30 October, 2016

Review – Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Edition

After twenty years of looting and destroying the hidden wonders of the ancient, as well as the supernatural, Lara still isn’t done, and fortunately she’s showing no sign of slowing down.

Review – Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Edition banner

Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Edition

The 20th Anniversary Edition contains the Rise of the Tomb Raider, all of the downloadable content – including costumes – much of which I’ve already reviewed on this site, and so I will only summarise here. That said, there are some new adventures and looks, also available as a downloadable upgrade for existing players.

Rise of the Tomb Raider picks up after the events of Tomb Raider, the divisive 2013 reboot. Lara’s still young and she takes some savage knocks – these being the two qualities employed poorly in Tomb Raider (2013) – but this time round there’s never any doubt in Lara’s mind or the player’s, as to Lara’s survival. Whatever the trial is, whatever threatens her survival, she fights rather than suffers, and always rolls out looking for the next challenge. It finally elevates Lara to a strong and self-sufficient female lead first and foremost; she is not a polygonal sex icon who happens to shoot dinosaurs in the mouth, nor is she a traumatised student, a hero by happenstance.

Review – Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Edition byzantine ship

The semi-open world of Rise of the Tomb Raider succeeds in marrying the literal raiding of tombs, with the explosive mainline, pitting Lara against a Dan Brown-esque religious-fuelled murderer from an ancient holy order.  The optional tombs are short, but satisfying nonetheless, usually featuring only a few stages built around one or two mechanics. Despite their prevalence and frequently poor application in modern videogames, audiologs are Rise of the Tomb Raider’s most valued treasure. Framed as diaries and letters, or tapes and digital recordings, the audiologs tell different stories from across the ages; one set follows a Byzantine tracker, another a Soviet soldier. While intriguing in their own right, they succeed in weaving a far more believable and colourful history of the characters and concepts of the main arc, than any explanatory exposition ever could.

Rise of the Tomb Raider’s downloadable content, included on the 20th Anniversary disc varies greatly in quality. Surprisingly the survival mode Endurance is one of the stronger; it drops Lara into the Siberian wilderness to scavenge firewood, food, and other supplies, as she completes simple missions. Endurance mode leverages the non-combat mechanics, and adds an element of dread urgency to Lara’s exploration that simply isn’t present in the main story.

Review – Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Edition cistern

Unlike the others, Baga Yaga: Temple of the Witch appears in the main game open world. Linear and fairly short, Baba Yaga is a sweet, a morsel of side content, a fruit laced with hallucinogens that culminates in the rebooted series’ best boss fight. Were the 20th Anniversary Edition a director’s cut or remastering, rather than a game of the year edition, there’s a chance Cold Darkness Awakened could have been severed entirely – it probably should have been. Similar to Endurance in structure, Cold Darkness Awakened drops Lara into a midnight mess of zombie equivalents, tasking her with solving a series of repetitive, and frustratingly awkward puzzles, before blasting clear. It’s terrible.

20th Anniversary Edition adds a selection of new skins and costumes for Lara, celebrating the games of the past, in addition to two new modes, both set in Croft Manor. Bloodlines is a pseudo adventure game experience, I’d estimate at an hour and a half in length. Bloodlines features some basic puzzles, but you’re really there to consume the countless audiologs and items, which explore Lara’s childhood, cast in the shadow of her mother’s death and her father’s obsessions. If played in the standard third-person mode, which is an option, I imagine the whole episode is rather dull – there isn’t any platforming, indeed action of any kind – but in virtual reality, the mode it was clearly built for, the simple act of poking around this relatively detailed environment is interesting enough. One will have to look past the general low fidelity of PlayStation VR however; the flat textures are by the standards of the rest of the game, poor, but it’s the geometry that suffers the most, appearing jaggy and distorted by lack of any discernible anti-aliasing.

Lara’s Nightmare builds loosely upon the Bloodlines narrative, sadly infecting it with a similar brand of awfulness found in Cold Darkness Awakened; trapped in a nightmare, Lara has to fight her way through the shambling dead, taking out flaming skulls for good measure. The experience is made particularly poor by the environment; Croft Manor was designed to have realistic proportion for first-person exploration, not the space to kite zombies, or making rapid escapes from combat.

Review – Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Edition lara's nightmare

Review – Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Edition 4/5 goodBeing one of the best games of 2015, the core of Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Anniversary Edition is quite excellent. I may even call it the pinnacle of those twenty years of tomb raiding.  While there is additional content worth exploring, there is an equal quantity of zombie-ridden trash. Somewhere in the middle lies the Bloodlines VR mode, one of the first virtual reality experiences I played. Bloodlines highlighted quite spectacularly the strength of VR; it is able to elevate what is really little more than a picture book, into a compelling exploration, through a sense of place largely decoupled from graphical fidelity.   The trimmings may leave a foul taste, but the meat of Rise of the Tomb Raider remains well worth savouring. 

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