Last November, "Rise of the Tomb Raider" came out to great critical fanfare, but loads of people couldn't play it because it was console exclusive to Xbox One. The PC version came out in January of this year, but until now, it's been inaccessible to PlayStation 4 owners.
I got to play through "Rise of the Tomb Raider" on PS4 ahead of its October 11 release, and I'm glad to report the follow-up to the 2013 series reboot is a satisfying, often thrilling single-player adventure. If you even remotely think you're interested in it, I highly recommend playing it.
It's a unique blend of linear action-adventure sequences and open-world questing.
The easiest point of comparison for the "Tomb Raider" reboot series is "Uncharted," based on the two sharing similar premises. On paper, both of them are third-person action games about exploring ancient ruins in the search for treasure, knowledge or both.
In practice, that comparison is unfair because the two series are vastly different in design.
"Uncharted 4" had a few open-ended sequences, but overall it's extremely linear in service of being like a playable action movie. "Rise of the Tomb Raider" takes Lara Croft from one explorable area (featuring optional animals to hunt, tombs to raid and treasures to find) to the next, often using exhilarating action sequences as transitions.
Though its story moves at a brisk enough pace, there's a ton of built-in downtime for you to use if you want. Campsites act as checkpoints along the way, but you can fast travel between any campsite you've found, which is often necessary given that some secret areas are inaccessible until you've found an upgrade later in the game.
It's pretty cozy and constrained as far as video game open worlds go, but it's so nice to occasionally be able to get off the rollercoaster and hang out in the wilderness. Some of its most exciting moments came not from huge gunfights, but from randomly being attacked by a huge bear while searching for hidden treasure in the Siberian mountains.
There are also light wilderness survival elements, as Lara can collect resources to upgrade her gear and craft ammo. Those mechanics are slim enough to not be a burden, and resources are abundant enough that you don't need to be obsessive about picking them up.
When it's time to do the dirty work, it's sufficiently intense.
"Rise of the Tomb Raider" is still an action game at heart, so every now and then you'll have to do some dirt. Thankfully, the doing of dirt is appropriately intense, as Lara is one woman going up against a paramilitary force in the harsh Siberian wilderness.
Like its predecessor, "Rise of the Tomb Raider" allows players to use brute force or stealth in most situations. You can actually progress through some areas without killing a single enemy (and there's a healthy experience bonus for doing so), but if you want to take out the opposition, there are plenty of options.
Lara's bow is a way to silently take out enemies with one shot from a distance, but you have a typical video game pistol/assault rifle/shotgun arsenal at your disposal if stealth isn't an option. If you sneak up behind an enemy, you can perform some of the most viscerally forceful stealth kills I've seen in a game.
Seriously, I don't know if it's the animations themselves or the sound design, but something about stealth-killing dudes in "Rise of the Tomb Raider" is just savage. I feel weird for saying that, but it's the truth. I swear I'm not a violent person.
One criticism I have of the combat is there are a few too many instances where stealth isn't an option. At that point, "Rise of the Tomb Raider" feels like other cover-based shooters, except Lara's movement is much more nimble than most video game action heroes. It's still enjoyable, but not as much as the scenarios where the player has more choice.
The game's sense of movement is rock solid.
This version of Lara Croft just feels right to control. Running, jumping and climbing around the world is as fun as it is in any of its contemporaries, if not more.
Thanks to a series of upgrades you get along the way, simple platforming escalates into thrilling sequences where Lara has to slide down steep inclines, rock climb with ice picks, speed down ziplines and swing across chasms, often in succession.
It's not especially precise or difficult, but it isn't 100% automatic like in "Assassin's Creed" or "Uncharted," either. There's just enough risk to keep you on your toes, and it's a great time.