Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rise of the Tomb Raider review

    I've had this game for over a year and never got around to writing up a review for it because it is, ultimately, forgettable. This is kind of an impressive feat since I loved the new Lara Croft, gave the Tomb Raider reboot a 10 out of 10, and was anxiously awaiting the sequel. I was sure the plot would be amazing since I love Rhianna Pratchett's writing and consider Overlord one of my all-time favorite video game concepts along with said reboot.

    And the plot sucks.

The gameplay is fun but repetitive.
    I know what a lot of people are thinking: who plays Tomb Raider games for their plot? Well, it's weird but this game is just amazingly good at sucking all the energy, humor, and sympathy from the storyline. The original games are light-hearted enjoyable romps with no real care to the story while the reboot asked us to care about Lara Croft as the character. Rise of the Tomb Raider kind of makes Lara Croft a bit of a sociopath and sets her against a bunch of anti-Catholic stereotypes for a quest of dubious merit.

    In Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of the subtleties of the character is Indiana Jones has had almost (but not quite) all the idealism beaten out of him. He's become a grave robber and treasure hunter because of his desire to share stuff with museums as well as stay ahead of people like Belloq. Certainly, the Hovitos are the owners of their sacred relic and Indiana Jones is planning to turn over the Ark to the US government rather than any Jewish group. Here, the game presents Lara Croft in much the same way except her daddy issues are the excuse for her monstrous behavior and the game ignores it.  Then there's the fact much of the game seems influenced by the Angelina Jolie movies and we've opened a whole other can of worms.

    The premise is Lara Croft's father, unbeknownst to us from the first game in this timeline, has been disgraced for his belief in the Source. The Source is basically the Holy Grail except belonging to a not-Jesus figure from Byzantium. Eventually, he committed suicide (or was murdered by the evil Catholic conspiracy), and traumatized Lara forever.

The snow settings quick
    Lara uncovers some clues to prove him right and this puts her in conflict with Trinity, the Vatican's paramilitary army of evil who want the Source for themselves. Lara kills thousands of them and then goes to Russia in order to find the Source and steal it to show her father wasn't crazy. This persists even when she finds it belongs to a bunch of natives who are being slaughtered by Trinity to protect the Source's secret.

    While not Catholic myself, I find the whole premise of them being behind a murderous conspiracy of relic hunters the same way I'd feel about Muslims or Jews, especially as Trinity is shown to be responsible for all kinds of atrocities left and right. Lara was fighting for survival in the previous game and here is every bit willing to kill for the Prize without much easing into it. It doesn't help she's also here to steal the Source from the locals who, again, it belongs to. The sudden daddy issues don't help the plot as none of this was foreshadowed in the previous game as Lara seemed to be stuck in her dad's shadow then dealing with her father's then-recent suicide.

The tombs are, at least, plentiful and interestingly designed.
    The problem gets worse with the fact the supporting cast of the first game is wholesale ejected. This despite the fact the previous game did an excellent job of setting up Lara's interpersonal relationships with them. It's hard to care about any of the new characters since Lara is shown to be a loner who doesn't have much in the way of humanization. It's unfortunate because I really came to like Sam and the others.

    The gameplay is still good, though. It's basically unchanged from the previous game with some enhanced crafting elements. You don't have to do as much climbing as before. The majority of opponents you'll kill are mercenaries, who aren't as fun as the insane cultists of the first game. However, you will also get some fun missions like killing bears and other dangerous animals. The only area it really improves on the previous game is the abundance of tombs and locations to explore.

    Graphically, the game is superior and Lara's adventures are quite beautiful to look at.
Unfortunately, the game is primarily centered in snowy Siberian ruins which feel bland compared to the beautiful Syrian ruins you only briefly travel through. While the Siberian levels contain factories, an abandoned city, mines, and other spots--the simple fact was it reminded me of Dead Space 3 and that's not a compliment. They just didn't feel particularly Tomb Raider-ish and too restrictive for what I hoped would have been a more globe-trotting adventure.

Better luck next tomb, Lara.
     Overall, I'm going to say Rise of the Tomb Raider feels derivative of the original game but lacking in the character growth which was its centerpiece. The supporting cast is weaker, the danger less immediate, Lara less likable, the stakes lower, and the enemies inferior. Worse, while the tombs are awesome and the puzzles better, the setting is also boring. To that end, I think it's better to give this one a pass.


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