Rise Of The Tomb Raider: Siberian Nights

What would you do if you were forced to kill someone?What would you do if you were forced into a corner, like an animal threatened, with nowhere to run, no way of escaping? Someone has defiled you, taken away your right of flight, left you only with the need to fight. You’d kill them, right? It’s them or you; it’s logical, it makes sense and that’s before all that cortisone and adrenaline kicks in and turns you feral.

Poor Lara was little more than a ball of nerves running around, laced with every survival chemical her body could muster, back in 2013. The reboot seemed orchestrated by some sadistic god that wanted to use Lara as little more than a puppet in a sick game of cat and mouse. Like Bear Grylls cast in one of those uninspiring Saw films. And we're not just talking about the narrative disconnection here those death scenes you’ve seen play out time and time again, no: we’re talking about the actual story.
Lara is back from her adventures in Yamatai and ready to take on the wilderness on the other side of the world in the frozen wilds of Siberia
Rhianna Pratchett’s merciless arc saw Lara step out into the real world after graduating with an archaeological studies degree from a prestigious university (we’re going to assume Oxford, because of the affected accent Lara sports throughout the game). Right off the bat, we’re taught that Lara isn’t going to have the simple expedition she thought she would the ironically named Endurance ship ruptures and spews its crew onto the coast of Yamatai: an island in the Dragon’s Triangle area off the coast of Japan, subject to abnormally ferocious weather that batters at its inhabitants. From there, Lara gets captured, bitten, mauled, shot at, stabbed, impaled, slapped, thrown around, nearly drowned and even laughed at. Yet, unlike the ship, she endures.

And she’s back for more. The once wide-eyed girl from somewhere in middle England is dead, and she’s been replaced with a practiced killer. Someone that, in the course of the previous game’s action, probably killed more humans than she could legally justify in any court of law (good job Yamatai probably finds itself in international waters). This time, Lara’s got her sights set on Siberia on a grand stone city built by the Grand Duke of Vladimir in the 13th century, no less. Hey the intrepid spelunker’s archaeological hunches paid off the first time, right? Surely, they’d pay off again…
“In the next chapter of her journey, Lara must use her survival skills and wits, learn to trust new friends, and ultimately accept her destiny as the Tomb Raider”
Lara’s used to running into trouble on these expeditions, now, though. So this time, she comes a bit more prepared. For a start, in all the gameplay we’ve seen, she’s no longer held together by tattered bits of burlap and canvas her considerable wealth back home has kitted her out in the finest wintry exploration gear money could buy: a nice red waffle coat and a pair of gleaming red ice picks. Perfect for taking out Russian spies.

She also knows that she’s not the only glory-hungry treasure hunter out there, and has employed the assistance of Jonah Maiava who seems to have come a long way since his humble origins as a fisherman in the last game. Maybe it was his brush in with the esoteric and paranormal in the 2013 reboot that primed him for this new trip with Lara he was always a romantic at heart, after all, and his encounters on Yamatai seemed to bring him closer to Lara than, you know, a non-supernatural adventure would. Hopefully the rest of the cast will be a bit more human and a little less ‘misfit crew’ stereotype than last time, though.

No adventure is complete without an antagonistic force. Whilst the first game had Lara contend with the samurai-like Oni demons and the vicious advances of the Solarii brotherhood, this game seems like it will branch the opposing forces off into two directions: ‘Trinity’ and whatever ancient evils lie dormant in the Lost City of Kitezh. According to real-life myths, we can safely assume the enemies Lara will encounter will be of Mongolian descent potentially drowned souls or something similar, since the myth states the ‘invisible city’ was sunk deep into Lake Svetloyar along with the maiden Fevroniya.

This leads us to Lara’s motivations for heading out to Kitezh in the first place according to a 1907 opera written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Kitezh was the resting place for a the royal couple that reigned over the doomed city. Apparently, the aforementioned maiden Fevroniya had healing powers she could use to soothe the scabs her husband Peter suffered when he slayed a snake that harassed the princess of the kingdom. The two, bound to die together (when the maiden can no longer heal Peter) live out their days in the monasteries of Kitezh, and are buried in separate graves. However, whenever people check in on their respective tombs, they find the bodies always together, like the couple was bound by fate…
“ Featuring epic, high-octane action moments, Rise Of The Tomb Raider will take gamers to multiple locations around the world filled with exploration spaces ”
So why is Lara travelling there, to this semi-mystical invisible city? We’ve already seen her sat in a therapist’s room, recounting the events of Yamatai and showing emotional distress; could it be she’s after the healing powers of the invisible Russian city to calm her mind, heal her broken psyche? Or is she just addicted to the thrill of adventure now, having been brought so violently into the world of exploration a couple of years ago?

It remains to be seen, but regardless, we meet Lara in the tundras of Siberia, and it seems like she's in trouble. The gods dictating her world (read: Rihanna Pratchett) clearly haven’t let up on our poor protagonist since last time we see Lara tumble down a sheer cliff-face and barely manage to save herself, before ambling aimlessly into the lair of a massive Russian bear. From this, we can assume the QTE-lite sections are back hit button prompts at the right time, or watch Lara suffer another one of those gruesome Game Over animations.

It also means the survivalism elements of the first game make a return whether the same campfire hub mechanic returns too remains to be seen, but it makes sense: after all, if you’re caught in the tundra, you’re going to need all the warmth you can get. It also makes us wonder whether Crystal Dynamics is going to flesh out that mechanic a little bit more say, for example, there’s a blizzard covering the entrance to a cave you need to explore. Does that mean you need to kill that bear that’s in the way first, skin its fur to wear as extra warmth before braving the snow storm? We’d like to think so after all, the 2013 reboot was more of a survival sim than any other Tomb Raider game before it, and it’s a trend we’d like to see continue through the series. Also, with Uncharted 4 hitting the PS4 later this year Tomb Raider is going to want to do something a little different to the Indiana Jones simulator that’s likely going to bulldoze the games press. Tomb Raider will actually benefit from going a bit more niche.

Of course, a game can’t carry the respectable Tomb Raider name without architecturally-based puzzles, right? So what can we expect from Lara’s newest adventure? According to Crystal Dynamics, Kitezh will feature more of a focus on puzzling than Yamatai did what’s the point of making an invisible city if people can easily get around it? and these puzzles will operate across a ‘spectrum of difficulty’ according to creative director Noah Hughes. The new puzzles will bring back the old Tomb Raider design trope the developers like to call ‘nested puzzles’ modular-based physics puzzles with a focus on cause and effect, meaning you have to work through puzzles one bit at a time, seeing what effects what and how you can use those changes to your advantage.

If that sounds a bit too much, don't worry; these tombs will most likely be optional, as they were in the 2013 game. But they’re worth diving into Crystal Dynamics has hinted that these tricksy tombs will contain better loot and treasure, making it more worth your time to explore and investigate your surroundings. The development team stated it had listened to feedback from fans regarding the difficulty of the first game many said it was too easy and was keen to challenge gamers more with Lara’s second revamped adventure.

Crystal Dynamics has clearly taken on-board the lessons learned from Lara’s baptism of fire, and is keen on throwing her right back into the fire with its first sequel. The studio knows Lara, and knows her very well the 2013 game proves that but her narrative arc was sometimes lacking in places, her actions versus her motivations contradictory and vague. Now, Crystal Dynamics has a chance to really make something of Lara to redefine her as the female action hero the games industry is crying out for, to prove that the likes of Naughty Dog’s Nathan Drake and Ubisoft’s Persian Prince don’t have a monopoly on the adventure genre.

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