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Lara Croft’s Survival Instinct Nearly Breaks Rise Of The Tomb Raider

by Andrew Reiner on Nov 21, 2015 at 12:45 PM

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A couple of days ago I overheard fellow editors Jeff Cork and Kimberley Wallace jokingly say they used Lara Croft’s “survival instinct” ability so much during Rise of the Tomb Raider that they thought they might break their Xbox One controllers. Survival instinct is Rise of the Tomb Raider’s way of showing how intricately Lara Croft studies the environment when she explores. When this ability is activated, Lara’s world fades to black and white and key objects within it are highlighted in shining gold. It’s a handy tool for pinpointing interactive objects, breakable structures, and items Lara can loot.

Having not played the game prior to their discussion, I found this talking point odd, as I thought the survival-instinct system worked well in Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot – the game that predates Rise of the Tomb Raider. I used it to assist in puzzles and hunt for trinkets in the woods. I didn’t rely on it too heavily as I ventured across the island Lara was trapped on. I thought it was a great way of showing how Lara studies her environment, and how she can see things other people may not catch in a quick glance.

As of this writing, I’m now roughly a third of the way through Rise of the Tomb Raider, and I feel like a survival instinct junkie, activating it whenever I enter a new environment. It’s the same gimmick from the Tomb Raider reboot, but it’s now used to track a greater number of collectibles, resources, and interactive objects. A quick scan for golden hues shows me trees I can pillage, bird nests I can shoot down, puzzle elements, and a waypoint leading me along the critical path. A wealth of things can be highlighted at any given time; it reminds me of an enemy in Diablo exploding and showering the terrain with weapons to loot. I just want to grab everything – even if it is something minuscule like berries off of a bush. It would be foolish of me not to use survival instinct religiously, as it greatly assists in the adventure and making Lara a more powerful character.

I understand the concept developer Crystal Dynamics is going for, but I think it ends up being too powerful of an assist for discovery purposes. Part of the allure of the Tomb Raider games of old – and even the reboot – was the player agency tied to exploration. This series has always delivered that awe-inspiring feeling of entering a lost civilization or an area of the world that no man or woman has ever seen. That element is muted by the survival instinct in Rise of the Tomb Raider. This ability makes Lara look more like an X-Men character with a powerful mutant ability than a believable explorer. Given how useful survival instinct is, it almost feels like a cheat.

Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series offers a similar mechanic to highlight Batman’s detective skills, but it’s meant to be an advantage that gives the player an advantage over the scum walking Gotham’s streets. I was conditioned to use detective vision for stealth sequences and to highlight specific elements of the world. It didn’t produce continual rewards like Rise of the Tomb Raider’s power.

Crystal Dynamics included two options that allow the player to turn off survival instinct completely in Rise of the Tomb Raider. I’m now playing the game without the golden glow leading Lara along, but switching it off entirely isn’t a satisfying solution, as it removes the element of tapping into Lara’s skillset to solve riddles. I would have preferred Crystal Dynamics go with an adjustable slider instead, allowing the player to reduce the number of objects tracked by this power. Purchased skills increase the number of highlights.

Without survival-instinct assistance, the game is entirely playable (and great). Crystal Dynamics highlights most interactive objects with white cloth or paint, making it relatively easy to figure out how to piece puzzles together in tombs. Kim tells me some late-game puzzles are more complex, where just seeing the pieces might not be enough to formulate a solution. Most notably, underwater points of interest are hard to see without survival instinct.

Yes, another option is to try to use survival instinct sparingly. Given my willpower and desire to get more loot, I doubt I could ever do that. Just knowing I could use that power to see something valuable in the environment would eat me alive.

If there is a third game in this rebooted Tomb Raider series, I hope Crystal Dynamics scales back survival instinct’s use again, or gives the player more control over how potent it can be. In its default setting in Rise of the Tomb Raider, I feel it significantly alters the experience and steals away the thrill of discovery the series is known for.