Rise of the Tomb Raider: Lara explores the most unloved corner of the world

Within the first five minutes we watch Lara Croft struggle through thick Siberian snow, tumble from a collapsing ice wall, swing like a human conker into a rock face, abandon her only friend in the world and, as a special treat at the end, take an entire avalanche to the face. This, let us not forget, is a woman who already survived hours of burning buildings, magical storms, and branch impaling in her 2013 reboot. Come on, that’s a Jack Bauer-level of misfortune. We doubt she can pop out for a pint of
semi-skimmed without getting crushed by a milk float.

Luckily, there aren’t any milk floats in Siberia. at least, not this deep in the wastelands, where Lara finds herself seeking the Lost City of Kitezh and proof of the supernatural power she only glimpsed on Yamatai. Surviving that earlier adventure was just the beginning, you see; events were covered up and her story discredited, forcing her to delve into the darkest corners of the world in order to restore her name. This isn’t the whimpering newbie buffeted between island horrors, but a far more proactive action icon a clear step towards the adventurer we met back in 1996.
“Lara’s gymnastic stealth is far Lighter on its feet than old grandpa snake”
Fight Or Flight
Take combat, for example. Yes, Lara still clutches at weapons as she sinks into cover, but guerrilla tactics are far more effective. a new diving ability lets her sink beneath a pier and yank a guard into the murk. Hopping onto a bank she scampers up a tree and dives, knife drawn, onto an unsuspecting neck below. This downed guard’s walkie-talkie is then thrown to draw a nearby patrol towards a
bonfire fling a can of gas into the flames and she’s taken down the whole gang without firing a bullet. It’s a refreshingly gymnastic stealth, far lighter on its feet than old grandpa Snake.

Sometimes conflict can’t be avoided, and here Lara reaps the benefits of a new scavenging system that sees her upgrading kit with specific materials, rather than the generic salvage of old. Deer sinew can toughen up a bow, while a wolf hide makes for a furrier outfit. Not that mother Nature gives up her treasures. Certain beasts only come out at day or night, forcing Lara to sniff out animal tracks in the snow. While pieces carved from rarer beasts act as more exotic upgrades, you’ll also need to find leaves to pad deep wounds and ingredients to craft special ammo, such as poison arrows.

Snow Joke
It’s a far more organic take on what feels like a familiar mix of free-roaming hub areas now three times bigger, courtesy of Xbox One’s added heft and linear setpieces. Exploring the outskirts of a Soviet ghost town, a sea of rotting roofs begging to be clambered across, reveals a mysterious stone monolith. Lara comments on the illegible script and our host promises that returning to it with a later item might lead to a new location to explore. as much as the last game’s mountain of trinkets appealed to our OCD, they rarely captured the mystery of archaeology as neatly as this.
“Tombs are a key focus, slightly making up for the smaller puzzle chambers of the first game”
The team is keen to emphasise that they want this to feel more like an adventure, that you are discovering things off the beaten track. Early in our demo, for example, Lara flees a Siberian bear, only just surviving by driving an ice axe into its paw. Return to its cave with an upgraded bow and you can bring down Winnie the Pooh’s bigger, uglier brother, in turn revealing a tomb in the back of its den: a Grecian barge frozen in freefall in an iced waterfall. This is far more compelling than Tomb Raider’s idiotic habit of banging a gong whenever a secret tomb was near. 

Temple Tantrums
Tombs are key focus for Crystal Dynamics this time round, slightly making up for the smaller puzzle chambers of the first game. a series of short looks reveals dank, waterlogged sanctums rubbing shoulders with huge Greek statues and ivy-strewn pillars; there’s even a temple carved into a canyon wall, reminding us that Lara’s adventure won’t be limited to a single global location. Platforming will be tougher, too, with the team hoping to see the number of acrobatic-related deaths equal Lara’s combat takedowns.

More excitingly, designers promise to recapture the scale and complexity of earlier games, with grand ‘nested’ puzzles that force Lara to clamber around grand architecture to tackle multi-stage riddles. If you played the excellent Underworld, you’ll know that this team is capable of great things.

Of course, no riddle compares to the one hovering over the game: will Rise be entombed on Xbox forever? Lips remain as sealed as grand catacomb doors, but Crystal Dynamics is keen to emphasise the technological benefits of Lara’s new home. Not only is the world larger, but it’s coated in physics-enabled snow, shifting weather states, and lighting that sinks into darkened cracks and refracts through icicles. How it’ll look on 360 is yet to be seen, though the developer has nothing but praise for last-gen guardian Nixxes Software, which proved its abilities in Tomb Raider's gorgeous PS4 and PC ports.

And anyway, with Nathan Drake doing his own archaeology-with-bullets thing on PS4, is it really unreasonable for Xbox fans to want a violent historian of their own? What’s important is that Crystal Dynamics is taking the reboot’s sound foundations and really evolving all the mechanics within. It is asking difficult questions about how its brand of intense survival-action can find a home in the more reserved tombs of old. For our money, the idea of old Crystal Dynamics of Legend, anniversary and
Underworld mingling with the new is pretty potent. Perhaps Lara isn’t that unlucky after all.

A Tomb With A View
A whistle-stop tour of Lara’s new world

Home sweet home
It isn’t all mountains and caves: we’re promised a glimpse at Lara’s home life, too. Far fewer deathtraps to be found here, though she could trip over those boxes in the corner. Dangerous.

Into the woods
After an avalanche run-in strips her of her equipment, Lara’s first goal is to rebuild a base camp to help her survive by scavenging for branches and deer pelts in wolf-filled woods. Gulp.

Soviet gloom-ion
Forgotten Soviet installations give Siberia a more modern feel than Yamatai’s WWII-era bunkers. Note also the murk Lara will be able to sneak around enemies in foggy conditions.

Sneak peak
Legend says that the Lost City of Kitezh sank beneath the waves of a lake in the face of an attack, but in the Raiderverse, Lara seeks its gleaming spires way up in the snowy mountains.

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