- Square Enix/Samantha Lee
Last November, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” came out to great critical fanfare, but loads of people couldn’t play it because it was console exclusive to Xbox One. The PC version came out in January of this year, but until now, it’s been inaccessible to PlayStation 4 owners.
I got to play through “Rise of the Tomb Raider” on PS4 ahead of its October 11 release, and I’m glad to report the follow-up to the 2013 series reboot is a satisfying, often thrilling single-player adventure. If you even remotely think you’re interested in it, I highly recommend playing it.
It’s a unique blend of linear action-adventure sequences and open-world questing.
- Square Enix
The easiest point of comparison for the “Tomb Raider” reboot series is “Uncharted,” based on the two sharing similar premises. On paper, both of them are third-person action games about exploring ancient ruins in the search for treasure, knowledge or both.
In practice, that comparison is unfair because the two series are vastly different in design.
“Uncharted 4” had a few open-ended sequences, but overall it’s extremely linear in service of being like a playable action movie. “Rise of the Tomb Raider” takes Lara Croft from one explorable area (featuring optional animals to hunt, tombs to raid and treasures to find) to the next, often using exhilarating action sequences as transitions.
Though its story moves at a brisk enough pace, there’s a ton of built-in downtime for you to use if you want. Campsites act as checkpoints along the way, but you can fast travel between any campsite you’ve found, which is often necessary given that some secret areas are inaccessible until you’ve found an upgrade later in the game.
It’s pretty cozy and constrained as far as video game open worlds go, but it’s so nice to occasionally be able to get off the rollercoaster and hang out in the wilderness. Some of its most exciting moments came not from huge gunfights, but from randomly being attacked by a huge bear while searching for hidden treasure in the Siberian mountains.
There are also light wilderness survival elements, as Lara can collect resources to upgrade her gear and craft ammo. Those mechanics are slim enough to not be a burden, and resources are abundant enough that you don’t need to be obsessive about picking them up.
When it’s time to do the dirty work, it’s sufficiently intense.
- Square Enix
“Rise of the Tomb Raider” is still an action game at heart, so every now and then you’ll have to do some dirt. Thankfully, the doing of dirt is appropriately intense, as Lara is one woman going up against a paramilitary force in the harsh Siberian wilderness.
Like its predecessor, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” allows players to use brute force or stealth in most situations. You can actually progress through some areas without killing a single enemy (and there’s a healthy experience bonus for doing so), but if you want to take out the opposition, there are plenty of options.
Lara’s bow is a way to silently take out enemies with one shot from a distance, but you have a typical video game pistol/assault rifle/shotgun arsenal at your disposal if stealth isn’t an option. If you sneak up behind an enemy, you can perform some of the most viscerally forceful stealth kills I’ve seen in a game.
Seriously, I don’t know if it’s the animations themselves or the sound design, but something about stealth-killing dudes in “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is just savage. I feel weird for saying that, but it’s the truth. I swear I’m not a violent person.
One criticism I have of the combat is there are a few too many instances where stealth isn’t an option. At that point, “Rise of the Tomb Raider” feels like other cover-based shooters, except Lara’s movement is much more nimble than most video game action heroes. It’s still enjoyable, but not as much as the scenarios where the player has more choice.
The game’s sense of movement is rock solid.
- Square Enix
This version of Lara Croft just feels right to control. Running, jumping and climbing around the world is as fun as it is in any of its contemporaries, if not more.
Thanks to a series of upgrades you get along the way, simple platforming escalates into thrilling sequences where Lara has to slide down steep inclines, rock climb with ice picks, speed down ziplines and swing across chasms, often in succession.
It’s not especially precise or difficult, but it isn’t 100% automatic like in “Assassin’s Creed” or “Uncharted,” either. There’s just enough risk to keep you on your toes, and it’s a great time.
Its story is serviceable, but not as compelling as it could be.
- Square Enix
“Rise of the Tomb Raider” is all about Lara trying to fulfill her father’s dying wish, which was to find something called the Divine Source. The Source is said to make its user immortal, and is largely associated with an unnamed Prophet who built the ancient, lost city of Kitezh in the mountains of Siberia.
As you can probably tell, it fits in the same mold as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and all of its countless derivatives. Lara has to compete with evildoers to reach the Divine Source first and find out if its mythical properties are actually true, mostly for the sake of historical preservation.
It’s fine for this kind of game, but I can’t say I ever felt attached to any characters (aside from Lara) or subplots. Its one major twist is pretty easy to detect early on, as well.
The rebooted Lara Croft feels decidedly more human than her 1990s too-cool-for-school predecessor, with a solid voice performance by Camilla Luddington. Since she’s mostly out there by herself, the game never has the kind of charming banter that defines “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Uncharted,” unfortunately.
That said, it improves upon the 2013 reboot by ditching the notion that Lara is uncomfortable with any of the things she’s doing. That game liked to put players in the position to murder dozens of faceless enemies and then say “but she feels really bad about it!”
I respect them for trying to grapple with the morality of the violence that’s inherent to action games, but this game feels more honest, I guess.
The PS4 version has a new side story called “Blood Ties,” which is worth playing.
- Square Enix
Oddly enough, the best storytelling in “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is found in “Blood Ties,” a side mode that comes with the PS4 version of the game.
“Blood Ties” is a single-player story in which Lara walks around the abandoned Croft Manor, reminiscing about her childhood and learning more about the relationship between her deceased parents. There is no combat, as the gameplay mostly amounts to reading documents and looking at family heirlooms.
Basically, they put together an experience similar to “Gone Home” for “Rise of the Tomb Raider.” It can be completed in around an hour, and though there is some light puzzle solving, the joy of it comes from learning about Lara’s parents.
“Blood Ties” is a nice little experience that I wouldn’t call a selling point for the PS4 version of the game, but I would recommend everyone play once they’re done with the main game. The stories found within add some much-needed color to Lara’s personal journey, making it much easier to get invested in this game and its inevitable sequel.
Also, there’s a survival mode where you have to fight waves of zombie-like creatures in Croft Manor. That’s definitely not my thing, but it might be yours.
Also new to the PS4 version is a co-op endurance mode.
- Square Enix
If you want to play “Rise of the Tomb Raider” with a friend, now you can with Endurance Mode.
In this mode, two players have to hunt animals and gather resources in order to survive in the wilderness. Unlike the main game, you actually have to manage your heat and hunger to live.
The objective is to survive for as long as you can while searching crypts that pop up from time to time for treasure. Hostile animals as well as regular old enemies with guns will threaten your existence, as well.
I didn’t get a chance to play it since the game wasn’t out yet, but based on the limited single-player tutorial, it seems like a fun novelty if nothing else.
There’s nothing revolutionary about “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” but it excels at almost everything it does.
- Square Enix
“Rise of the Tomb Raider” is tightly designed from start to finish. I can’t really think of a single moment or sequence that bothered me throughout its duration.
It’s not going to change the face of video games, but it doesn’t need to do that. The team at Crystal Dynamics understood what they needed to make, and they made it as well as they possibly could have.
And hey, big-budget, mainstream video games still don’t usually have women as protagonists. It’s a sad state of affairs, but “Rise of the Tomb Raider” is an excellent action game that doesn’t star a dude, for once. There’s something to be said for that.