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Rise Of The Tomb Raider [2016 -- Crystal Dynamics]

Started by Starfox, May 18, 2023, 08:04 PM

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Originally published on July 22, 2016

Rise Of The Tomb Raider follows the young Lara Croft in the aftermath of the events that occurred on the island of Yamatai in Tomb Raider (2013). Still troubled by the events and in search of answers, Lara turns her eyes back to the research of her father who allegedly committed suicide for being mocked by the scientific community following his studies of a "Deathless Prophet" and a "Divine Source". However one of the items of interest in these studies is the mention of the Order of Trinity. Centuries ago, the Order of Trinity would have been a military arm of the Byzantine church tasked with the pursuit and elimination of the Deathless Prophet and the retrieval of the Divine Source. But  the most interesting is that Lara found during her adventures on Yamatai documents related to Trinity (from the gamer point of view it was one document near the end of the game and the whole GPS thing that revealed another document; the first one was about a Trinity operative during WWII ordered to stop the Axis to acquire the "Star" phenomenon and the other much more recent from a Trinity operative that was sent to stop Matthias and was killed a bit before Lara shipwrecked). And so Lara goes on the track of the deathless Prophet first in Syria (enjoy that short prologue as it's about the only time in the game you'll feel warm) then in Siberia, always being hampered by Trinity at every turn.

No need to say, the Order of Trinity is much more alive in Rise Of The Tomb Raider (RotTR hereafter) than in the previous game as they represent the bulk of Lara opponents in the search for the Divine Source. Trinity operatives encountered in this game are however a small fraction of the Order and no doubt there will be more in future games (the end makes sure to hint to that). This particular Trinity cell is lead by two wackos, a sister and a brother, with the sister being especially known to Lara (and I'll stop there to prevent spoilers).

From a gameplay point of view, RotTR draws heavily on the previous game but extend the player options with the addition of new features. For one, crafting becomes a lot more involved than in Tomb Raider. It's not anymore a matter of finding scrap to build things but finding the right resources to build what you want. Simple arrows for example require hardwood and feathers. Weapons modifications and armor may require even more exotic and sometime hard to find things. Simple arrows and special ammunition (including for the pistol, shotgun and assault rifle) can be crafted on the spot -- no camp fire needed --  if you have the sufficient amount of required resources. Only standard firearms ammo must be found or retrieved from dead opponents. The fact the arrows may so easily be crafted will make of the bow the weapon of choice in a number of situations.

Weapons are handled differently than in the previous game. Instead of a single bow, pistol, shotgun and assault rifle that you upgrade through the game, you can discover and/or buy several models and upgrade each of them, then you have to pick one of each type of weapon at a camp fire. Different models of a same weapon type have of course different characteristics. For example the early game revolver (the first firearm Lara gets her hands on) does more damage but reload more slowly than the pistol. Armors are a bit different. Some are readily available at the start of the game, others will be unlocked through the normal progression of the game, yet others will need to be manufactured with resources (at the time of this note -- 02/04/2017 -- this particular feature is no longer available; please read the post below to know more). Despite the name none of the armors (save one) protects from damage so in most cases it's really a matter of appearance. However half of the armors offer a bonus. In most cases it's a shorten delay before health regeneration kicks in. In a few cases bonus are more practical like the Siberian Ranger armor that increases the number of special ammo for all weapons.

One can also craft some weapons in the field; hand-grenade with tin cans, Molotov cocktails with bottles, smoke grenade with clay pots -- you still must have the required resources to craft those, tin cans, bottles and clay pots themselves are readily available in an awful lot of places. However you cannot take those weapons with you; they must be used just after being crafted. The presence of those weapons allow for some flexibility in the way you approach threats. For example find a bottle in a room full of baddies and you can easily take out three or four of them without even being spotted.

What about being tricky? You can with the right resources rig the corpse of a fallen enemy with a poison bomb that makes noise, attracting other enemies nearby before exploding. Hilarity guaranteed, when that works. Even simpler you can now hide in a bush and just wait for and unsuspecting enemy to pass beside you before jumping them. With a special skill you can even perform this way a silent kill and hide the corpse in the bush where no one will notice it. With that being said don't dream we're still very far of "Lara Croft equals Garrett" and the number of times you actually have to fight your way through remind you perfectly of that. Still the occasional stealth never hurts.

But that's Tomb Raider we're talking about (although at that point there's little remaining of the "old" Lara Croft) so what about climbing, jumping and the like? Well essentially it's the same than in the previous game with a couple of twists and tools added like a grapple that allows you to reach places that are out of reach for a normal jump or climbing arrows that allows to climb wooden surfaces and even some special spots where Lara can perform a convincing imitation of Tarzan. There's even a rebreather to swim underwater longer (yes, Lara "can" swim in RotTR although somewhat not very gracefully and with the lung capacity of a one year old; fortunate then that there's absolutely nothing to be found underwater; still she can in some places use water to avoid and/or surprise enemies). Beware that most of these tools are not made available before half-game. Hence there are places (tombs in particular) you won't be able to explore before certain points of the game progression.

Lara also learned to sprint since the previous game. However (and that's kind of a relief to me) sprinting is just there to go faster across the land; It does not play any role as far as the climb/jump puzzles or Run-For-Your-Lifetm sequences go. Those are all timed for Lara's normal pace.

Tombs... This was one of the main reproach made to the previous game, for a game calling itself Tomb Raider there was a significant lack of interesting tombs. Well, RotTR kind of remedy that, increasing the number of tombs and their complexity. Each Tomb provides a very unique reward once explored under the form of a new skill that can't be acquired the normal way. Those skills are not necessary to complete the game but they can certainly help a lot (one is required if you want to upgrade your firearms to their fullest, another allows to detect traps before stepping on them... etc.). Additionally to tombs there are also crypts, kind of tombs you'd tell me but unlike tombs those are mostly straightforward and uncomplicated; some of those crypts may reward the player with a part for a new weapon or some equipment.

Documents lead us to a new feature, Lara can only read some of the things in the world when proficient enough in the language it is written in (Greek, Russian or Mongolian). Proficiency is gained by reading murals which are scattered just about everywhere and documents. What's the purpose? Deciphering some markers will lead you  to caches of ancient coins.

Would you believe me if I told you that there is even a vendor in the game? Yep there is... as a matter of fact, 2 weapons, a number of "gadgets" and one outfit can only be bought from him and only with the ancient coins mentioned above.

So far so good as I realize I have yet to say a bad thing about RotTR. I can't say that this game was a pain to play for me. The fun I had far outshine the "grrr" moments. In fact it mostly plays like Tomb Raider. That being said, that doesn't mean I don't have a couple of bones to pick with the game (and the developers). For a start the story suffers from the same problem that plagued the previous game: a complete lack of surprise. The player figures things way ahead of Lara which is a bit ridiculous when she finally realizes what's what and you are left looking at the screen saying "Well, duh! Wasn't it obvious?". Secondly, maybe that's just me but if I replace factions names from RotTR with factions names from Tomb Raider (ie, Order of Trinity with Matthias and his fanatics...etc.) I get the weird feeling that more than half of the story is interchangeable between the two.

Third, possibly the problem that got the most on my nerves (but that may not be as plaguing for the fans of the old Lara) Crystal Dynamics went back to their old demons. See my main problem with the old generation of Tomb Raider games is that most of the time everything was designed for the sake of jumping puzzles only giving way to situations that sometimes had not even an ounce of credibility. It was kind of "Let's design the puzzle first and draw the world around it and screw it if that doesn't make sense" which is the quick and messy way to do things. Tomb Raider 2013 (and that's what I really liked about it) mostly tried the other approach which consists in integrating puzzles in the world so that they seem like a natural occurrence and not something deliberately put there. Sure that didn't work "all" the time but that was close enough. Unfortunately senseless puzzles are back in RotTR. Oh! Not all the time, in fact the number of occurrences is rather low but still, there are definitely places in this game that you feel don't belong to the world and are just there because "hey, we needed a puzzle". Keep and eye out for something called "the orrery" when you'll play the game and you'll know what I mean.

I won't talk about the end of the game as I hate spoilers but it's really something that gameplay wise makes you say "Am I still playing the right game? I wanted Lara and I have Rambo? WTF?" Is this a bad thing? Well I guess that all depends on your vision of Lara Croft.

Technically speaking, the game is OK without being ground breaking (at least not at the "high" level of detail I was forced to play at since apparently anything higher requires a graphic card with more than 4GB of VRAM). Still I tried the "very high" textures for the sake of trying, had slightly worse framerate -- mostly it was brief freezes whenever the game loaded textures -- and I didn't see any real difference (nothing jaw dropping at least) so I reverted to "high" paying no more mind to the fact that I couldn't play with all the bells and whistles as all the bells and whistles doesn't seem to make a huge difference in this game, at least not in DX11. Anyway according to Crystal Dynamics "High is what we go with on PC for recommended configurations".

RotTR is also one of the rare games of the moment that can be played in DX12 (but of course you have to have Windows 10 and a suitable graphic card at a minimum for that).

Anyway, without jumping into the "sunshine and bunnies" wagon that seems to be the general rule of professional reviewers when it comes to this new incarnation of the Tomb Raider franchise, I'll say that Rise Of The Tomb Raider is definitely a fun game to play despite a couple of hurdles and weird design choices and an unsurprising story that even if it manages to hold itself until the end won't exactly put you on the edge of your seat in anxious anticipation -- definitely no Agatha Christie or Alan Dean Foster in there.

Still, fun is fun so there's the blue smiley.

DownLoaded Content (DLC) reviewed for this game:

Blood Ties (AKA Rise Of The Tomb Raider 20 Years Celebration Pack)

Guess what it means!


Due to a change in Square Enix/Eidos marketing practice, I've been forced to edit my review of Rise Of The Tomb Raider. The reason being: I mentioned in my review that some outfits had to be crafted with resources in game which was true at the time I wrote the review. Unfortunately SE/Eidos decided to change that. I was in the process of reviewing the two story DLCs for ROTR the past week and decided to replay a bit of the vanilla game just to put me back in condition. Surpise; you can no longer craft those craftable outfits I mentioned. You have to buy them as DLCs ($3.00 US each). This move concerns 10 outfits and I should also mention that all of the outfits affected by this move are the one that gives a small benefit to the player when worn. Good news, you don't have to gather resources to craft them anymore so you can get them at any point in the game (even at the start if you want); bad news you have to pay real money for it.

We're looking at 30 bucks that Eidos justifies because they rename those DLCs "pack" and include in each DLC with one of the outfitq a bunch of cards for the "Explorations" feature of the game (which thoroughly sucks). A couple of the DLCs even feature a couple of new weapons.

You'll understand that it's not the DLC that bothers me in this story it's the whole "let's take out the feature from the game so the suckers consumers will have to pay for it".

So I'm in the curious position where the savegame for my first playthrough have those outfits unlocked because I crafted all of them while I cannot access them in my second playthrough (without paying the "fee"). And apparently I'm lucky because there are reports of gamers who even lost some of the outfits they already crafted.

This disputable and despicable commercial choice comes at a moment where Eidos is also under fire for the DLCs issued for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided in which parts of the DLCs (consumables to be precise, like ammo, crafting parts... etc) are really consumed as soon as you use them and cannot be re-used across savegames -- if you decide for example to replay the game without using the New Game+ feature.

You'll understand that this does not change my appreciation of ROTR because it is a good game but I grant a red smiley to the guys at Eidos / Square Enix for such an unacceptable commercial practice.

Guess what it means!