Tomb Raider used to be one of the biggest most important, most influential franchises. Then it started becoming stale, although, to be fair, with strong, refined games like The Last Revelations. So it got updated. Unsuccessfully. I feel like the fear of creating another Angel of Darkness still clings to the series with every next part that tries to change things. Maybe that’s why Rise of the Tomb Raider tried to avoid the change at all costs?
It would be dishonest for me to say that I didn’t enjoy Tomb Raider 2013, which was the 3rd reboot of the franchise so far. I did. I also did hope that the next game will be nothing like it, as that felt like a dead end for the franchise. A nice restart that needs some other ways of evolution in the future. Not just because the combat was very repetitive, platforming unimportant, story too serious for it’s own quality and QTEs, oh those goddamn QTEs, so ever-present and dumb. But also because it felt like there was nothing else to do with that framework without very big changes. And because the ending was such a beautiful and strong hint on the birth of Lara’s character as we liked it in the classics.
Sadly, Rise of the Tomb Raider goes the least creative way possible instead. To call it a reskin of the previous game, with other locations, few updates, prettier visuals, wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Which is especially sad, when you realise that it’s not and a huge group of talented veteran developers spent several years on redoing what they already did, without any real need for it. It’s a game that no one needed. A game that does nothing to the genre, to the series, to… anything, really.
Maybe it adds to the technological advances? I don’t really know. We’re at the moment in gaming when it’s hard to get amazed by the technological aspects of games anymore. I mean, Tomb Raider 2013 looked really good already. This looks better, sure. Was it necessary? I… guess?
But even with the «kewl grafix» game just doesn’t awe at all. You run through boring levels, collecting stuff to unlock other stuff so you could do more stuff, none of which is actually fun. The upgrades and skills looked like an alien element in the previous entry, like something that was done backwards — with game designed with all upgrades available all the time and then removing some of them just to say «hey, we have crafting! And skillpoints!» And here it’s even more ridiculous, because there’s more stuff (including upgrading your language skills), and yet none of it feels like a fun thing to do. More like a thing you have to do, otherwise you won’t be able to play as intended. The common pitfall of modern open-world titles with their never-ending collectibles and crafting resources which are there to drag the game time out.
You shoot and stealth kill in more reasonable encounters than in the previous game, where «poor vulnerable Lara» could have a fight with an entire shanty town. But they work exactly the same. Same silly looking stealth the AI doesn’t react to naturally. Same clunky awkward shootouts, that look not just tamer than Uncharted’s, but than the ones you had in previous Tomb Raider games.
Luckily, one element where the developers did try to upgrade a bit, are the optional «Tombs». The concept, that’s still underdeveloped as in the previous game, is at least expanded with more «tombs» and some actually creative puzzles. They work one way only and don’t allow any kind of experimentation and, really, are rarely «good puzzles», but they serve as something that you can actually play through enjoyably, without the feeling that you’re going through motions, doing same pointless stuff. Can I point out, that in the series known for ancient ruins and mythical places, these, only fun, places are completely optional and superfluous to the «intended game path»?
The saddest element of the entire game, however, is everything story-related. Underneath the utter shite it is, you can find good concepts of what could’ve led to a fun story that would fit a Tomb Raider game. Sadly, the way it’s done is so utterly terrible you will cringe every time someone opens their mouth. It’s a predictable, trite script that takes itself so painfully seriously it manages to look more stupid than the classic titles in the series.
Which leaves us with the game that didn’t need to exist. Nicely put together, nice looking, professionally designed game that I don’t think anyone will actually want to play. You can kill time with it. But then — you can kill time with something much more entertaining.
P.S. A non-review video of me trying to explain why the game is so unnecessary: