomb Raider. As of now, Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best games of 2015. Not only on a technical level, but simply based on the fun and thrills it has to offer. If you're curious, I completed the game in approximately 14 hours, completing only a few tombs and spending some time exploring. Also, I didn't bother using the microtransaction scheme in the game. In fact, I barely noticed it.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, including some graphic death sequences.

[Screenshots captured on Xbox One and used for review purposes only. I do not claim ownership to the IP.]

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