Preliminary Thoughts on Rise of the Tomb Raider

Cut for spoilers!

I finished Rise of the Tomb Raider (if you can call 61% finishing) at 9:38pm this evening. Been playing since Midnight, so that’s roughly 21 hours of narrative gameplay.

The verdict?

As a standalone game, it’s great. It’s very immersive, you’re forced to go through the same shock and the same emotions (generally) as Lara does and the design for 95% of the game is just hard enough to challenge you, but not hard enough to be annoying. The other 5% if fucking annoying and there are no good walkthroughs yet so I had to do a lot of stuff by trial and error, including the water bucket puzzle that took me two hours because precision aiming on a fucking Xbox when I’m used to PC made the puzzle event INFURIATING. Ahem, anyway…

The balance between stealth and all-guns-blazing is great: for all except key pieces of combat you can make a decision about whether you prefer stealth or hands-on and there’s no particular advantage over either.

The combat system is intuitive and you can learn it on the fly, and there’s usually several ways to accomplish one objective which means you can tailor the game to your choosing.

The narrative is a bit predictable, but there were certainly turns of events that I didn’t expect and which kept me interested.

As a sequel, it’s kind of weak. Where’s Sam? She disappeared suddenly. She was huge and present and the main motivator for the whole of the first game, and is basically completely absent for the second one (except for missable recordings like this one (SPOILERS IN THAT) which I only found on the second playthrough), replaced by Jonah. Literally, it’s a cut and paste job without the cute. Jonah unfortunately played the part of the plot device in this story (as Sam did in the previous one), but for me, at least, Sam was just a whole lot more likable and I really believed Lara and Sam were best friends. Contrast this with all the scenes with Jonah and Lara, and the latter kind of fall flat. The affection between them is forced, and Jonah seems out of character a lot; first he’s against Lara exploring, then he’s supporting her, then inexplicably he’s against it, and then he shows up with no foreshadowing and a specific narrative reason later, but for a reason which doesn’t make much sense based on his earlier behaviour. Some thin reasons for the way he acts are given but I didn’t buy any of them and I didn’t feel them. Jonah, I felt nothing for you. I’m so sorry.

In the main narrative (because I haven’t done the optional tombs yet), there is no real reference to Himiko or Sam. It would have been nice to hear Lara draw comparisons between some of the events, or even ask Jacob about what happened to Sam, given the events of the comics. There is definitely reference to the events on Yamatai, but I don’t see Lara really learning from them, except that she’s badass from the beginning in this one.

I also distinctly remember from PR of Survivor that Lara’s dad was supposed to have gone missing in the field, presumed dead. Well, in Rise, he’s given a totally different history and the discrepancy is weird. Roth is also notably absent from Lara’s thoughts even though he clearly was a big part of Lara’s life and Lara’s dad’s life. Lara’s dad doesn’t mention him at all (except in one of the audio journals you have to go digging through your possessions to find). It’s like a retcon of a retcon. It’s hard to follow.

New characters are introduced which if you’ve read the comics or the book you’ll know about, otherwise they’re kind of out of the blue. Interestingly, Ana, Lara’s de facto step-mother, wasn’t really mentioned in the comics and I don’t think in the book either, and certainly not in the previous game, which seems strange because she was obviously a large part of Lara’s life.

Overall, because of all the new characters, the abandoning of the narrative in Survivor (except for a very small point at the end of it), the loss of Sam and the sudden unexplained discrepancies in backstory like a new sort-of step-mother ,the story seems disjointed. The game play, the locations and the structure of the story (moving from mundane areas progressively through to wild and supernatural ones) do identify it as Tomb Raider franchise, but the narrative is almost completely uncoupled from Survivor and it just doesn’t feel like a sequel.

In terms of the slashability of the characters, Survivor was off the charts in slashibility with all the Lara/Sam bonding, and Rise didn’t live up to expectation in this regard. There are certainly characters Lara meets who you could ship the hell out of, but nothing like the connection between Lara and Sam in the first game.

TL;DR: 8/10 – fun game, but should have kept more of the original characters and not messed with Lara’s backstory. 

3 thoughts on “Preliminary Thoughts on Rise of the Tomb Raider

  1. I think Ana is mentioned very briefly in Tomb Raider #18 (can’t remember if she’s mentioned by name) and I had the impression she was Lara’s step-mother, not mother-in-law. But other than that, Crystal Dynamics and Rhi Pratchett didn’t really take much time to flesh out her character in the comics. I’ve learnt more about her by stumbling upon spoilers online, sadly…

    And as much as I hated Sam being the main motivation for Lara’s actions in the 2013 game (I’m very much in favour of lone-wolf Lara), I think they’ve done a great injustice by leaving her out of this game entirely. I know a lot of people disliked her (I was never a huge fan) but surely her absence will be very noticeable in Rise. Anyone who hasn’t read the comics will be hopelessly confused.. :-/

    • Whoops, ‘step-mother’, that’s what I meant, not mother-in-law. I blame this on only having slept 2 hours in the last 36! Fixed now. I’ll go back and check on the comment about her in #18; she’s certainly not a feature of the previous game (Lara talks about her mother and her father in that).

      Yeah, my slashing agenda aside, Sam should have been in Rise. Even if she just showed up at the beginning or the end, or worried about Lara being obsessive, or told Lara that she doesn’t want to lose her like Lara lost her father… that would make sense. Not sudden absence. I kept waiting for reference to where Sam ends up at the end of the comics – like Lara asking one of the knowledgeable new characters introduced in Rise what she can do to help Sam, but nope. Nothing. 😐

      I WILL say I’m glad they’ve resisted having a romance subplot. Please, god, let there never be a romance subplot in Tomb Raider.

  2. I really miss Sam, especially after the comics fleshed out her character to the point that she is now my favorite character in the series. However, after now seeing Rise I can’t see how she could have fit into Rise’s narrative in a more natural way and I don’t think replacing Jonah with her would have fixed it. As you said, Jonah seems out of character a lot; first he’s against Lara exploring, then he’s supporting her, then inexplicably he’s against it, and then he shows up with no foreshadowing and a specific narrative reason later, but for a reason which doesn’t make much sense based on his earlier behavior.

    I worry that if Sam was given Jonah’s role that we would have had the same problem, that she would have been acting out of character would have been just as inconstant as Jonah. Also since we have to rescue Jonah at one point that means we would have to go and rescue Sam Again. I love Sam but if that had happened I would have been so mad that she was given the role of Damsel in Distress. Honestly I think it would have been better to have Reyes in the role of Jonah, as her reactions and actions would have made a lot more sense. Sure I’m not a big fan of the character but honestly she makes the most sense to be in this game from a character stand point. I love Jonah, but he’s a cook, when did in become an expert in mountain climbing and I’ve already stated why Sam might not have worked in this game so Reyes makes the most sense from a character and narrative stand point.

    Yes I hate that Sam doesn’t appear in this game and is only referenced via her picture. And that while she is in danger from Himiko trying to take over her body AND Himiko is, frankly, a greater threat then Trinity could ever hope to be and Lara is just letting her sit around and not doing anything to stop her. But if Lara is able to save her or if Sam finds a way to save herself AND if she is given a big role in TR3 then I will forgive Rise for not including her.

    If Sam is to be included then she SHOULD be given a bigger role and her relationship with Lara should be fully explored instead of just showing up to help further the plot along. We should hear what she has to say about this world’s mysteries and see the impact it has on her as a character and her relationship with Lara, like what we got in the comics. And finally, if she is going to be involved in the game than she should be given a Big Damn Hero moment where She saves Lara instead of the other way around.

    I want TR3 to be a romance like Naruto The Last, (great film BTW), where we are shown the story of Lara and Sam falling in love and continuing with her their adventures. Consider this, the first time we actually saw Lara was in Survivor wasn’t the shot of her in the mirror, it was the Graduation Photo of her and Sam in her locker. I would love the series to book end with seeing a picture of Lara and Sam on their wedding day in a similar pose, bringing the story full circle. Lara began this journey with Sam and she continues on with her by her side now and forever.

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