One of the first things you notice when you pick up the controller and start playing Rise of the Tomb Raider is the incredibly lush visuals. This is a gorgeous game and it knows it, from Lara’s physics-based glowstick as it reflects and illuminates against rocky surfaces to the painstakingly detailed character models, this is a stunner to look at and play.
I had the opportunity to go hands-on with a segment of the game at a Square Enix event recently, and it was everything I loved about the previous Tomb Raider game but noticeably improved in just about every way. For those that have not watched the Gamescom demo, this is a vertical slice from one of the many tombs available to explore in the game.
Like the much older Tomb Raider games on the PlayStation, this tomb actually felt like a tomb; it had platforming puzzles, unbeaten paths, and of course, the incredibly overt perils that make for some brutal death scenes. Crystal Dynamics have upped the ante in the deaths cinematics and I was a witness to quite a few, most notably one involving Lara getting impaled by multiple spikes, but it’s much better if you experience them on your own.
In the demo, the player has to raise the water below so that Lara can reach a higher platform in order to continue ascending this dark and cavernous tomb. It was an easy puzzle to figure out, but the demo kicks it into full gear once Lara runs into who we can only suspect is the big bad in this game and has to desperately escape the tomb after he orders his cronies to “set the charges” and blow the place up
What follows is an invigorating sequence in which Lara has to navigate through falling structures and surging waves of water while at the same time picking off guys with her gun. It’s an impressive set piece that ends with Lara just barely making it the top and avoiding the destructive waves crushing through most of the architecture as she looks on in utter disbelief.
There are little details all throughout Rise of the Tomb Raider that don’t really appear all that important at first, but add so much to the realism and the immersion. One tiny detail I picked up on was Lara’s swimming animation. Depending on what direction you have her swimming, her body movement will reflect that so if you’re pushing down on the left stick while she’s swimming, she’ll do a sort of side stroke in the direction you’re moving in. It’s stuff like that which fans probably weren’t asking for after the reboot, but they nevertheless bring Lara Croft closer to real life.
As mentioned before, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a visual spectacle on Xbox One. A representative from Crystal Dynamics told me that Lara Croft grows along with the tech, so the more hardware capabilities the studio can harness, the more realized Lara can become and the richer her characterization can be.
While he couldn’t tell me more about the bear encounters in the game, he did say that Lara will face several other animals and some will carry special skin needed to craft even better gear. He also assured me that by the end, Lara’s repertoire will be expansive and deadly and that she’ll take down some pretty intimidating foes.
So far, the game is looking like it may be the best Tomb Raider yet. From the little slice that I got to play, it’s looking like a real blast and a refreshing and welcome break from all of the shooters crowding up the holiday season.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is coming exclusively to Xbox One on November 10th.