The Daily Gamecock

'Rise of the Tomb Raider' boasts deep gameplay, bold new Lara Croft

PS4 Release Date: Oct. 11

Developer: Crystal Dynamics 

Grade: A

There is a popular saying in the video game industry that “gameplay is king,” and it rings true for the latest installment in the “Tomb Raider” franchise. With “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” developer Crystal Dynamics created a thrilling story but didn’t forget to focus on arguably the most important aspect of game development — creating something that is fun to play.

The Tomb Raider franchise, and protagonist Lara Croft specifically, has been a video game icon since 1996, almost my entire life. Though I was less than a year old when Lara Croft first made her mark on gaming, I have always been well aware of her fame. However, though I played and enjoyed several of the Tomb Raider games, Croft never appeared to me to be much more than a slightly goofy, over-the-top action hero and, frankly, a sex icon. Lara Croft looked like something out of a 12-year-old boy’s fantasy with skimpy clothes, impossibly large breasts and the ability to take down dinosaurs with guns.

In 2013, developer Crystal Dynamics changed this when they rebooted the series with a fresh, new Lara full of emotion, relatability and more suitable clothing (though I imagine she was pretty cold wearing a tank-top in the game’s snow sections). “Rise of the Tomb Raider” takes everything that worked in the 2013 game and adds multiple layers onto it, making for an addictive and fun experience.

While the advancement of Lara as a character — even from the 2013 reboot — is a strong point, the game truly shines in its gameplay. It’s easy to draw comparisons between the new “Tomb Raider” games and the popular “Uncharted” series, as it’s clear that Crystal Dynamics took some inspiration from Naughty Dog’s work when making their games. However, with “Tomb Raider” and even more so in “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” Crystal Dynamics has fleshed out its design to give its games their own identity.

What separates this game from “Uncharted” is its depth in gameplay and customization. In “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” the player receives a large array of customization weapons and skill points that can be used to unlock different abilities, and these choices allow the player to make the perfect Lara for their own play style. If you like being stealthy, you can focus your upgrades on the bow in order to silently take out enemies. If you would rather charge in guns blazing, you can put your resources toward your rifle or shotgun. The game allows for a lot of variation and freedom when approaching combat, and watching Lara slowly build into the perfect character for my style was one of the most satisfying gameplay hooks I’ve seen in quite some time.

The pacing for Lara’s new abilities is also a strong point. Each time that using Lara’s tools to navigate the environment or solve a puzzle hinted at becoming repetitive, another element was added that changed the way I approached an obstacle, which kept the game feeling fresh. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some padding and pacing issues. Similar to “Uncharted,” a large amount of time in “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is spent climbing walls, scaling ledges, jumping from crumbling rooftop to rooftop and many other means of travel. While it wasn’t enough to be a major problem for me, there were a few times, especially in the first hour or so, where I was growing tired of mindless traverse and was itching for some combat.

On the plus side, the traversal gives the player the chance to admire the setting — and it sure is a beautiful one. The game takes place primarily in Siberia, and the picturesque snowy set pieces, antique buildings and tombs that Lara visits are truly stunning. The game also takes a more open approach to its map than the previous game, allowing the player to explore a fairly large hub area filled with optional tombs to explore and side missions to undertake. “Rise of the Tomb Raider” isn’t quite an open world in the vein of a “Skyrim” or “Witcher 3,” but the semi-open world direction fit the game well, and the added content serves as a fun way to prolong the playtime for those who are interested, though it isn’t necessary to beat the game.

Like in the 2013 reboot, the game’s weakest point is its story. “Rise of the Tomb Raider” takes place a year after the events of the previous game ,and we see Lara determined to continue her deceased father’s work in finding the lost city of Kitezh and investigating into the legends about an artifact that can grant immortality, an artifact that a dangerous group called Trinity is also after. The game drives home the idea that Lara is growing obsessed with this dangerous line of work, and it adds emotional weight to the wild, action-packed journey the player is setting off on. Where this starts to weaken is with the characters that the story is told with.

Lara herself is a highly interesting protagonist, and her internal dialogue and flashbacks to her troublesome relationship with her father as a child help the player connect with her. All of the other characters, on the other hand, either fall into well-worn cliches or aren’t given enough screen time to build any meaningful connection with the player. This is most problematic with the game’s antagonists, as the central conflict for the story comes from these characters, yet they are very bland and typical villains with nothing that really stands out about them. As I played, the only reason I felt compelled to care about what happened to the supporting characters was how it affected Lara and seeing her reactions.

The newly released PS4 version of the game comes with all the game’s DLC content, including a mission based around the legend of Slavic witch Baba Yaga; "Blood Ties" a light, story-based mission allowing the player to explore Croft Manor and learn about Lara’s father; and "Cold Darkness Awakened," a survival combat mode where Lara fights off zombies. Each of these experiences is entertaining in completely different ways, offering fun, post-game content that isn’t just more of the same.

For PS4 owners, the year-wait for “Rise of the Tomb Raider” was certainly worth it, and for the base game and all of its DLC content, this is worth your $60.