Lara Croft has been around for two decades, but the recent reimagining of the character and her story has led to some excellent titles. The most recent one, Rise of the Tomb Raider has now been released in conjunction with the character—not the game’s—20th anniversary. Perplexingly, the game’s reconfigured title is Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration, but it most definitely is not this game’s 20th anniversary.
Titles aside, it is an utterly brilliant game. It isn’t just that the graphics and the sound are tremendous, nor that the previously released DLC content (which is included in this edition) is well integrated into the main game to the point where it might be difficult to know when you’re playing DLC and when you’re playing the main game. It is that the world and mechanics of moving about in that world are wholly engrossing.
The gameplay here is reminiscent of the previous franchise entry (the first in the reboot), with campfires serving as save locations as well as stations for Lara to upgrade her weapons and equipment. Each individual map isn’t terribly large, but there are a multitude of locations and if one is going for 100% completion, one has to revisit some locations seen early in the game at a far later point, after Lara has more equipment.
What works least well here is the story. It features all the requisite twists and turns and betrayals, but it never holds one’s attention, not really. Part of the reason for this is that there are no real choices that the player can make – progressing in the game requires progressing in the storyline in the only way that the storyline can be advanced.
Essentially then, excluding the backtracking required to complete everything in the game, the whole thing is exceptionally linear. The player just keeps moving forward, even if they’re not quite sure why or where they are going, because eventually it will all be made clear, possibly with a cutscene.
In no small part, the game overcomes these potential deficits via imparting a great sense of satisfaction as the player moves forward. It is all brilliantly paced out. There is a constant sense of progress as new areas, new campfires, new weapons, and more, are unleashed. Lara regularly boosts her experience points in order to be able to gain new abilities and those abilities propel the player ever further into the game in order to get something new and better. It happens over and over again, but with such varied abilities and such varied changes in weapons that it never feels repetitive.
The player sits there looking at the skill upgrade trees, planning out the next four or five ones they will select only to encounter some new trouble and completely rejigger their plans. The best laid plans and all that… it is just that it happens without the distress of broken bunnies.
Whether or not one decides to return to old locations in order to find all the hidden secrets, the desire to go back and do more is enhanced by these upgrades. That is, the game is easily winnable without gaining enough levels to unlock all the possible skills, but that doesn’t lessen ones desire to get them all (Pokémon-style), and the best way to do that is to go on side missions, to find all the secrets, to do everything.
This reviewer is not entirely sure that despite the inclusion of all previously available DLC (and a new bit of separate DLC content, “Blood Ties,” as well as a “Nightmare” scenario inside Croft Manor and PlayStation VR support for “Blood Ties”) it is worth buying if one played the game when it was first released. It is, however, a great experience and well worth the time and effort if, somehow, one missed Rise of the Tomb Raider on its first go-round.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language. This game can also be found on Windows PC.