Rise of the Tomb Raider (20 Year Celebration Edition) Review - PS4
Full story video explanation below. Contains major story spoilers.
With the release of the new Shadow of the Tomb Raider last month, I wanted to get into the new trilogy of Tomb Raider games and see what I've been missing. After seeing general reviews for first two games, I decided to start with the second game, Rise of the Tomb Raider, knowing that the first game was more of an origin story and knowing that sequels generally tend to refine gameplay mechanics. The purpose of this review is for people like me who haven't played any of the new trilogy and wondering if it is worth getting now.
The Rise of the Tomb Raider, developed by Crystal Dynamics, was an Xbox exclusive in 2015 but got a PlayStation release a year later. The 20 Year Celebration edition on the PS4 that I played the game on comes with all the DLC released for the game. Now being sold for $20, the game will satisfy anyone looking for a fun action/adventure game that isn't a long time investment. This review focuses only on this specific edition. Some additions that were not in the game at release may have affected the progression and overall rating for my review.
Starting with the main story, anyone who has already played the Uncharted franchise will feel right at home. Lara is on a quest to find the lost city of Kitezh and an artifact called the Divine Source. This artifact is rumored to grant immortality to its users, and from the beginning of the game, ancient murals and scrolls detail a character called the Prophet, who may have been in possession of it. This quest is more personal to Lara, as her father was searching for this same object before his death. We get to see how this obsession puts her and those she loves in danger, but we understand her motivation to continue on.
One of my favorite games is Uncharted 2, and I can see a lot of similarities with Rise of the Tomb Raider. While the mechanics during combat and exploration feel familiar, one thing that the new Tomb Raider game did well with was to differentiate and make Lara a character we can relate to. By the end of the Uncharted franchise, Nathan Drake felt like a superhero taking on any challenge while making jokes on the side. While I felt Drake had a lot of luck on his side, the opposite is true for Lara. In any situation, it felt like if anything could go wrong, it would go wrong. Lara feels like he is always falling, on the brink of hypothermia, or being shot at and I liked how vulnerable it made her feel. The action set pieces were tense and instead of relying on quick time events, you had to maneuver and time jumps as everything is falling apart around you.
My favorite part of the game was not the action, but the puzzles and raiding the challenge tombs spread apart the different areas. While there are many you can't access without specific pieces of equipment you obtain later in the game, it does give you more reason to revisit past areas. Completing challenge tombs are generally short affairs but I liked the open layout of each tomb that required you to experiment without simply guiding you from one key object to another. Not only do you get the satisfaction after that ah-ha moment, but Lara will also gain passive abilities that make her stronger in combat. A major downside of the game for me is that during the second half of the game after completing side quests, challenge tombs, and collecting relics or materials, Lara can easily feel overpowered. This eliminates the threat of death early on and removes the sense of vulnerability I mentioned earlier.
I even played the game on the hardest difficulty, which I felt was still too easy, especially compared to similar games. While there are several differences between the different difficulty settings, the only thing that made it more challenging was that health does not recover on its own, and saving the game occurs only at campsites. I enjoyed not having health recover on its own, because it forces you to create and use bandages more often. However, saving only at campsites quickly became an unnecessary frustration and highlighted some of the game's flaws.
I thought that the combat, both using weapons and stealth were good but nothing special to set it apart from other games in the genre. After the first couple of hours of the game, even on the hardest difficulty, ammo is plentiful and could be easily acquired from finding, crafting, or looting off bodies. By the 2nd half of the game all my ammo, including special ammo, for all weapons were generally full. You can easily take advantage of the progression system to make the game easier, allowing you to take less damage, loot more ammo, and gather more resources. Even the hunt for exotic animals, which give you special hide, was made underwhelming was a type of clothing gave you a high chance to loot exotic drops from common animals. Therefore instead of hunting a mountain lion which is difficult early on, you can just kill a couple of rabbits instead, which eliminates the need to hunt exotic animals at all.
While I preferred the stealth option in encounters, even the stealth sections were not very satisfying, as it has been done already in many games. The enemy AI is pretty dumb and is easy to take out enemies by using Lara's survival instincts, seeing if they can be taken out without being detected. The survival instincts mode, activated by pressing R3, eliminates the need to scout out the area and see if other guards are nearby or within sight. Enemies glow yellow if safe to kill, or red if you will be detected when attacking. You can easily kill groups of enemies by separating them with noise, as they investigate another dead body, or using explosives to take out groups of enemies. While in confined areas, such as the Craft Manor and Lara's Nightmare mode, fighting the camera becomes a frustrating issue.
Even if you are detected you can easily take out all enemies using the cover-based mechanics. Especially after getting the shotgun, you can take out an enemy base quite quickly. Again because resources are plenty, you will quickly get the maximum amount of bandages which allow you to quickly heal while in combat. Later on in the game, you can basically ignore cover and rush straight towards gunfire. You can get a skill that reduces bandage time and being able to use up to 20 bandages one after another, makes you feel nearly invincible. Of course, you can make it harder for yourself by not investing points in certain skills, but I felt the best part of the game is the first couple of hours where you feel limited on resources, and feeling that engaging more than 1 person at a time will most likely cause you to die.
What will tend to kill you a lot is falling, or missing jumps. I felt like I never knew if a fall would automatically kill me or not. There are countless times where I had to replay whole sections because I jumped off a cliff instead of using a ladder, or instead of walking all the way around. Worse yet there are times when you have to be at a specific point to make a jump or holding the directional pad the wrong way as the camera shifts cause Lara to let go of the cliff she is holding onto. These cheap deaths lead to the hardest difficulty feeling frustrating as it is mostly against your control, or during moments that you need to react quickly or die instantly. This led me to backtrack frequently to a campsite to save, instead of risking dying and losing up to an hour of progress. On top of that, after dying the load times are noticeably long compared to other major games.
Similar to Uncharted, Lara can find relics scattered through each area. Similar to the audio logs, the relics also have voice overs describing each find. At first, I enjoyed listening to the audio logs but after a while, it tends to bring the pace and the task at hand to a halt, especially if you find multiple audio logs placed right next to each other. Most of the audio logs feel like filler and optional, showing multiple viewpoints of the villains, mercenaries, or the prophet's followers. However, there are a couple that is important to the story. I enjoy games that show you or have you active in scenes integral to the story rather than just telling you or listening to audio.
The best feature of the game, that I enjoyed almost as much as the main story was the additional Endurance mode. The 20-year celebration edition also includes Croft Manor and Cold Darkness mode. Endurance mode highlights the best parts of the game and I wish it had been incorporated more into the main story. In endurance mode, you have a meter for hunger and warmth that continues to drop, and you die if either is depleted. There is no map, visibility is low, and resources are scarce. Running into a bear or being spotted by enemies can easily lead to death, causing you to restart from the beginning. Your goal is to survive as long as possible before calling in to be rescued. There are a day and night cycle, and as night falls temperature drops drastically, forcing you to find shelter quickly. Constantly building fires to keep up your warmth meter means that you often have to choose between using wood to craft a fire or use wood for arrows which you need to hunt for food. I wish the game focused on this survival aspect more and would have loved to see a game closer to Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
While I felt the villain was one of the weakest parts of the game, the story is entertaining for the length of the game. Overall, if Rise of the Tomb Raider is the best of the series, it didn't excite me enough to go back and play the first or check out the latest installment. The game looks good on the surface, but instead of focusing on its strengths and what it does differently from other games, it mixes mediocre action and stealth into the game that's enjoyable while it lasts but doesn't do enough to stand out from Uncharted's shadow.
I hope you all enjoyed my review. Let me know what you thought of the game, and if you prefer the first or 3rd game in the new series.