Monday November 16th, 2015

Microsoft scored big when it landed Rise of the Tomb Raider as an Xbox exclusive. The follow up to the rebooted Tomb Raider, one of 2013’s surprise hits, Crystal Dynamics raises the bar with a thrilling sequel that will keep your adrenaline pumping from start to finish.

Barely escaping a harrowing and eye-opening experience on a mystical island will change a person, and you can tell right from the start how much Lara Croft has evolved from her last outing. She’s smarter, tougher and more determined, and instead of simply trying to survive, you’ll often find her jumping headfirst into danger. The game drops you right into the story as Lara is in the middle of investigating leads as she follows in her father’s footsteps, obsessively hunting for an artifact called the Divine Source that is supposed to grant eternal life. However, standing in her way is a shadowy military organization called Trinity, which is led by a man named Konstantin. You’ll have to fight and race against Trinity to find the lost city of Kitezh, which is supposed to hold this mythical artifact.

Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t revolutionize the gameplay in any major way, and that’s just fine. When Crystal Dynamics rebooted the series, it offered a refreshing take on the long-running franchise. With the follow-up, it stuck with what made the last game so great and refined the whole experience.

To combat all the new threats and to traverse around harsher, often more unforgiving environments, Lara has a number of new toys at her disposal. One of the most useful new additions are poison gas arrows, which allow you to stealthily take out a number of soldiers closely grouped together. Then there’s the wire spool, which acts as a makeshift grappling hook, allowing you to fling your pick ax to latch onto objects to swing or climb up to hard-to-reach areas. Broadhead arrows also come in handy, which you shoot into certain surfaces to act as mini-platforms for you to jump on. You can also craft items in the heat of battle, such as makeshift explosives, and if you’re in the middle of a gunfight, you’ll now have to rely on bandaging yourself to heal.

The game is broken up into several hubs for Lara to explore, and it’s a semi-open world experience. While there are side missions and collectibles scattered around each area to pursue, you’ll have to push through the main story before you’re able to explore every nook and cranny. You can only access some areas using specific abilities or tools that aren’t unlocked until later in the game, so it motivates you to go back to explore some of the earlier stages.

A big complaint about the last Tomb Raider was the lack of puzzles. While there are a number of puzzles that are part of the main story, some of the best and most challenging ones are relegated to optional challenge tombs. That “a-ha” moment you get when you figure out how to solve them is very gratifying, and that is one of the best parts of the game. So if you come across one, make sure to not skip out on it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider looks fantastic. Crystal Dynamics did a great job pushing the hardware on the Xbox One to deliver one of the best-looking games on the console. Each of the levels are thoughtfully crafted with rich detail, and the presentation is top notch. This is most apparent in the many escape sequences scattered throughout the game. Even though you know that they are scripted moments, there’s an incredible amount of tension in each of these sequences. With the world often crumbling around you, you’ll have to make snap decisions as you frantically scramble to escape. One mistimed button press can be the difference between life and death for Lara, and you can really appreciate the amount of detail that went into the game as you watch each of the environments fall apart.

Should You Buy It

If you have an Xbox One, this game should be in your collection. Rise of the Tomb Raider is not only one of the best console exclusives to come out this year, but also should be a contender for Game of the Year. It’ll take you somewhere between 15 to 20 hours to get through the main story, and if you’re a completionist, the game has enough content to keep you playing for nearly double that time. If you liked the last Tomb Raider, there’s no question that you’ll enjoy this one.

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