Have you played… Rise of the Tomb Raider?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

A very good game wearing the skin of not a very good game. Peel that skin away, or at least try to ignore it, and find the golden bones underneath. Alternatively, just play the survival mode DLC and experience Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s best bits without the flab with a new sense of urgency.

The nu-Raiders are absolutely well-intentioned in terms of making Lara Croft both grounded and a serious hero of great competency in the face of great adversity, as opposed to the triangularly-norked pin-up she unfortunately mutated into back into the 90s.

I’m just not convinced by the execution, which is partly down to an over-earnest vocal performance and, in ROTR’s case, a baggy storyline that was too hung up on following in daddy’s convoluted conspiracy’n’magic footsteps rather than entirely making Lara a force of her own agency. I hope the next one features a Lara who loves what she’s doing and has a verve to her beyond Gettin’ Real Good At Not Dying.

But! Underneath that, I really dug the blend of exploration, high-stakes combat, environmental puzzling and hunting for upgrades. This really came together in that survival DLC which, though it perhaps doesn’t offer as long-lived an experience as the campaign, focuses hard on what works best.

Which is to say, staying alive in a hostile great outdoors, dogged by the elements just as much as by enemies. My own blood temperature drops a few degrees just hearing the howl of the wind, while small accomplishments feel like huge victories in such a stark place. But I dig the puzzle-tombs too, which are in shorter supply there.

What I want, clearly, is a sandbox survival Tomb Raider with only the loosest of stories and all manner of cannily lethal dungeons to uncover. I don’t need The Saga Of Lara Croft’s Self-Discovery. I just want a Lara who’s really, really good at her job, knows it, and loves the hell out of it.

23 Comments

  1. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    The facial animation in this game is just crazy. I was trying to figure out what seemed strange about it at one point, and eventually realized that I just wasn’t used to seeing video game characters with such expressive eyes. Really incredible stuff.

    (Sadly, all that amazing tech and art is kinda wasted on a pretty terrible plot. The reboot didn’t have the world’s greatest story either, but it was at least serviceable, and felt like it had a lot of potential that never manifested in Rise. Here’s hoping that Shadow can get the series back on track).

    • morganjah says:

      link to youtube.com

      Then you must check out Puss in Boots!

      • Kamestos says:

        I was more impressed by Geralt’s facial expressions in Witcher 3. He could convey emotions without speaking very convincingly.

        • thinkforaminute says:

          Didn’t The Witcher 3 use cutscenes for interactions between the player and npc’s? I though that was the games most innovative feature. It may Geralt show more emotion and a sense of self, as you say.

          As for Tomb Raider Reboot Part 2, I couldn’t get into this one because of all of the card packs and other bullshit which made the game confusing. All I did was play around with survival mode.

  2. Wormerine says:

    New Tomb Raider reboots have the issue of sacrificing its great gameplay for a really poor story. RoTB has been a step in right direction, though I would prefer if we were to stick to sunny and colourful Syria from the opening, rather than dull Russia.

    Gameplay has been better that it has ever been, now the devs only need to trust it enough to carry the experience – or write characters I would give a damn about.

  3. woodsey says:

    I’ve enjoyed them both as throwaway action romps but the more I think about what a wasted opportunity they are the more angry and confused I get.

    Like, they strand us in these wilderness hub environments because Lara’s learning to become a “survivor”, and that’s how she’ll become “The Tomb Raider” (because that’s a title now), but there’s no survival-style gameplay in these hubs, and really, what the hell does wilderness survival have to do with grave-robbing anyway?

    If you want to do a Tomb Raider game with a hub-world, why not actually set it within, you know, an actual tomb, or a lost city or whatever. Make the centre or the entrance an archaeological dig site and let us actually explore outwards or inwards or whatever.

    • Kamestos says:

      There was cognitive dissonance of how Lara is portrayed in the game and her ruthless killing of multiple mercs.
      Just give me bloodthirsty, angry, spec-ops ninja Lara any day.

    • Janichsan says:

      If you want to do a Tomb Raider game with a hub-world, why not actually set it within, you know, an actual tomb, or a lost city or whatever. Make the centre or the entrance an archaeological dig site and let us actually explore outwards or inwards or whatever.

      You mean like in the top-down “Lara Croft and the…” spin-offs?

      • woodsey says:

        Well, with all the platforming and movement tricks from these latest reboots, so probably not.

  4. OmNomNom says:

    Playing at the moment actually and enjoying it a fair amount. It becomes quite trivial quickly even on the hardest difficulty (not sure really what it made more difficult) but it is fairly enjoyable.
    Nice and polished now with all the patches and DLC anyway.
    Just a game I need to play in small doses so I don’t get too fatigued.

  5. Kefren says:

    Is this the one where she’s unable to climb a ledge and can only leave a valley when she starts shooting arrows at deer? Or is this the sequel to that? (Tomb Raider games have always been a bit confusing in their reboots and sequels and reboots.) I didn’t get past that point, I hate being forced to do things that then suddenly lead to a magical opening appearing. It didn’t even make sense when neither the character nor the player wanted or needed to kill the deer – and I bet ten minutes later she was in a camp full of food and bars of chocolate and running round with a shotgun. I liked Tomb Raider 2 though. I was once late for a bus back to university because I was playing a level in the deep sea with sharks.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      I like immersive experiences more but that never disturbed me in the first game, she is hungry and needs a fire to cook the meat, that’s reason enough to do it IMHO if a flimsy one.

      • Kefren says:

        That’s fine, we’re all different. For me, how believable it is comes from our past experiences. In my case I’ve fasted for over 72 hours a few times (i.e. no food, just liquid). At one time I was teaching martial arts during the fast. It wasn’t a biggie. Water’s different – within a very short time there will be all sorts of pains and illnesses and then death, but we can go without food for a lot longer than people realise. After a while you even stop being hungry. So as a motivator for me, it just seemed silly. I just wanted to climb out of the valley and explore and maybe find food later – it was obvious there were other people around. It really drew my attention to the way the _game_ worked – I wasn’t making my own choices, I was being funnelled by a human that wanted me to have an experience. That kills immersion for me once I become aware of it, and this seemed like a particularly clumsy case.

  6. DanMan says:

    What I want, clearly, is a sandbox survival Tomb Raider with only the loosest of stories and all manner of cannily lethal dungeons to uncover.

    No. Open world survival games come a dime a dozen. Pick your poison. I like a curated experience once in a while. With all the bells and even more whistles.

  7. Zenicetus says:

    Well, I managed to finish it, so there must have been something enjoyable about it. I mainly remember the shonky bits, but there was enough content to keep me moving to the end.

    The good part: great environment design, and more tombs to raid than the first reboot. Also less masochistic “Lara as punching bag” than the first reboot. She’s a bit more enabled and confident here.

    The bad parts… well, where to start. Dumb plot. And Lara’s whining at every campfire about how sad she is to have to kill people for a good cause gets old, after she’s left a few hundred dead merc bodies behind. More tombs was good, but the main ones were all basically just one single puzzle to solve. Very few traps, and just a few types recycled over and over. The tombs could have been better.

    My main complaint is a mild (but predictable) spoiler, so bail out now if you haven’t played it and want to.
    .
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    There is a boss fight at the end, and it’s one of those that takes away Lara’s weapons and requires her to go through a heavily-scripted scene, following specific actions to get through it.

    I hate boss fights like this with a passion. It requires your character to suddenly drop everything they’ve built up during the game, all their skills, and follow a script. Rise of the Tomb Raider isn’t the only offender; the Batman games do this. But since the rest of the game was sort of meh, it left me with an especially bad taste at the end.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      “And Lara’s whining at every campfire about how sad she is to have to kill people for a good cause gets old”

      I sincerely don’t remember this and I finished the game a week or so ago.

    • Jernau Gurgeh says:

      And Lara’s whining at every campfire about how sad she is to have to kill people for a good cause gets old, after she’s left a few hundred dead merc bodies behind

      This reminds me of when I played Condemned: Criminal Origins, in which you play a detective investigating a serial killer… a detective who ends up murdering hundreds of homeless junkies.

      I guess mercenaries and homeless junkies aren’t really people.

  8. briangw says:

    Ironically, just started playing it a couple of nights ago on the PC after playing it a bit on my Xbox One.

  9. Zaxwerks says:

    After being a massive classic Tomb Raider fan (I’ve lost count how many times I’ve played all the “classic” games up to and including Tomb Raider: Underworld), I’ve only played the Tomb Raider reboot once, and although I’ve bought RotTR when it came out January 2016 and I still haven’t got the urge to play it

    • Jernau Gurgeh says:

      Underworld, and it’s prequel Legend, were not classics as such – they were the first Tomb Raider reboot. Though some might argue that the much-maligned Angel Of Darkness sort of was a reboot too.

      The remake of the first game that was made using the same engine as Legend & Underworld, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, is my personal favourite.

      I have to say I did enjoy Rise quite a lot more than the first game of this current iteration., and most other TR To be honest

  10. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    At some point halfway into the first TR reboot I was pretty much forced to leave the (very very fun and fitting with the character) bow and pickaxe combo, and use shotguns and rifles and assorted explosive crap because enemies started to come in waves and stealth was crap and it was impossible to progress otherwise; and a fairly interesting game became a mediocre run of the mill shooter that I yawned all the way through.

    The last few dull levels exchanging bullets with generic commandos (or armored demons or armored commando demons or whatever was going on there) are what I remember the most about the reboot, and so I haven’t had any urge to play this one because I figured it would be more of the same.

    AND THEN! a couple weeks ago, whatever tiny bit of curiosity I might’ve had disappeared altogether when I played RiME, which -in the words of your very own Walker- is the game that finally proves that Tomb Raider never needed the guns. RiME is the best Tomb Raider game ever(*) and I won’t hear a word about it.

    (*) Second only to the first half of the original 1996 Tomb Raider, and I’m not even completely sure about that.

  11. ruineer says:

    I still find that these games don’t feel different enough to Uncharted to make me want to actually play them instead. Sure there are a differences, but to me the gameplay feels so similar that i just wind up wanting to play Uncharted because its more action heavy and the jumping and climbing feels a little better.