Rise Of The Tomb Raider is one of the best games of 2015. It improves on its 2013 predecessor in many ways, from having a far more complex open world environment, to more challenging puzzles and enemy combatants, as well as a more robust ability and weapons upgrade system.
Unfortunately, Microsoft swooped in and scored a year-long exclusive for this title for its Xbox One, which means that PlayStation 4 owners must wait till the end of this year before their version gets released.
Still, with its terrific gameplay, this game offers a great excuse to go out and get an Xbox One. But its year-end release means it has to contend with other superb titles from last year, including Fallout 4, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate and Call Of Duty: Black Ops III.
And in the light of those other great games available on multiple gaming platforms, the impetus to pick up an Xbox One just for this game is not as strong.
But, back to the game: Lara's quest to continue her dead father's research pits her against the Trinity, a secret order investigating the supernatural. Both sides are searching for the Divine Touch, which leads Lara on a chase to ancient cities around the world.
Each location has its share of missions to accomplish, but what stands out are the hidden tombs that players must find and - naturally - loot.
As exciting as the main quest is, with its well-spaced portions that provide intense gunfights mixed with exploratory bits, it was the side quests that I relished in.
They comprised puzzle-solving, and finding entrances and secrets of hidden tombs. Each location map is designed to be explored, as tomb entrances can be well-hidden.
Players are encouraged to look for clues and figure out the locations of hidden treasure, and there are parts of the map that can only be accessed much later in the game, when Lara has amassed the proper tool kits for a return visit.
The lone heroine Lara Croft displays more versatility this time in her skills as an adventurer. Players are given a chance to test those skills in many ways.
Limited ammunition means that players have to be precise in their kills. Otherwise, take advantage of the trees and surrounding environments for some stealth action, a la Assassin's Creed. Or sneak around with your blade as you clear the area unseen, just like in Splinter Cell.
Players can decide if they want to upgrade their skills based on the Brawler, Hunter or Survivor categories. Each category places more emphasis on certain attributes, such as faster healing, or being able to craft more elaborate weapons.
But, no, the game has not stripped away the essence of Tomb Raider and turned Lara into another gun- toting action icon. She still needs her acrobatic skills to manoeuvre across rocky terrain and get to those hard-to-reach areas, which players will need to scout around to find.
Our adventurer is pretty much a Swiss Army Knife, as she now has the knowledge to build special bombs and even decipher foreign languages.
On top of that, there are also quick action sequences that can cause even the best players to fumble. All of these bring about a more fleshed-out character that long- time fans have idolised and fantasised about.
All in, this is a well-crafted game with a not-quite-linear gameplay, which encourages exploration and makes players revisit older locations. If you do not own an Xbox One, Rise Of The Tomb Raider is a darn good reason to get one.
This article was first published on January 6, 2016.
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