Developers: Crystal Dynamics
Publishers: Square Enix
Plot: Lara searches for the Divine Source, coming head to head wit the nefarious Trinity, an organisation which may have had something to do with her father’s murder.
The reboot of Tomb Raider, which seems like ages back now, shook the Lara Croft community quite heavily. While we got the resurgence we wanted, the game was so rebranded that the leading heroine was almost unrecognisable. The gameplay was more action, the tone was gloomier and the heroine was less effortlessly cool and more fighting for her life. That being said, this version of the Tomb Raider was an intense thrill-ride that left the gamer impressed. Perhaps this repainting of the character and gaming series was for the best, after all. It remained to the highly anticipated sequel to prove if this new formula was a winning decision or simply a lucky one-hit wonder.
The answer is still frustratingly vague. For one, the formula needs a strong storyline to drive the gameplay forward. The rebooted Tomb Raider pretty much wrote itself, a gruelling prequel to the Lara that came before. The mystical island of Yamatai contained the action into a single location and provided an interesting set of villains – a trapped man who forms his own cult to devise an escape from the island. The trick with a sequel is finding an equally interesting storyline to match the gameplay, but without the crutch of the Tomb Raider being born. Sadly, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix decide to extend the origin and in doing so, weigh down their story with meandering side-notes. Like the recent duff of a movie, the plot revolves around Lara trying to figure out what happened to her father, reducing the character to a needy Daddy’s girl, worlds away from the independent Lara of the past. What’s worse is that the villains of this game are beyond dull and lifeless. It must be so easy to make the villains of a Tomb Raider game an ancient order tracking down a lost relic, but you would wish that the writers wouldn’t. The bad guys are all religious fanatics, driven by their “divine goal” which strips them of any three-dimensional characteristics. The main bad guy, Konstantin, is little more than a sneering sociopath, everything from his cliched name right down to his trademark bad guy’s scar so routine that it is impossible to work up the same excitement as you did with the last game’s foe. There is another bad guy hidden in the game, but that name, while boasting a few interesting dynamics to the part, constantly drags the story back to that “daddy’s girl” conundrum, which hurts the game just as badly. The relic in question is the secret to immortality, something that has been done since this genre of tomb raider was first created. Nothing is new here. It is impossible to judge if the reboot’s style works, because it is held together by some shoddy story-telling.
The other thing that makes it impossible to figure out if this new style of Lara is good enough to stay is that the developers haven’t even stuck to it. They have taken this interesting style and attempted to flesh it out, with equally disastrous consequences. Our poor Lara has been pulled through the manufacturing wringer, so many ‘stock modern gaming’ tropes incorporated into her journey that you would suspect Ubisoft of hijacking the production somewhere along the line. As you settle into the game, expecting another action-packed chase to the end, you find that Rise of the Tomb Raider as been inundated with open world additions. Sure, the last game had its fair share of optional tombs and hidden GPS caches, but the joy of those side quests were that they didn’t interrupt the flow of the main quest. They either found a breathing space in the narrative, so their appearance didn’t make your progress feel stunted, or patiently waited for you to finish the game, knowing their place as an extended piece of gameplay, rather than anything pressing. However, with Rise of the Tomb Raider, the main mission is demoted to a slow crawl, as collectibles, side missions and bonuses hide everywhere in the game. This is clearly pandering to the desire to see more tomb-raiding in the game, but Crystal Dynamics needs to start making that a part of the main story, rather than a surprise bonus. Tomb Raiding is in the title; it should be the main course. As well as lengthy optional tomb missions, we now can stop and help struggling rebels in their fight against the dreaded Trinity. There are moments when you need to stop the game and remind yourself you are playing Tomb Raider and not a third person shooter. The last game at least made the action feel personal and essential to Lara; here, it is only included because we are in a game and the lack of imagination on display demands there be some form of shooting. To add insult to injury, you can even find a shop where you can come back at any time to upgrade your equipment. This is the point of no return for the game, as now its desire to conform to the rest of the gaming world has made it defy logic, as well as the fanbase.
There are some good moments buried away in Rise of the Tomb Raider. An early fight with a bear has the sort of nail-biting gameplay that we bought this sequel for. There are also frantic chases against nature and explosions that spice up a sagging middle act. However, these highlights only serve to remind the gamer that Crystal Dynamics are capable of so much more than the product they have chosen to give us. You would be better of playing the last Tomb Raider game or, better yet, returning to the PS1 roots.
Final Verdict: As one of the reboot’s biggest defenders, I am disturbed to see the sequel too far gone when it comes to conformity. Angel of Darkness has been hit off the top spot for Lara’s lowest points.