Rise of the Tomb Raider
When Lara Croft wants something, she doesn't hold back, doing everything in her power to achieve it. In my recent hands-on session for Rise of the Tomb Raider, she's just as resourceful and daring as she's always been, and I couldn't be happier about that. The original Tomb Raider reboot was fantastic, and my hands-on proved that Crystal Dynamics is still at the top of its game, providing thrills at every turn. While previous demos and trailers have shown Lara sneaking around enemies and chatting with a therapist, this Gamescom demo catered to her actual tomb-raiding skills.
In my demo, I played Lara's first tomb-raiding expedition in Syria. The eerie tomb is full of skeletons, insects, and spider webs. From the moment you step in, the tomb has this ongoing tension – making you wonder what the next discovery will be. This doesn't just extend to the main narrative, but also to items you find in the environment that explain more of what's going on. In this tomb, we're tracking down the casket of a prophet who performed healing miracles. Throughout the tomb, we find ancient documents that debate his death. People said they saw him killed, but others indicate they saw the prophet still alive after that.
Lara doesn't realize it, but another group called Trinity is set on finding it before her. This is the dangerous organization that Lara will be fighting against in Rise of the Tomb Raider, and this mission in particular is what sets her rivalry with them into motion. As Lara explores the tomb, she must avoid traps, like floors that break, which have spikes below them. Expect plenty of climbing, death-defying jumps, and getting around obstacles. Some obstacles require you to shoot down objects, others have you using your pickaxe to break weak walls. This comes in handy when you want to let water flow to the area below and raise Lara up to out-of-reach locations. Lara is never safe throughout her trek as we've come to expect - foundations often crumble and floors give away. Sometimes she'll even have to swim through deep waters. The controls – which mimic last game's – are still responsive and intuitive, never frustrating me in the slightest.
At one point I'm tasked with shooting down a wooden crate into the water. As it finally flows my way and I stand on top of it, I have to time the perfect moment to jump off it to latch onto a wall to climb. Little puzzles like this are in the game, and clicking the right stick to use her survival instinct still reveals all points of interest, like objects involved in environmental puzzles and hidden treasure. I keep going off the beaten path, picking up everything I can for crafting and extra experience. As with the previous entry, the world still holds plenty of reward for exploring hidden paths. Every time, you find a new mural or document, Lara's language-translation skills improve, getting you closer to finding even more places with hidden secrets and treasures. These range from collectibles to new crypts to explore.
When Lara arrives at the prophet's casket, she's surprised to find it empty. But before she can think, a group of men from Trinity show up. They go toward the prophet's tomb, hoping to get their hands on the relic that should be inside it. They open it, and instead of finding a body, Lara pops out, turning her gun on them. She's outnumbered, but she doesn't care. The leader asks where the relic is, and Lara insists that it was gone when she opened it. This angers the crew; they clearly don't believe her. Thankfully, Lara being as resourceful as she is, set explosives. She detonates them and the whole tomb collapses, putting me on an intense sequence to get out of the tomb before it collapses entirely. The adrenaline rush of Tomb Raider that I love kicks in. I don't have much time to react and go on autopilot, jumping frantically as structures break below me. Every step feels like a close call, but I finally arrive outside of the tomb – safe and sound, for now, anyway. That's where the demo ends.
It looks like Lara will once again have her work cut out for her. Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn't stray too far from its predecessor, but that's not a bad thing. Crystal Dynamics wanted to improve tomb exploration this time around. So far what I played was solid; it really does capture the intensity and fun of being Lara Croft. From near-death jumps to fun environmental puzzles and treasures to find, the experience hooked me just as the initial reboot did. Now I'm just curious how much this story will reveal about Lara. It looks like she has more on her plate than just a thirst for adventure.