I’m going to make this quick, because there’s almost nothing left to do about Rise of the Tomb Raider but await its arrival. Slated for this November on Xbox one, with ports on PC and PS4 following early next year and holiday 2016 respectively, everyone is going to be able to get their hands on and play the follow-up to Crystal Dynamics incredible 2013 reboot. You should, too, because from what I played at PAX Rise of the Tomb Raider is going to be one hell of a game.
We all know the Tomb Raider formula and, for the most part, that has remained unchanged save for a slew of new exploration-heavy tombs that have been promised. In addition the overall feel for the game has become much more cinematic, taking queues from semi-competitor Uncharted I’m sure, but this is not an Uncharted game. Lara will be involved in some gun battles, although this time around it seems much more strategic and dare I say appears to have fewer enemies used for fodder. I like this approach because I’d rather take out 7 enemies in a meticulous 1-on-1 takedown rather than mowing a legion with an assault rifle – although the E3 demo seemed to suggest you could do either in any situation. And that’s where Tomb Raider differentiates itself: it’s an exploration game with gunplay rather than a shooter with exploration sequences. If you were at PAX and played the demo, you wouldn’t know much about gunplay at all because save for two baddies you pick off at the end you were exploring an underground area alone.
Throughout the demo Lara was solving puzzles, disarming traps, platforming from high ledges at cliffs, and even learning Greek to read an ancient tablet. Okay, so that last one isn’t very realistic, but how else are they going to have her speaking 12 languages the moment she finds an artifact? In the last game I didn’t pay much attention to minutia, mostly because the areas weren’t the focal point, but now I’m forced to take it all in. Scorpions dart across the walls, webs fall from above casting shadows on my way forward, and sunlight drops down from above to highlight items that vary in importance. This game is gorgeous and it feels confident showing off these stellar views. The demo at PAX was playing on an Xbox One, which the demo staff proved by dropping to the dashboard and closing/re-opening the program after each person played. That version looked fantastic to the point that I don’t feel I have to wait for the PC port, even if it does look slightly better (as may be the case with PS4). Load times, the bane of this console generation so far, were fast – I counted about 18 seconds on the initial load and 4-5 on a death – suggesting that whether it’s isolated optimization or the ability for developers to better harness the power of the Xbox One. Either way it was a great sign.
Rise of the Tomb Raider was just plain fun to play. You felt like the main character of an action movie, you were always ushered forward with new things to do and a new perspective to see them in, and Lara is still a character I can connect with (only this time I don’t feel weak). I don’t need to see any more of this game, I’m sold. Now come out already.