Rise of the Tomb Raider came out on Xbox One last year, and although the game received much critical fanfare, it was also the centre of discussion in many ways. Microsoft had entered into an agreement with Square Enix for timed exclusivity on Xbox One despite the series' long links to PlayStation. Sony quickly retaliated with Street Fighter V in February, and thus the purchased exclusivity of third-party titles seems to have once again gained a foothold in the industry.
PlayStation 4 owners have waited patiently for the game ever since, and now it has finally arrived in the shape of Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration Edition, and as a thanks for their patience, Crystal Dynamics has stuffed the package full of extra content.
If you're not yet familiar with Rise of the Tomb Raider on other platforms, it's an epic action game played in the third-person, where you, as the iconic Lara Croft, enter a number of semi-open areas in order to find the source of eternal life. To do this, she must hunt, search for gloomy burial chambers, upgrade her gear and explore her surroundings in sandboxes around this world. This is then an extension, or rather an expansion, of the ideas that the original Tomb Raider reboot from 2012 was built on.
Lara is not in the best shape when we first meet her in the beginning of Rise of the Tomb Raider. She is still struggling to understand the paranormal experiences she had in the first game, and trying to console herself, she turns to her late father's exploration of the supernatural, in particular the source of eternal life. Diving further into the narrative would spoil it for many, but if you have yet to play Rise of the Tomb Raider, you can certainly expect an intense and well-told story. The characters surrounding Lara are quite well-played, keeping in mind that they are secondary characters, and are thus not subject to considerable development. Lara remains the star, and she is performed brilliantly by Camilla Luddington, who once again delivers voice and body to the character. Lara, like Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, is a character full of flaws and imperfections, which results in gripping drama. The dialogue is well-written and well executed, and thus the plot moves quickly and delivers a classic spin on the old Indiana Jones-inspired story.
The same compliment does not, however, extend to the dull and monotonous organisation, Trinity, and its leader, Konstantin. His character is about as interesting as the label on a tin of food, and it would have suited the game to have a more interesting antagonist, a more human character, to oppose Lara. However, Trinity and Konstantin don't hold the story back from being interesting, so we're not too worried.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is all about the coupling of the action-oriented and linear section with the open areas, where you can explore and feel free, and the game achieves this balance perfectly. You get the Uncharted-inspired moments, where the graphics, mood and suspense are overwhelming, but these moments often lead to a bigger sandbox, where Lara gets the chance to explore her surroundings. This happens a number of times throughout the game, and precisely because the balance is spot-on, the transitions are quite smooth.
In the linear sections, the primary concern is to take cover and shoot, and although these sections are quite epic, the mechanics are simply not as well-developed as in the Uncharted series, and after having played Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Rise of the Tomb Raider seems to be a little behind.
It's in the open sandboxes that the game really comes into its own. Here, Lara can use the crafting system to make special arrows, hunt animals, and find the special Challenge Tombs that are one of the best new additions to the formula. The game contains nine of them, and they bring some of the more puzzle-oriented design back to the series - an addition most welcome. Furthermore, you can also spend your time upgrading your gear and collecting items. When we reviewed the Xbox One version, we thought that the collector's items had a tendency to be overwhelming, and the same still applies. Some of the collector's items even unlock other collector's items, which is taking things too far.
The more open a given arena is, the more fun it is to make tactical choices and work out a strategy for how Lara is to handle a specific challenge. It is more entertaining to sneak around, neutralising enemies one by one, because Lara is quite weak if the enemies get a chance to surround her, and this makes you more attentive.