SHE IS RISEN. AGAIN.
During the initial promotion of Rise of the Tomb Raider when it was released on Xbox platforms last year, singer Karen O released the tie-in song I Shall Rise. Amongst the lyrics of that song are the words, ‘I shall rise, oh well I shall rise, again and again.' In an amusing twist of fate, those words have proven to have been somewhat prophetic. Last November, Lara rose on Xbox platforms. In January, she rose on PC. And in October — after a ludicrously long period of exclusivity — she finally did so on PS4.
Lara’s return to the console on which many fans have argued she belongs brings an experience just as satisfying as it was on Xbox, but which also inherits some of the issues found on that platform. We will, however, get to those later.
By and large, I feel the same about Rise of the Tomb Raider as I did when I posted my thoughts on it back in January. It’s absolutely the game Tomb Raider should have been, and the things that make it so are just as effective second time through. In revisiting certain areas post-completion on Xbox, I’d forgotten just how incredible the sense of exploration conveyed by running around Rise’s world, collecting its myriad collectibles, is. I’d forgotten just how much of an improvement Camilla Luddington’s portrayal of Lara is over that of Tomb Raider. I’d forgotten how good some of the cutscenes are, and how well-used the excellent, propulsive soundtrack is.
Unfortunately, though, the drawbacks are just as present, too. The story is just as predictable as I remember it being, any narrative depth it has coming not from Lara’s journey, but from the various documents she finds scattered around the game’s world. Despite massive improvement, Luddington’s Lara still leaves quite a bit to be desired. And the Deathless Ones still come across as a complete rehash of Tomb Raider’s Oni. But those things that Rise does right, it knocks out of the proverbial park — and they're more than enough to forgive it any shortcomings.
What I can’t quite forgive, however, are some of the game’s ongoing technical issues. On the positive side, Rise runs noticeably better on PlayStation 4 than it did on Xbox One. On Microsoft's platform, I noted a not-inconsiderable amount of frame rate issues and a few instances of screen-tearing, none of which I encountered on Sony's machine.
On the less-than-positive side, however, the game still suffers from atrocious — and I don’t use that word lightly — aliasing issues. I hate to be overly dramatic, but just look at the state of this doorframe:
Barely a moment goes by in which the world doesn’t appear to sparkle as Lara moves through it. It’s less apparent in some areas than it is in others, but in those places where it is noticeable, it’s terrible. It’s one of two things I’d hoped would be resolved in the PS4 release, and it’s continued presence is incredibly disappointing, undermining Rise’s otherwise stellar presentation.
— John T. (@JHNMCHLTNR) 13 October 2016
The second of the things I'd hoped to see resolved was the presence of significant input latency, a term used to describe a short delay between a player’s movement of an analog stick and the on-screen response. For me, this very nearly rendered the combat sections of the game unplayable. The saving grace, of course, is that Rise features considerably less combat than Tomb Raider did — those sections it does feature, however, were, thanks to said latency, to be endured rather than enjoyed. The detrimental effects weren’t just limited to firefights, though, as various puzzles, too, often called for quick, precise aiming.
Thankfully — though not in time to affect my own initial playthrough — the PlayStation 4 version of Rise received a patch shortly after release which corrected the issue, to some degree. Though the improvement said patch brought is clear, however, I still don’t find Rise to feel quite as good to play as its predecessor. There’s a very valid argument that this could be because Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition ran — on PS4, at least — at anywhere up to 60FPS in contrast to Rise’s 30, but, for me, this explanation falls flat when you consider that other, similar games (Uncharted 4, for example) run at 30FPS and don’t suffer from comparable issues.
And then, of course, there’s the fact that — cynical though it is — I believe games should be judged (at least in part) on how they were released. The fact of the matter is that the publishers considered Rise of the Tomb Raider fit to be released, not to mention paid for, in a substandard state — a state, it’s worth noting, that still hasn’t been resolved on Xbox One, almost a year after release.
These issues with aliasing and latency are covered in video from Digital Foundry, which, if you happen to be interested in the technical side of things, is really worth your time.
Not covered in that video, however, is one of my own ongoing pet peeves about the last few Tomb Raider games: the climbing. Present as shown in the example below since 2013's Tomb Raider, but having its roots in the introduction of motion capture to the series with 2008’s Underworld, this floaty, unrealistic traversal —
— is especially noticeable in Rise given that Lara has a perfect suggestion of weight in her various other movements. Do you know anyone who can propel themselves upwards simply by jumping against some surface or other? I can’t overstate how much it gets under my skin.
However, just as Rise’s narrative shortcomings are redeemed by those things the game gets right, so too are its technical flaws. And there are a lot of things it gets right.
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s PlayStation 4 release doesn’t improve the experience as much as I’d hoped — perhaps unrealistically — it might, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a terrific game, and an incredible foundation for future titles to build upon.
I finished the thoughts I posted back in January by stating that Rise took my hesitation about the rebooted Tomb Raider away, and that I'm now nothing but excited to see where Lara goes next. Those words are just as true today as they were then. Wherever it may be — and, if recent rumblings are to be believed, we might find out sooner rather than later — I'm ready to follow.