Lara Croft, video games’ favorite archaeological femme fatale, returns to perfect form in Square Enix‘s Rise of the Tomb Raider, the first sequel to the official and critically-acclaimed Tomb Raider franchise reboot of 2013. And like the 2013 reboot, Rise of the Tomb Raider is nearly perfect in every way.
This time around, Lara’s grand quest is in the footsteps of her father, pursuing an ancient city amid stories of a mysterious Prophet, and an artifact called “The Divine Source”. It’s largely a thinly veiled analog to modern myths of Christianity and the Holy Grail, but it works well enough—even though you’ll almost assuredly and correctly guess what should be a “big reveal” well in advance of the reveal itself.
A paramilitary group known as Trinity also seeks the Divine Source as a means of ‘rebuilding the world’ and gaining immortality. Trinity works against Lara at every turn, and they are well-armed and well-trained.
Using Lara’s inhuman acrobatic, climbing, and upper-arm strength, you’ll use a combination of stealth, kick-in-the-door gunplay, and guerrilla warfare to combat the forces of Trinity (as well as the occasional wolf, cougar, or bear). Sorry dinosaur fans, there are no raptors or T-rexes in this outing. There are also plenty of platforming challenges, physics-based puzzle solving, and even some “Minecrofting” to gather resources and craft items and upgrades for Lara’s arsenal of tools and weapons.
Rise of the Tomb Raider delivers it all with nigh perfect execution and pacing. The platforming and puzzle-solving are usually just long enough to be entertaining without becoming tedious or frustrating. Frenetic action sequences and the spray of bullets and explosions are generously mixed with stealth-based combat. In between it all you can tackle challenge tombs to gain new skills, scour the land for crafting resources to build/upgrade your gear, or pursue many of the game’s side quests and objectives.
(Re-) meet Lara Croft, a kinder, gentler murder maiden.
Rise of the Tomb Raider continues the grittier tone of the franchise’s 2013 reboot, which sought to transform Lara from her roots as a titillating 2-dimensional-pistol-packing badass into something a little more personable, realistic, and human archaeologist/adventurer.
But as excellent a job Rise of the Tomb Raider (and the 2013 reboot, Tomb Raider) do in painting Lara as a more ‘human’ and believable character, it gets increasingly hard to buy it–not because of the story, but because of the gameplay.
Lara’s more confident in herself in this outing (I think I only counted one instance of Lara muttering to herself “OK, you can do this…”.) But it’s tough to believe Lara would be anything but confident when she’s the star of Guerrilla war porn, wherein she delivers scores of deadly “bowjobs”, assassinates mercenaries with a knife to the neck, and takes down mother*cking bears in melee combat.
And all of that is in addition to waging constant, explosive and sometimes acrobatic warfare with handcrafted explosives against dozens of highly trained, well-equipped military operatives. And it’s all wickedly, terrifically fun.
Lara may seem scholarly when she’s examining artifacts, and sweet and humane in her cut-scenes — but make no mistake. She’s a goddamn killing machine. I was just waiting for her don some mirror-lensed sunglasses, chew on a cigar, and jump into her next Tarantino-style, bullet-spraying murder fest with a cheesy tag line. “That belongs IN A MUSEUM!”
One thing I found curious is that Lara never whips out her iconic, double 9mm pistols that were so integral to the character design of her early days. That seems like something of a missing homage in itself, especially considering the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot basically ended with it.
But I digress. Suffice to say Rise of the Tomb Raider is an outstanding game on every level. It’s visually stunning, entertaining to play, and nearly perfectly paced. The gameplay is as near to perfection as you could ask for: exciting, well-paced, and with plenty of ‘open world’ diversions to keep you busy in between more heady puzzle solving, platforming, and action.
I finished the game in about 17 hours, which included a modest amount of side quests and challenge tombs—but I’m ready to go back for more.
Overall: 10/10 – Highly Recommended
Like Tomb Raider? Buy this game. Like platform style action games? Buy this game. Like stealth and combat action? Buy. This. Game.