Sequels often have the unfortunate (and quite tremendous) task of not only outshining its predecessor, but somehow doubling up on everything that made the first great. Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the surprisingly solid 2013 hit reboot, Tomb Raider, is a game that does a pretty good job at highlighting both the strengths and weaknesses that have shaped the Tomb Raider franchise over the years. Resident tomb explorer and collector of dirty old treasures Lara Croft faces one of her more personal adventures as she is lead down a path of regret and sympathy for the ghosts of her past seem to catch up and cause some havoc in unsurprisingly expected ways.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is not quite as heavy or potent on the story front as its predecessor. In fact, this is possibly its weakest element as the entire plot feels pretty inconsequential even amidst all the flashy action sequences and pretty jaw-dropping scenic destruction. The story, for the most part, fares well in the context of the Tomb Raider lore and does enough to build a memorable villain with a shamelessly cartoonish villainous organization. By the end of the game, I honestly forgot most of the story because I was so swept up in all the exhilarating razzle and dazzle of the gameplay and action, that remembering why I was doing everything proved of little value when I was shoving an arrow into the skull of a bad guy.
The gameplay in Rise of the Tomb Raider is by far its strongest aspect. The mechanics are still heavily borrowed from the first game, but everything just seems much tighter and glossier than before. The controls are smooth and very responsive, and Lara appears to be more flexible and navigational in her environments – which sounds mundane but trust me, there’s a lot thrown into the environments this time around. The combat is also especially pleasant to dive into, and in some cases, gave me a rush of adventure that is almost comparable to the same highs I felt while playing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The only problem is, the gameplay is so fantastic that is ultimately overshadows everything in between.
In the graphical department, Rise of the Tomb Raider is, for lack of a better word, jaw-dropping. The character models are so superbly detailed and beautifully animated that I often forgot to hop into the gameplay because I was still caught up in the amazing cutscenes. The cinematic quality of the games direction in conjunction with its pretty mindblowing graphics adds to the glossier tone of the game, shying away from the grit and torture of the reboot. In the sound department, though, Rise falls a bit flat. The voice acting is fine, but isn’t very memorable and at points, certain characters do come off as very monotonous. The soundtrack is, too, well done but doesn’t have any place outside of the game itself.
After replaying the game on PlayStation 4 as opposed to my previous experience on Xbox One, some notable differences did stand out. Upscaled to 1080p on the PS4, the game’s impressive visuals leap out on screen and truly immerse you in the snowy alps or treacherous tombs. The game also runs fairly smoother on the PS4 as random texture pop-ups seem less likely to be a hindrance to the flow of the gameplay like it once was on the Xbox One version. However, the core and grit of the experience remains the same, and besides from a few extra DLC options and the great artwork included on the PS4 20 Year Celebration Edition, Rise of the Tomb Raider is not going to cause any console divides based on preferences, but just from my personal observations, it’s an experience best soaked in on a PlayStation.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great game that unfortunately can’t match up to the massive success of its predecessor. The action set pieces are plentiful, the gameplay is stupendously fun, and the graphics are drop dead gorgeous, but it simply lacks the story or charm present in the reboot or even the Uncharted games (I honestly don’t want to compare it to that but I feel obligated to, seeing as the comparisons are brought up frequently now). Rise of the Tomb Raider is a ton of fun while it lasts and should satisfy the die-hard Tomb Raider fans, but don’t expect much in the way of a package that’s just shy of being something really special.