No franchise has been stretched out and milked the way “Tomb Raider” has, but the latest game in the series, “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” surprised me with its level of detail, as well as just how blood-thirsty the developers have become.
Fresh off yet another reboot, protagonist Lara Croft is seeking to redeem her dead father’s disgraced name by tracking down the divine source, a mythical object that’s never fully explained but supposedly grants eternal life to its owner. Along the way, Lara must contend with an ancient order of cultists obsessed with using the divine source for their own nefarious deeds. They make for decent villains, even though what they actually plan to do with the source is never adequately explained and most of the foot soldiers are basically just guys in ski masks.
Something that never stopped impressing me in the course of the 12 hour campaign was just how beautiful the graphics in this game are. It’s clear that the developers took advantage of the power of the PC to enhance the beautiful environments they’ve created. While I’ve always contended that graphics don’t make a game good, it really is breathtaking to look out over scenic landscapes and feel like a bit like you’re really there.
If you played the last game, you might remember one early sequence when Lara was forced to tearfully shoot a deer for food. If you think she’s retained any compunctions about killing, you’re in for a shock, because the body count in “Rise” gets into the triple digits. Lara is initially limited to hunting her human prey with a bow, but once you get a pistol and then an assault rifle, her insatiable thirst for cultist and mercenary blood gets a little unsettling.
Exploration is the other big theme in this game, as every location is filled with documents, relics and interesting vistas. Nine optional challenge tombs can be found throughout the game with slightly more complex puzzles than the main game, and they’re all fun to explore and carry some nice rewards. Some of the documents you find reveal a story that’s arguably more interesting than Lara’s, as you learn that the Byzantines, the Mongols and the Soviets have all pursued the divine source in the past, each meeting a similar end.
The game that “Rise” most reminds me of is actually “Batman: Arkham City,” because “Rise” has a similar focus on alternating action and stealth. Of course, Lara’s stealthy takedowns are more brutal than Batman’s, but that’s to be expected when one of them has a utility belt and the other has just a combat knife and her bloodlust.
Fortunately, the game never forces you to do things the stealthy way. You’ll pretty much always have your guns and the components for at least one molotov cocktail, which I appreciated. Too many games try to force the player to do things one way, so it’s refreshing to see that “Rise” is willing to step back a bit.
Although the game is mostly well put together, I did encounter some glitches, ranging from funny to frustrating. During one combat sequence, an enemy was able to shoot me through a solid brick wall. At another point in the game, what was supposed to be a solemn and contemplative moment was ruined because Lara was floating almost a foot off of her chair.
“Rise” also never stops handing the player new ways to kill, which makes upgrading some of the early weapons kind of useless. By the end of the game you’ll be packing a bow, pistol, assault rifle, shotgun and a knife along with special ammo for each of those weapons. It might have been conceived of as variety in your weapon choice, but it really just makes the incremental weapon upgrades useless.
Overall, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is a functional game that has some very entertaining moments. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a fun campaign that takes the player to interesting locations and then lets them shoot most of the inhabitants. If the developers could get more creative with the action sequences, “Tomb Raider” may yet find its place in the gaming canon once again.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.