After a year of Xbox One exclusivity, Crystal Dynamics knew they had to bring something new to the table if they wanted to make an impact when Rise of the Tomb Raider came to the Playstation 4, and they did not disappoint. Packed to the brim with content, while still featuring the same solid storytelling and engaging gameplay as last year’s release, Rise of the Tomb Raider on Playstation 4 is an absolute triumph. Rise of the Tomb Raider impeccable game design, and is a perfect celebration of the franchise’s varied 20 year history.
After the events of the 2013 reboot, Lara Croft is left in search of a purpose. Obsessed with an artifact called the Divine Source, which her father was consumed with years before, she sets out to find it and bring credit to her disgraced family name. Her search leads her to Siberia, where she encounters a clandestine organization bent on controlling the Divine Source. For the most part, Rise of the Tomb Raider’s narrative is a vast improvement over the previous entry, nixing most of the annoying side characters, and instead focusing mainly on Lara as she makes a formative journey into the legendary archeologist which she is meant to be. The story is at its best when it is focused on Lara, who undergoes some nice character development. Unfortunately, most of the peripheral characters and plot lines are either underwhelming compared to her story, or just plain boring. Still, there are some nice story bits chew on, and the story stands tall as the best in the series, even if that might not be saying much.
While the story is solid, gameplay is the real hook here. Many elements return from the 2013 reboot, but this time everything has a purpose, while also being backed by a number of RPG-like systems that ensure the player always feels like they’re making progress. Hunting and gathering resources returns, and is worked into a smart on-the-fly crafting system that lets Lara build all manner of arrows, ammunition, and explosives throughout the game. This crafting system, while never overpowered, always grants players enough freedom to tackle encounters on their own terms. New to the series is Lara’s ability to learn languages, which help her decipher monoliths throughout the game, and can lead her to hidden caches of treasure. Combat is also improved over previous entries, with shooting being much more satisfying, and melee combat still feeling quick and brutal, just a bit more precise. All of this is tied together with an experience system that awards players for everything they do. Whether Lara is surviving an enemy encounter, hunting a deer, or just picking up the odd collectible, your character is always progressing forward. It all makes for an engaging, and somewhat addicting, gameplay loop that kept me playing for hours on end. Thanks to these systems, the game is one of the most thrilling adventure experiences out there because of how much it makes you feel like you’re really struggling to survive, and how it rewards you for thinking outside of the box.
On Xbox One, Rise of the Tomb Raider was one of the best looking examples of the system’s power. While nobody has dethroned the visual fidelity of 2016’s Uncharted 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider certainly doesn’t slouch in the visual department on PS4. Lighting effects are often striking enough to make me stop and admire the scenery, and facial animations are top notch, giving some much needed depth to some of the performances. Little touches, such as the fantastic effects of Lara’s hair, and the way snow bunches up as you trudge through it, go a long way towards delivering an immersive adventuring experience, and show just how much craft went into the game’s production. All of this is backed up by a stellar soundscape and rock solid musical score. From the crack of an ice pick into a glacier, to the realistic crunch of snow underfoot, it is all immaculately crafted to immerse the player in Siberia’s frozen wastes.
Aside from the amazing campaign experience, Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4 comes with a bevy of additional DLC content. Including all the Xbox One season pass content, the all-new Blood Ties story DLC, and Lara’s Nightmare, a zombie mode set in the Croft Manor. Lara’s Nightmare is a fun, if brief diversion that takes on a Resident Evil-esque twist to Tomb Raider‘s action. While it lasts, it’s a good, horror-themed romp but the real star of the show is Blood Ties. Serving as a kind of new, playable epilogue to the main campaign, Blood Ties sees Lara discovering the secrets of her family home. Overall it’s the most touching bit of story in the package, and it does a bit better job closing some of the emotional loops the main story left open, and serves as a competent lead-in to further adventures. Also included is the Baba Yaga story DLC, which fits organically into the main story. A lengthy side quest involving a Russian witch, which is a fair bit of fun, and only serves to bolster the already bursting amount of content on hand.
Endurance Mode from the original release also returns, but with Co-op unique to the PlayStation 4 release. Nothing much to say here, except that it is an excellent survival mode that sees players group up with another friend to gather resources and see how long they can last. Endurance Mode wasn’t exactly for me, but it’s certainly preferable to the multiplayer offering of the last game. The Cold Darkness DLC is also included, which is a more narrative survival experience that pits Lara against zombie-ish soldiers as she attempts to prevent a Cold-War era chemical weapon leak. On top of all of this are the numerous weapons, 18 new outfits (Six of which are exclusive to the Anniversary Edition), as well as a new difficulty setting for the truly die hard fans.
In many ways, Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Celebration is the best game in the series, offering the deepest look yet at Lara Croft as a character, while also including more than its fair share of high stakes action and archeological exploration. The Tomb Raider series still has a long way to go, but Celebration does a great job reminding us how far it’s already come, and leaves the door open to more adventures. Rise of the Tomb Raider is a rare kind of game that improves upon the initial outing in every way, and leaves you hungry for more. With Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Celebration, Crystal Dynamics has managed to do the unthinkable, turning one of 2015’s best games into one of 2016’s best.