Wednesday 18 January 2017

Rise of the Tomb Raider review: Treasure pleasure as Lara digs the past

Rise of the Tomb Raider (XOne/X360); rating: 9.5/10; Age: 18+

Published 24/11/2015 | 12:24

Rise of the Tomb Raider: trusty bow and arrow
Rise of the Tomb Raider: trusty bow and arrow

REWRITING mythology comes naturally to videogames but Lara Croft’s jarring transformation from sparky grave robber to all-out killing machine takes some beating.

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The 2013 reboot of the cherished franchise introduced us to a much grittier Lara, presumably in a bid to retake her action-adventure crown stolen by Sony’s Uncharted hero Nathan Drake. Rise of the Tomb Raider continues that lineage but rebalances the gameplay to remind us of the great pleasures of puzzles and exploration.

The result is Lara’s finest hour, a smartly paced and visually stunning world spanning the rocky deserts of Syria and the snowy wastes of Siberia. Rise shares much of its DNA with its 2013 predecessor, hurling Lara into violent conflicts with heavily armed goons. Yet it’s the more contemplative moments that live longest in the memory.

The narrative (the usual guff about the pursuit of an artefact by the bad guys) drives a succession of fairly linear yet enjoyable enemy encounters. Ms Croft’s bow and arrow proves the most reliable ranged weapon and traversal tool. Guns are plentiful and ammunition abundant but never feel as satisfying, while close-quarters melee combat often descends into a lottery thanks to an uncooperative camera.

Rise of the Tomb Raider: amazing vistas
Rise of the Tomb Raider: amazing vistas

In between the mayhem, though, lie sizeable open worlds to reconnoitre, dotted liberally with animals to hunt for resources and loot to be discovered.

These pockets of freedom and relative calm permit leisurely sightseeing, with some areas gated by gear you acquire only later in the game. From snow-capped peaks to quiet forests to sprawling valleys, Lara’s journey carries her through some amazing vistas.

However, Rise hides its greatest treasures, metaphorically, in its collection of optional tombs. Intricately designed, frequently gorgeous in their decayed state and bringing back the thorny puzzles of old, the tombs add nothing to the story but prove a delightful palate-cleanser from the violence. In conquering each one, Lara adds new abilities to her burgeoning palette of powers.

When you’ve feasted on the last of this 20-hour-plus adventure and drained the map of its mass of Ubisoft-style collectibles, Rise still has more to offer. There’s no Uncharted-style multiplayer but each story chapter can be replayed with difficulty modifiers or simply for a score attack. Alas, microtransactions rear their ugly heads at this point because of the reliance on random card packs to generate the modifiers. In-game currency will suffice at first but if you enjoy this mode, it’ll cost you in the end.

Rise of the Tomb Raider: bear-hunting an optional pursuit
Rise of the Tomb Raider: bear-hunting an optional pursuit

You could easily accuse Rise of rehashing the 2013 reboot, so similar are its systems of levelling up, hunting and crafting. But it takes what worked there and deftly weaves them into an enthralling new landscape. Your move, Nathan Drake.

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