It’s the accents. I keep reminding myself that Rise of the Tomb Raider is basically Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark but co-starring an ancient order of evil knights instead of Nazis, so there’s obviously a lot of necessary let’s-pretend involved. I mean, I can take out a helicopter with a bow and arrows. Okay. I can go for a swim in sub-zero temperatures without dying of hypothermia or even messing up my hair. Whatever. I can cross borders without too much bureaucratic red tape after murdering about a million people on some Japanese island. It’s just a game, Tarryn. But I can’t get over a bunch of Siberian muzhiks speaking with English public school accents. That’s my limit, guys.
It’s not that it’s a bad game – it’s mostly rather good, in fact – but it’s also definitely a bit… silly.
So it’s been about a year in make-believe time since the events of 2013’s Tomb Raider, and Lara Croft hasn’t resolved her daddy issues. This time around, she’s become obsessed with finding the lost city of Kitezh, a real-but-probably-not-actually-real place allegedly, mystically guzzled up by Lake Svetloyar during Batu Khan’s invasion of Russia in the 13th century. In the context of the game, the late Lord Croft’s own obsession with finding Kitezh had ultimately discredited his whole career, but Lara is convinced there’s more to it than anybody else is letting on. I bet that’s exactly what Lord Croft thought too, but Lara is already the world’s worst archaeologist – seriously, she breaks everything – so I suppose she’s not got much to lose, anyway. She’s also not the only person still obsessed with finding Kitezh, however, and that’s when everything goes wrong.
Much like its most recent predecessor, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an open world, RPG-ish, mushroom-picking, bunny-hunting, puzzle-solving explore-’em-up, featuring avalanches and ziplines and religious terrorists. Oh, and the secret of immortality. I did warn you it’s kind of silly, but at least the expository monologues are short. Besides the ongoing narrative, there’s also a heap of other stuff to keep you busy, including NPC side missions, challenge tombs, resource restocking, and about a million collectibles to excavate. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock new gear and upgrades, plus additional skills – sometimes required to access previously unavailable activities and areas. To put this in perspective, I’d managed only a 60-something game completion percentage when the credits rolled at about 12 hours or so.
It’s also an exceptionally beautiful game that, unlike so many other entries in the genre catalogue, doesn’t waste its space with the same interminable iterations of the same copy-pasted assets over and over. Instead choosing more refined, almost linear environment design (rather than going the route of over 5,000 SQUARE MILES OF MOSTLY ABSOLUTELY NOTHING OKAY BUT LOOK AT THE HIGH-TECH SOIL PHYSICS), Rise of the Tomb Raider’s many hub locations are easy to navigate and move between frequent checkpoints, without ever becoming a tedious slog. Everything in the game is there for a reason, rather than to fill in the gaps on some arbitrary memory buffer, and investigating another dilapidated Soviet bunker is always worth your time.
It’s maybe let down by the combat, though, but how much this actually matters is going to differ from one person to the next, I’d imagine. The mechanics are fine – if somewhat clumsy – but I thought there’s simply too much of it. I prefer to play a sneaky sneaker, and being forced – from time to time, perhaps, but often enough to be a complaint for me – to shoot guns and chuck bombs and murder my way through to the next plot point just felt lazy somehow. We’ve got, like, every other game for that already. There’s also the egregious absurdity of a 20-something college grad taking out entire squads of trained spec ops mercenaries that just doesn’t make sense, and I’m not even going to start on the implications of a young woman trying to cope with her father’s death by killing everybody. That silly thing again.