Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration (Sony PlayStation 4)

tombraidercoverRise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: 10/11/2016

PS4 owners had to wait an additional year for Rise of the Tomb Raider thanks to Microsoft timed exclusivity deal with SE. Knowing that simply putting out the game at full price would lead to a public relations nightmare, SE decided to pimp it out to coincide with the franchise’s twenty year anniversary. Not only does this version of the game come equipped with all of the previously released DLC, it includes brand new content and some snazzy packaging as well. Think of this as the “Game of the Year” edition with some bonuses. At that point, the full price point is palatable. So, how did this game survive the jump to a new platform? Let’s discuss.

Rise’s story takes place not too long after the events of the first game. After having witnesses supernatural elements at work with her own eyes, Lara Croft has taken a new perspective on the world. More importantly, she decides that her father’s obsession with immortality myths might not have been so crazy after all. Part of proving him right comes down to finding something called “The Divine Source” in the lost city of Kitezh. Problems arise when a secretive group known as “Trinity” crashes the party in search of that same mythical power. Lara finds herself in a race to find answers against this group, and also finds herself at odds with natives who’ve sworn to protect the land.

tombraider1The crux of the tale lies with Lara’s new obsessive personality. While she’s not completely heartless, it becomes clear that her goals are her ultimate driving force. This leads her to trek frozen wastelands alone, take on impossible odds in battle, and butt heads with would be allies. However, her obsession is understandable due to the connection with her father’s life’s ambition and eventual death. She feels she betrayed him by not believing him, and that proving him right is her shot at redemption. It makes her an interesting character. Unfortunately, she’s not surrounded by equally interesting characters. The members of Trinity lack complexity. They’re single minded to a fault. Similarly, the natives are presented as little more than wiry fighters. While they might get some screen time and some backstory via journals, they rarely show depth. The game also has a rather annoying unresolved plot thread towards the end. It’s a decent character study in terms of Lara, but ultimately not as good as it could have been.

Visually, the game is on point, though it lacks variety. The frozen wastes make for startlingly beautiful backgrounds. Glaciers, snow fields, and blizzards are just breath taking to gaze upon. The issue is the only thing to break up those views are the same kind of dilapidated buildings and caves we saw in the last game. Cookie cutter enemies don’t help much either. Without the snow and ice, the game would look like any other brown shooter out there. It does win points for how well Lara animates, although some of that is lost when you have characters speaking without moving their lips. That should be a relic of bygone years, not something we still see in 2016. While it’s a good looking game, its biggest problem is that it has simply been surpassed in the year it took to get to Sony’s console. Uncharted 4 simply blows it out of the water.

tombraider2Camilla Luddington returns to voice Lara, and does a bang up job. The rest of the cast is equally enjoyable, whether we’re talking about the other main characters or the ghosts of the people who’ve left journals and audio logs for you to find. Musically, the game features a dark adventurous theme that would fit better perhaps with a horror game. It’s a lot of high pitched strings and pounding drums. It paints a bleak picture that keeps the game’s levity at a low even during less tense moments. An interesting choice involves your associated gun noises coming out of the controller as opposed to the. TV. While it does sound perfect for reloading sounds, it also makes the shots themselves sound tinny by comparison. Beyond that, the accompanying booms, cracks, and splashes are standard and acceptable.

Many tweaks were made for this game compared to the last one. An emphasis has been placed on crafting on the go, and stealth gameplay is heavily pushed. As such, little seen elements of the last game, such as hunting and gathering, are much more prevalent this time around. Add on to that more sensible and useful rewards for completing, optional tombs, and this game ends up being a bit more fleshed out.

The basics of the game are the same. You move with the left stick, aim with the right, use the d-pad to switch weapons, aim and fire with the shoulder buttons, and so on. Gameplay is divided into combat, exploration, and puzzle solving. You can rest up at campfires to use unlocked skill points to earn new abilities, switch out gear, and fast travel between points on the map. Think of it as a fairly typical third person shooter with a semi-open world. You might be limited to where you can go by the story, but you’re usually free to tackle objectives at your own pace or simply explore around a bit.

Lara brings and identical arsenal to the table. The bow is great for stealth kills, the pistols is solid at any range, the rifle is good for mowing down foes, and the shotgun can take down anything at close range. You’ll start off with just the bow and pick the rest up as you go. Because of its alternate fire options, the bow quickly becomes the star. You can craft poison arrows, fire arrows, and explosive arrows. All three of these are incredibly effective against large enemy groups. One fight involved groups dropping in from a hole in the ceiling. A well timed poison cloud arrow could take them all out. While your ammo is limited, you can craft more on the run if you have the supplies. All you need to do is have the ammo type selected, have the bow out, and hold the R1 button. Truth be told, supplies for crafting are in great abundance if you don’t sprint through the game, so running out shouldn’t be a problem. It can make you feel like you’re playing on God mode.

tombraider3One of the more interesting aspects of the game is the versatility of items you find around each map. Bottles, cans, jars, and other objects can be crafted into various grenades and/or mines on the fly. However, if you prefer a stealth approach you can toss them to distract enemies. You can even bash an enemy over the head with a bottle for a sweet melee take down. It is kind of odd you can’t stock up on these items, but it does add a wonderfully chaotic feel to the game.

Stealth play is heavily emphasized this time around. Besides those aforementioned objects, you’ll find tall grass to hide in, a combat knife for instant kills, high points from which to drop down on unsuspecting foes, and so on. You get a lot of bonus experience for stealth kills, and it is possible to stay in stealth for long stretches of time. On the flip side, your standard weapons are so useful that you really don’t fear being spotted, which takes some of the tension out of it.

The crafting system as a whole has changed, and thus has also changed how you need to interact with the world. Instead of “salvage” being a catch all that can be used as currency, you need to find specific supplies for specific uses. For example, you need poisonous mushrooms to create poison arrows and animal hides to craft new ammo pouches. In order to stay stocked, you need to keep an eye out for areas that will have the item you need, and you will probably need to hunt some animals from time to time. Part of this means facing down bears and large cats when your normal instincts would say to run away. It’s also worth noting that new gun parts for unlocking alternate guns can be found in chests throughout the game this time. Tombs, which housed them before, are now the home of special tomes which grant unique new skills. This makes going through motions of solving their puzzles all the more gratifying.

tombraider4Depending on your desire for completion, the game can last well over a dozen hours. The main campaign can be rushed through, but there are side missions, tombs, collectibles, and challenges for you to find and complete. Getting the 100% means spending a lot of time. The rewards are pretty nice as well, as you’ll earn in game currency that can be used to buy card packs. Cards earned in these packs can be used in the other modes of the game. These include chapter replays, time attacks, score attacks, a survival mode, and even a zombie horde mode. For these, you can set various parameters and then use cards to customize your experience. The beneficial cards will lower your score, while taking negatives will improve your score. These modes offer a ton of replay value simply because of the number of them and the diversity.

For new modes for this version of the game, there are a few. “Blood Ties” is about an hour long special story that takes you through the Croft mansion. The idea is using clues to find a will so Lara doesn’t lose the building to a greedy uncle. It’s all puzzle based, but it gives you a great chance to catch up on Lara’s childhood through various journals you find. The zombie horde mode I mentioned earlier takes place in the mansion as well, and tasks you with finding and destroying three skulls in order to summon the final boss. There’s also been a cooperative version of the Endurance mode added to the game. This mode takes a survival approach to the genre. You have a hunger meter and a warmth meter that constantly deplete. The idea is to hunt and explore in order to stay alive. Your ultimate goal is to find relics and boost up your score as high as you can. With two players, the mode becomes that much more interesting. It’s a hell of a overall package, and these extra modes far surpass the competitive multiplayer mode from the last game.

If there’s one caveat, it’s that the game is simply too easy on the standard difficulty. Lara earns new skills at a rapid pace, and her weapons far outmatch her opponents. Heavily armored foes are supposed to act as tanks during intense sequences, but on poison arrow at their feet drops them like any other. Enemies will stand out in the open instead of seeking cover. If they get close, Lara can very quickly craft a healing bandage to stay alive and then counterattack without ever really getting into danger. The lack of challenge takes some of the urgency away, and it might be best for players to start the game on a higher difficulty then they normally would.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration is a satisfying sequel with a ton of content on the disc. This is the definitive version of the game, so it ends up justifying its full price point and then some. The game still has some issues, such as Lara outclassing the other characters in terms of story and combat prowess to too high a degree. However, it’s still a fine game and well worth the look if you’re someone who enjoys the genre. This ended up being well worth the wait.



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