Hands-on Preview: Rise of the Tomb Raider

Crystal Dynamics’ Rise of the Tomb Raider’s playable demo at this year’s EB Expo was short but very satisfying, introducing the game’s focus on raiding tombs.

The game’s predecessor and reboot of the series, Tomb Raider, told an origin story of Lara Croft stranded on an island haunted by Japanese spirits from the Second World War. Tombs were left as optional areas to discover, breaking the flow of the narrative. 

“[Rise of the Tomb Raider] is [Lara’s] journey to become the Tomb Raider”, said the game’s lead designer, Mike Brinker.

TR1 There is no doubt that tombs play a heavy role in the game’s narrative, following the history of the Crusades. The playable demo even began with Lara entering an abandoned tomb in Syria filled with secrets of the historical Crusaders.

The scenery in the game is breathtakingly mesmerising. I have yet to see footage of the game running on the PlayStation 4 and PC, but the Xbox One version definitely captured the graphical capabilities of the next generation. A nice small example of this is the animation of Lara fixing her hair by tying it back into a ponytail after swimming.
TR2The sun’s rays of light glistened against the tomb’s orange rough terrain as Lara crawled inside. Corpses, ancient swords, spears and armour sets laid beneath her as I walked along, stepping on a plate and activating a spiked trap that nearly impaled her. Crawling through a dimly lit cave with only my flare to lighten the way, scorpions began to emerge from cracks and beneath the decaying bodies. My flare went out as I saw a light flicker at the end of the tunnel. Lara begun sprinting through the narrow cave, activating a quick time event to smash a wall with my climbing axe, revealing a secret entrance to the tombs.

The game’s fast-paced action scenes constantly keep you on your feet. Lara is stronger and wiser after the events of Tomb Raider, but can still be killed by failing to grab onto a wedged rock in a cliffside when falling.

Those fearing that the game will only focus on raiding tombs need not stress as, without spoiling the narrative, Lara does have enemies of her own in Rise of the Tomb Raider. The gunplay in these sequences was tight and well-polished, much like the game’s predecessor.

TR3Since the demo followed Lara exploring a Syrian tomb, I was unable to experience much of the game’s combat. Crystal Dynamics ensures, however, that Lara’s fighting style is unique and can adapt to the player’s personalised style in what he calls “woman vs wild”. Players can encounter scenarios with stealth by hiding among bushes and firing poisonous arrows from the shadows; with an aggressive approach by marching into enemy territory with a shotgun and explosives; or by the new non-lethal method.

Rise of the Tomb Raider looks like it could be one of the most visually impressive games of this year. Before playing the demo, I had a pre-conceived notion doubting anyone buying an Xbox One this holiday season to play the game a year earlier than on the PlayStation 4 and PC; yet after experiencing Lara’s journey to become the Tomb Raider first-hand, I can definitely see why.

Rise of the Tomb Raider will release on the Xbox One on the 13th of November this year, and on the PlayStation 4 and PC sometime in 2016.