Review: Lara Croft gets gritty in action-packed ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’

 Lara Croft gets gritty in action-packed ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’
(Credit: Crystal Dynamics/Microsoft)
You know, this Lara Croft lady just might have a future in video games.
Like the cinematic reinventions of James Bond, Batman and Captain Kirk before her, the video
game icon received a full-scale origin reboot in 2013’s Tomb Raider. The new Lara was meant to feel more real and grounded, as well as having a bra size in line with actual human females. It turned out to be a damn fine game.
Rise of the Tomb Raider proves Lara’s successful do-over was no fluke. It’s a bigger, broader, meatier adventure that’s more confident and capable, kind of like its heroine. Unlike Lara, though, it’s a game that doesn’t take many risks, preferring the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it route to sequel success.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is set a year after Lara’s life-changing experience in Tomb Raider, when we saw her shipwrecked on a mysterious island and forced to adapt to survive. Having witnessed supernatural phenomena she can’t quite wrap her head around, Lara is obsessed with tracking down the Divine Source, an immortality-granting artifact her late father spent years trying to find.
This quest takes players to ancient ruins in sandswept Syria and then to frozen Siberia, where the bulk of Lara’s adventure is set. You’ll explore a sprawling, interconnected series of criss-crossing wilderness environments, from a grim Soviet gulag to a lush geothermic valley to a lost city buried under glacier ice. With Rise of the Tomb Raider currently an Xbox One exclusive — a PlayStation 4 version is due around time next year — everything in its huge world is rendered in exquisite visual detail.
The trouble with all-powerful ancient artifacts, as we know from Indiana Jones, is they also attract very nasty people. Here it’s a group of heavily-armed religious nutjobs called Trinity, a secret society led by the face-scarred (of course) and power-mad (naturally) Konstantin. He’ll stop at nothing to get his mitts on the Divine Source, even if it means blowing up half of Siberia — and, ideally, that pesky Lara — in the process.
Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t concern itself with the jarring contradiction of the first game, where Lara openly wept after having to kill a man for the first time but then went on to slay a small town’s worth of baddies. She’s now quite willing and able to defend herself, and gunplay in the game is crunchy, tactical, and satisfying. Although Lara is adept with everything from a pump-action shotgun to her deadly compound bow, it takes stealth and smarts to beat Trinity’s well-equipped soldiers, and it’s hugely rewarding to skulk among a group of enemies and pick them off one by one.
Lara’s also better at climbing, clambering, and swinging between platforms, with wicked-tight controls that are giddily empowering. If you fall to the bottom of a chasm or get swept over a waterfall, it’s almost always your own fault.
(Credit: Crystal Dynamics/Microsoft)
(Credit: Crystal Dynamics/Microsoft)
But despite Lara’s skills, Rise of the Tomb Raider desperately wants you to feel her pain: every bruising tumble, every grunting leap, every scream of agony as she’s shot or stabbed or set on fire by a flamethrower-wielding goon. And thanks to another emotionally spot-on performance by actress Camilla Luddington as the voice and face of Lara, the game is exceptionally good at that. Lara is tough yet vulnerable, sexy yet never overtly sexual.

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