Rise of the Tomb Raider review: PS4 20 Year Celebration out now
Update: For more information on the additions to Rise of the Tomb Raider, read our hands-on look at exploring Croft Manor in VR.
Lara Croft’s come a long way since her first appearance in 1996, but the complex puzzles which defined her earlier escapades have become progressively less important with each new entry.
Indeed, Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 reboot, simply entitled Tomb Raider, practically ditched its titular tombs altogether, choosing instead to follow in the footsteps of its closest competitor, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, and focus on intense gunplay rather than unearthing ancient ruins. It was a potent mix that worked incredibly well in Lara’s gritty, new origins story, and the next instalment, Rise of the Tomb Raider follows very much the same template, for better or worse.
Lara is once again portrayed as a young and inexperienced adventurer, but her attacks and finishers are no less brutal. Thankfully, there’s a greater emphasis on stealth here compared to her last expedition, and you can often clear out large groups of enemies with just a few well-placed arrows. Well, you can if you’re playing on the normal Tomb Raider difficulty, as the Seasoned Raider setting really kicks things up a notch, making enemies tougher and more robust to really pile on the pressure.
Lara’s also taken lessons from Naughty Dog’s other big hitter, The Last of Us, and can now throw together a variety of improvised explosives on the fly. If you see a bottle or can, you can quickly build a Molotov or grenade to fling at your opponents – albeit at the cost of the resources you carry with you. You can’t store such items to use at will, though, which cleverly allows the developer to keep a rein on their use, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
It’s worth noting that there’s no auto-aim system on anything but the easiest difficulty setting. This isn’t so much of a problem on PC, but it can make lining up shots and arrows a bit tricky when playing on Xbox One and PS4. Personally, I’d still prefer a slightly stickier aim and tougher opponents if given the choice, but overall it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the game at all.
Between the fighting, there’s a healthy dose of exploration with lots of opportunities to clamber about on trees, roofs and rock faces. The vast majority of this is utterly unchallenging, but one tricky platforming section, with jumps that require actual timing, proves the developers could have got more out of Lara’s athleticism. It’s just a shame that the climbing and shooting sections don’t quite gel together as much as they do in Uncharted 4, as it’s largely one and then the other, rather than hanging of a cliff face popping off bullets one-handed.
Still, there are some cracking puzzles in the game, the best involving both water and Lara’s expanded ability to fire rope arrows and attach them to various objects, as well as cut them free again using a knife. Unfortunately, most are confined to large, single rooms which aren’t woven into the plot itself, instead forming extra bonus missions which dole out extra practical abilities.
It’s hard to know if the strong similarities between this game and the last are partly due to it being available on the Xbox 360 as well as Xbox One, PC and now PS4, and whether a purely current-gen title could have spread its wings a little wider in terms of scale and depth. That said the PS4 and Xbox One’s extra horsepower has definitely been put to good use in the visuals department, with the PS4 just inching ahead in the old frame rate department, and the game’s epic backdrops, dense, driving snow and individual footprints look even better on PC. Ice glistens and cracks just how you’d expect, and Lara’s shiny, luxuriant hair slips and slides over her shoulders in an uncannily realistic way, almost warranting its own Pantene advert.
The RPG elements of the game return, with skills to upgrade and natural resources to find and craft into useful items. We made no particular effort to look for these or hunt animals other than those that stumbled across our path, but we still found the game largely manageable bar a couple of difficulty spikes in certain fights. On harder difficulty levels, these systems no doubt come into their own as you scramble around for resources, but for your average adventurer it’s rather disappointing that you’re not required to engage with them more effectively.
The plot is a bit so-so with an ancient artefact to find and protect, and a hidden valley where war is being waged between interested factions, but the game’s pacing is superb. Narrow spaces and short cutscenes disguise any loading times, so each level flows beautifully from one to the other, and when the action just keeps coming, you don’t really mind that the narrative is rather unsatisfying. Lara’s also more convincing as a budding archaeologist this time round, and she even comments on items of interest. It’s a bit daft that you can ‘level up’ her ancient language skills simply by engaging with various murals and monoliths, but at least she’s not destroying every single pot she happens to walk past any more.
20 Year Celebration
The PS4 version of the game, dubbed the 20 Year Celebration, also brings together all of the game’s DLC, including Baba Yaga: Temple of the Witch and Cold Darkness Awakened, a new Extreme Survivor difficulty mode to the main campaign, five classic Lara skins, a special 20 Year Celebration gun and outfit, and co-op support for Endurance mode, where you must scavenge and craft items to survive the elements by day and resist the onslaughts of foes at night. There’s also a brand-new hour-long chapter, Blood Ties, which sees Lara exploring a decrepit Croft Manor to solve on old family secret.
If you have a PlayStation VR, you can even play Blood Ties in virtual reality, allowing you to wander through the Croft Manor in first person. It’s a neat addition, but I’ll warn you now that there’s a lot of reading involved in Blood Ties, which I’m not entirely sure is such a good fit for VR. Still, as a standalone chapter, its light puzzles are a nice little throwback to earlier Tomb Raider conundrums, and fans of the series will not doubt enjoy its insights into Lara’s backstory. If you find your trigger fingers getting itchy at any point, then you can always jump into Blood Ties’ arcade-like Nightmare mode as well, which sees Lara dealing with a zombie apocalypse in the same towering hallways, providing a welcome change of pace to the main story campaign.
Regardless of which platform you play it on, though, Rise of the Tomb Raider remains one of the best action games of recent memory. It may borrow many traits from some of the biggest franchises around, but there’s no denying that Lara has her own distinct take on the all-action adventure genre. It re-treads a lot of old ground from the first game, and it’s a shame the game’s shooting, climbing and puzzling elements aren’t blended into a single, more satisfying whole, but it’s still an incredibly slick, immensely enjoyable, thrill-packed ride that any one will enjoy.