Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider. Goodbye boobs, hello badass

Lara Croft is back in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and this time chases an ancient mystery that takes her through the treacherous and remote locations in Siberia. Anything worth...

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Lara Croft is back in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and this time chases an ancient mystery that takes her through the treacherous and remote locations in Siberia. Anything worth doing doesn’t come easy and Lara battles against the enemy, known as Trinity as well as some double crossing friends. The game walks eloquently between moments of exploration through visually stunning environments and challenging story objectives and side missions.

For fans of the franchise, one year has passed since the plot of the 2013 version of Tomb Raider and Lara’s life is in just as much turmoil. The game starts with the challenge of learning the game controls while combining movements to navigate a deteriorating frozen mountainside. These early levels provide just a glimpse of the beauty that lies within the game.

Truly cinematic scenes of brilliance provided many moments of awe, just stop and look moments of awe. I can’t remember a time where so many of those moments were packed into a single game. Suffering a death as a result a the graphical distraction, its a respawn that puts a smile on your face.

The physics engine in this game is solid, with a natural progression from amateur climber to expert marksman, the tools at your disposal continue to evolve as your knowledge does. One of the biggest successes of this title is the way it draws you through the controller operations without treating you like an idiot. As you go about the missions, you acquire new equipment, rewarded for explorer and finding weapons chests.

After playing an array of first person games, the crossbow was really the point of difference for Tomb Raider. Thankfully the first arrow you first is just the start. . After stopping off at a camp fire (save point), you’ll have the option to skill up to improve the range, accuracy, damage and rate of fire of the crossbow. With special crafting skills you’ll build to be able to create arrow head heads that light the enemy on fire, release poisonous gas or cause explosions.

There’s plenty of times where the crossbow is required to complete challenges as its a critical piece of the infrastructure required to connect the dots to reach your destination. Standing near a roped asset and firing to another creates a zip line, easily used thanks to your pick axe. With such an expansive landscape to explore and hours in your pocket, you can get lost in the world. To get yourself back on track, all you need to do is press the right stick to activate your survival instincts.

Moving throughout the world, from level to level never felt tired or repetitive, a testament to the diversity and extensiveness of this game. In terms of scale, I poured 35+ hours into the campaign and am still only 58%. Sure a few hours were distracted side missions and exploration, but the developers need serious commendation for this game, it has one of the largest single player campaigns in years.

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Gameplay

Low amo almost made me stop playing

Challenging battles in games are often what makes overcoming them worth while and yields that overwhelming sense of satisfaction we yearn for. There were plenty of times in this game where that worked brilliantly, delicately finding the balance between difficulty and achievability. Unfortunately there were 2-3 times where I almost stopped playing this game.

After facing a wave of enemies coated in brutal amour, you inevitably die. Upon respawn, you take another shot at the challenge and die again. Another try, another death and then you stop and think for a second, what am I getting wrong here, incorrect sequence of events, poor aiming or weapon selection? No in these instances the problem was a lack of available ammunition. Of course being efficient with your arrow heads or bullets is all part of the challenge, but in these few instances, the lack of amo, meant the task was so far towards the point of achievability, that it stopped being fun.

It was time for a break. Returning fresh the next day to the same challenge, I was able to get past the level and the sense of relief wasn’t euphoria created by overcoming the battle, instead just a rush to the pleasure centre of the brain, knowing I’ll never have to do that again.

Dying in the game is particularly brutal, with blades passing right through your body. Harvesting the body of animals is also pretty shocking.  You definitely don’t want kids playing this. If its Lara doing the killing, there’s so many options. Arrows, knife, shotgun, machine gun, hand gun, dodge attack, jump from above attack, pull them into water attack, so many options. At different times through the game, you’ll need to remember each of these and use the right at the right time.

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Movement and combat systems

While I could complain at the lack of a fantastic shooting mechanic (Gears of War remains the best), there are massive successes in this game. After sinking dozens of hours into Rise of the Tomb Raider, a few key moments stand out.

The first scenes where you climbing the ice mountain is epic and a great start. Many hours into the game you come across a cavernous pit where to cross it, requires a series of rope tricks with a bucket of water to overcome. After essentially destroying the place, you have a path to the gate out of there. Running along that path was disrupted by the environment crashing all around you. The fantastic achievement was seeing Lara not be disrupted by a standard pre-determined cut scene, instead the physics engine knocked you off the running trajectory, completely dynamic to the destruction of rocks around you. Only when you hit the path correctly and combine a series of jumps, dodges and whip out the ice picks are you able to overcome the level. Epic.

Another strong memory from this game is a burning house escape. I’ve never been, nor do I want to find myself inside a burning building, but this level allowed me to feel how frightening that experience would be. The amount of burning embers, fire particles and general beauty in the destruction is a serious showcase to the power of this generation of consoles, particularly the Xbox One.

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Price and Availability

Rise of the Tomb Raider is available on 10/11/15 from JB Hifi for A$79.00, A$88.00 at Harvey Norman and A$99.95 at EB Games. Of course the game is also available directly from the Xbox for A99.95. There’s also a Deluxe Edition of the game which costs A139.95.  This gets you an exclusive Remnant outfit for Lara. Normally outfits don’t matter, but this one has a serious benefit, you can use your bandage to heal without using any resources.

This also gives you access to the Rise of the Tomb Raider Season Pass which gets you all the DLC that gets released into the future.

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Overall

This game isn’t good, it’s fantastic. Thankfully the the developers have left the days of a mindless, big boobed Lara Croft behind us with a refined, purposeful and driven Lara that learns an arsenal of attacks that gives here the danger of Ronda Rousey with weapons. It’s easy to look at the visuals and be impressed, everyone will see that, but I noticed the small efforts that make the difference. It would have been easy to create items Lara could find in the environment and throw at enemies, but adding the ability to craft weapons and make them into incendiary or explosive objects is important to the success of this game.

Far too often in the past year, I’ve finished single player campaigns in 10 hours or less. To have a substantial story line that takes you through completely unique levels, is almost unheard. This offers an almost unparalleled value for money for those who aren’t focused on a multiplayer experience like COD or Halo.

After playing this game, I feel like I learnt things, about how to move and hunt and navigate through environments. On the surface Rise of the Tomb Raider seems like any other video game, but there’s a level of polish, sophistication, thoughtfulness and purpose in this title, so rarely seen in video games.

There is no doubt in my mind, if you have an Xbox One, you need to own this game. You don’t even have to play it right to the end, I had just as much fun exploring and working out the navigation puzzles, as I did taking out enemies with headshots. While I had a couple of issues with the game, they’re tiny in comparison to the experience and value for money this game offers. Great work Crystal Dynamics, you should be proud of this, the Tomb Raider has risen far.

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