Let’s all be honest – Rise of the Tomb Raider had a rather abysmal showing during Microsoft’s press conference. The highly anticipated first look at gameplay was a diluted showcase of how Lara could repeatedly fall just as far down as she could climb up, showing off nothing about some of the game’s more alluring aspects. Things that I saw at an extended hands-off demo today.
Shuffling into a room at Xbox’s booth, Crystal Dynamics were beaming at the chance to show of their sequel to one of the best action games in recent memory. Rise of the Tomb Raider builds on a lot of what made the reboot so good. Lara still has a handful of gear to shuffle between collecting items to help her upgrade and improve them along the way. It’s been expanded upon slight by diversifying what you’ll need to collect to enhance specific items – rather than just collecting non-descript scrap that acted as the omnitool for everything in the last title.
Lara wasn’t only just gathering resources for weapons and gear, but also pure survival. The demo, which picks up exactly the moment after the Microsoft stage demo ended, shows a injured Lara fighting off the deathly cold in the mountains of Siberia. She’s taken a rather large tumble and managed to pick herself up afterwards, but is now stranded in the frigid wasteland. Collecting some wood from nearby decrepit trees allows her to make camp, which acts as far less of a central hub than it did last time around.
Whereas last time this was used for upgrades and map check, Lara is now able to graft items on the fly. This was demonstrated beautifully as she engaged a small group of soldiers (which tie into the very Uncharted-like plot of a warmonger hunting the same treasure as her), picking them off one by one as best she could. Collecting some nearby mushrooms allows you to transform your normal arrow tips into poison ones, allowing Lara to knock out even heavily armoured foes. For a more direct approach, the tomb raider is able to craft explosives like Molotov cocktails right behind cover – which as always shaken, never stirred.
It lends a nice amount of fluidity to combat, which is punctuated by some contextual hide and seeks games at times. Should an enemy corner Lara in a truly vulnerable state, you’ll be able to climb trees or hide in water to avoid certain death. Better yet, you can execute some rather flashy instant kills from these positions as well – much like almost every stealth game you’ve ever played. Ever.
But this is Tomb Raider, and it would be rather out of place to remove one of the finer components of the reboot, no? In fact, tomb raiding provides the central narrative connection to all the locales Lara will visit throughout the game, as she struggles to find definitive proof of immortal beings that could explain the horror she saw in the last title. That doesn’t mean a little web-infested sight-seeing can’t be done on the way too though, and Crystal Dynamics made a big deal about just how far tombs have come this time around.
In Syria, Lara comes across a small cavern that houses ancient relics of old, lost languages. Being an educated scholar and with an incredible archaeologist father to boot, Lara is able to translate pieces of these relics to uncover hidden treasure trails. Should you not be able to decipher it yet, further study of either similar relics eventually expands that tomb raider’s vocabulary – allowing you to revisit previous tombs and uncover their secret bounties.
The tombs themselves have also received a sizable upgrade, acting as large, micro hubs of gameplay rather than single environmental puzzles. Whole cities can be uncovered in the gaps between a mountain face, or the unruly home of a bear – and it’s really up to you whether or not you explore them. New, interesting treasure and gear awaits those that favour the brave route, and you’ll need it all to face some of the game’s tougher Guardians.
It’s odd that they’re called that though (considering the one we saw was bust a big, nasty grizzly bear), but the foreboding nature of the title brings with it an extra layer of weight to the tense encounters. Equipping the correct bow (yes, there’s more than one this time), gear and more will have a massive impact on your effectiveness against Guardians, which leads Lara to opt for a recurve bow against the bear in question in this instance. Once cleared, these Guardians grant access to previously walled-off tomb entrances, which leads to even more resources and loot for you to lug across the world.
There’s a lot of refinement on already existing mechanics at play here, but ones that all expand on the best parts of the reboot. Rise of the Tomb Raider was a far more exhilarating experience behind closed doors than it was on the global stage, which had me scratching my head as to why Microsoft and Square Enix chose to show that, over this. But no matter which way you cut it, it certainly seems that Lara is back on track to claim adventure action nirvana – and I can’t wait to join her on her adventure.
Last Updated: June 17, 2015