Fun fact: this was the first Tomb Raider game I played. I borrowed it from a roommate a while back. And by borrowed, I mean she basically forced it upon me. That was the closest thing to a nice deed she ever did for me.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is an odd game. It makes a lot of strange gameplay decisions that are really good and expand on the first game in a great way! And then there are some additions that are incredibly stupid. Thankfully, the dumb ones don’t ruin the main experience. But they still drag the whole thing down.
Question is: is the overall experience a good one? Or would you be better off just playing the first game? Let’s find out!
Story: Chasing a Father’s Legacy
Story-wise, this game is… just okay. The plot is decently interesting, but the characters are bland, the dialogue isn’t especially interesting, and the pacing is inconsistent. It’s not the worst thing ever, far from it. But compared to the first game, and even the third game, it’s not especially solid.
After surviving her hellish adventure in the first game, Lara Croft has started looking for a magical artifact her father was chasing before he died. Unfortunately, a mighty foe stands in her way: Trinity, a powerful organization that’s been around for thousands of years. Together with her loyal companion Jonah (heh heh, that’s me!), Lara must find the artifact and stop Trinity!
The main problem I have with this game is the dialogue. It is exceptionally rare for any character in this game to talk about anything other than the plot. They don’t talk about how they feel, they don’t confide in each other to grow closer, nothing like that. Every single line is something about either the artifact or Trinity. The only compelling, emotional dialogue is entirely at the beginning of the game.
And by that, I mean the first twenty minutes or so. Out of a ten-hour story. Yay.
Lara is also significantly less interesting than she was in the first. Mainly because she doesn’t really have a character arc. In the first game, she had to grow from a helpless victim to a powerful survivor. But in this game, all she really learns is that the artifact is bad and she accepts she must destroy it. It’s dramatically less compelling than what we got before.
All the side characters are kind of worthless. They feel more like plot devices than characters. All they really do is deliver exposition or get kidnapped. None of them are memorable or all that interesting.
To be fair, they clearly at least tried with the villains. They aren’t interesting or sympathetic characters. But at the very least, they are characters. If they had just a few more redeeming qualities, I might like them a bit more. But as they stand, they’re just okay, kind of boring, antagonists.
The pacing is also very up and down. In the beginning, the story is very slow and takes its time in building everything up. Then at the halfway point, it goes full-speed, blasting through at a mile a minute! Only to then slow down dramatically in the final few missions! It is far from consistent, which can be a bit frustrating.
Honestly, in terms of story, this game isn’t all that compelling. Again: it isn’t bad. But I’m never going to point to it and say “Yeah, that’s a game with a great story!”
Granted, there aren’t many games I would do that with. So it’s not that insulting.
Presentation: Look. At. That. Snow.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been a sucker for good snow in a video game. The effect just looks really nice when it’s done well! And god damn, it’s done pretty well here!
While I’m not a fan of photo-realistic graphical styles, this game does take that style and does it well. All the character models are highly detailed and distinct (I love how the hair looks, by the way; just putting that out there). The environments are gorgeous, whether you’re trapped in a dark cave or surrounded by snowy fields. The game looks and runs great.
Which makes the PS1 skins all the funnier. Shame you have to beat the game before you can use them.
However, I can’t say the same about the music. It isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong. But it is incredibly generic adventure music. It’s fine, but it’s forgettable. You won’t be humming any tunes from this game any time soon.
This isn’t the most visually impressive game I’ve ever played. But make no mistake: it does look pretty good. Not mind-boggling. But highly decent.
Gameplay: Tomb Raider (2013), But More… and Colder
I could basically copy-paste my gameplay segment from the Tomb Raider (2013) review. I’d have to add a few extra paragraphs on top of it, but it’s generally the same thing. There’s just more of it.
The gameplay loop here is simple. You climb your way through the various levels and use your different weapons to fight the enemies blocking your path. Along the way, you’ll find different collectibles, tombs with extra puzzles and challenges, and even the odd sidequest or two!
Let’s start with those. The sidequests in this game are honestly pretty weak. They boil down to ‘go get this item’ or ‘go kill this animal’ or ‘kill these Trinity dudes’. The only cool one is a DLC mission, but those don’t count. The rewards make them worth doing, but they aren’t especially fun.
Unlike the Challenge Tombs. That’s right, they’re back! And they’re even better! The puzzles are still challenging, creative, and interesting! Plus, they reward you with extra abilities that can greatly help you out in the gameplay! These are still my favorite part of the game, hands down!
It certainly helps that the maps have been greatly expanded, making exploration much more rewarding! It’s still a fairly linear game, but the areas often open up and encourage breaks for side activities! The maps are filled with plenty of things to find, from challenge tombs to quests to crafting materials. It isn’t an incredible open-world game, but it’s strong enough to be enjoyable.
On the subject of crafting, it is a step up from the original. Not much of one; it still boils down to ‘grab the thing, go into a menu, spend things, get thing’. But there’s actually a variety of things to grab, so grinding for resources is a bit more varied than just getting scrap. It’s an upgrade. Just not much of one.
Now, let’s talk about the game’s biggest problem: the cards. These cards can be used in the game’s various challenge modes (it’s the campaign, but with extra challenges). Some of them will make it easier, some will make it harder. How do you get these cards, you ask? Why, by buying a loot box!
That’s right! Gambling! In my single-player adventure game!
Also, there’s a VR mode. But I don’t have a thousand dollars to burn on a setup. So I’m not even gonna bother.
This game is a step up from the first in many ways. But it’s still not perfect. The cards are stupid and unnecessary, the crafting is better but still bare-bones, and the side-quests could use a little fleshing out. It’s a lot of fun to play from start to end, but it definitely has it’s problems.
I know I’ve been pretty harsh on this game throughout this review. But it’s only because I love it! All criticisms aside, I do think this is the best out of the new Tomb Raider trilogy. It’s a rock-solid game, even if the story is meh and there are some dumb gameplay decisions.
Seriously, who thought loot boxes would be okay in a fucking Tomb Raider game? They don’t even have the multiplayer excuse! They cut the multiplayer mode!
Gripes aside, I’d still highly recommend playing Rise of the Tomb Raider! It’s a rock-solid game and a great sequel! I have my fair share of issues with it. But it’s still my favorite game in this trilogy by a landslide!
But Shadow of the Tomb Raider sure did try. Just not very hard.