Rise of the Tomb Raider: Thoughts from the Prophet’s Tomb

Drop whatever your doing, ladies and gentlemen — this is the one we've been waiting for.

UNCANNY VALLEY

Drop whatever your doing, ladies and gentlemen — this is the one we’ve been waiting for.

Ever since it was announced that Rise of the Tomb Raider would deliver where its predecessor fell disappointingly short, that it would ‘put the tombs back in Tomb Raider’, fans have been dying to see how the game would live up to the promise. And now we’ve had a glimpse.

From the moment it begins, it’s clear that this demo is going to be different from anything we’ve seen before. Whereas previous glimpses at Rise saw Lara operating in gloomy, benighted locales, here we find her being driven through a vibrant, sun-soaked desert. It’s a welcome change of scenery — but it becomes immediately apparent that Lara hasn’t come to said desert in the hopes of catching some rays. The place is a war zone, and despite her driver’s insistence that she’s wasting her time, Lara is sure there’s something out there — and that they’re getting close.

Trouble, predictably, isn’t far behind, and unfortunately for Lara… well, you can see what happens for yourself in the video above. For my part, my feelings about the demo are somewhat mixed.

Visually, it’s stunning. There’s no doubt about it. When Lara first appears on-screen, it’s very hard not to be impressed. Even compared to last year’s Definitive Edition remaster of Tomb Raider, which saw a complete overhaul of Lara’s model, Rise’s rendition is a huge, huge improvement. Her skin glows in the desert sun, her hair shines with life.

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But when she starts to move, the cracks begin to show.

Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Lara is so realistic that, when things aren’t quite right, they stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, plunging us headlong into the depths of the uncanny valley.

It may shine with life, but Lara’s hair moves as if she’s underwater, floating around her face as though gravity has decided to take a day off. And that face… as fussy a complaint as it is, there’s just something off about its animation in that opening scene. Lara looks as though she’s in pain as she tells her driver that they’re close to their goal — that, or she’s decided to get some botox in her upper lip.

You know what? Let’s go ahead and get all the negatives out of the way. After my overwhelmingly depressing thoughts on Assassin’s Creed Unity, I promised myself that I was going to make more of an effort to see the positive side of things, and there are a lot of positives to be found in this demo. For now, though, the negatives.

I’m not a huge fan of the fact that Lara’s search for the Prophet’s tomb quickly becomes yet another survival situation, and I really hope Rise will offer some good old, no-killing-required exploration.

Additionally, Lara talks way too much. There’s no need for her to give voice to her every thought — honestly, it makes her sound a little daft. And I seriously hope Crystal Dynamics drop the, ‘It’s amazing!’, ‘We made it, Dad!’-style commentary. It’s truly, unforgivably cheesy, and I think my cringing at it might actually have done permanent damage to my face.

Moving on: the climbing. All I can do is shake my head. I hate it. I’ve said it what feels like a million times before, but Lara’s ability to propel herself upwards mid-jump simply by touching walls, cliffs — or whatever the hell she happens to be making her way up — seriously gets under my skin. It might work from a gameplay perspective, but it looks awful. Not only that, but an issue I’ve had with Tomb Raider titles since 2008’s Underworld raises its unsightly head here, too: when Lara jumps to a handhold off to her side, the animation looks incredibly floaty. I suggest you make yourselves at home, ladies and gentlemen, because it doesn’t look like we’ll be leaving that uncanny valley any time soon.

I remember, around the time Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune released, watching an interview with Naughty Dog in which the developers talked about wanting to imbue Nate with a real sense of weight in his movements. I think it’s fair to say they more than succeeded — and continue to — and that Crystal Dynamics could take a note or two.

Finally, I’d like to insert a general complaint about those idiot enemies mindlessly destroying somewhere of potential historical import, even of the fictional sort.

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On the more positive side of things — everything else.

Seriously, everything. More than any of the other demos, this one got me truly excited to play Rise. The colours, the spectacle, the fantastically gruesome traps — it just hits the spot, scratches that tomb-raiding itch. And it must be said, although I continue to think it looks profoundly dodgy in that opening scene, some of Lara’s facial animation is incredibly impressive.

There’s a moment in the demo when she realises that her father was right, and the emotion on her face is clear to see.

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I’ve come across some complaints about how Lara runs as she’s trying to make her escape from the collapsing tomb. ‘Move, dammit! Move!’ she yells, whilst executing a pleasant — if a little harried — jog. At first, I agreed with the aforementioned complaints — until I realised that Lara’s movements here could, with a little imagination, be seen as very, very fitting.

Think about it: this version of Lara is still very much at the beginning of her career — her movement may not come from incompetence, but hesitation. She’s still unsure of herself, finding, quite literally, her feet. I have little doubt that, once she’s found those feet — and strapped them into some kick-ass boots — Lara will be powering through collapsing tombs not just like a machine, but like the women who first bore her name.

I may have my issues with the combat, survival-focused aspects of the demo, but if this one proves anything, it’s that Rise of the Tomb Raider is more than deserving of a chance to prove itself.

I can’t wait for November.


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