When developer Crystal Dynamics released 2013's Tomb Raider reboot, you'd be hard-pressed to find a review that didn't (at the very least) mention the Uncharted series to provide some surface-level comparison fodder. The great irony being that the Tomb Raider franchise is arguably what paved the way for the action-adventure game as we know it today. You can't ignore the past. Lara Croft was already raiding tombs while Nathan Drake was still in kindergarten.
The point of all this is that we were slated to see both a new Tomb Raider and PlayStation-exclusive Uncharted game in the same holiday season, but Uncharted 4 was delayed til March 2016. And wouldn't you know it, Rise of the Tomb Raider feels more Uncharted-y than anything else available on November 10th, and currently only for the Xbox One (though its exclusivity is timed).
So perhaps it's a good thing that Rise of the Tomb Raider is the holiday season's lone standout in the action-adventure exploration genre. Because if you own an Xbox One it certainly deserves your attention.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is an excellent follow up to its predecessor, feeling more refined and focused. It makes up for a number of the 2013 game's shortcomings, even if its storyline is less compelling. But if you can look the other way on a few expositional missteps and concentrate on the action, gameplay and sheer enjoyment of it all, Rise of the Tomb Raider answers the call.
Set a year after the events of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is chasing down a mystical entity being aggressively pursued by an evil "let's-kill-Lara-on-sight" bunch of bad guys that go by Trinity. Using a set of stealth melee attacks, a pick-axe, bow and a small ballistic arsenal, Lara must keep her head on a swivel at all times, not to mention deal with the perpetually collapsing ancient ruins all around her.
I found the last Tomb Raider much less focused on the explorational moments I came to adore in traditional titles in the series, but Rise of the Tomb Raider honors that legacy. Thankfully, there are plenty of tombs to best in Rise. And sometimes, part of the fun is discovering their camouflaged entrances.
This speaks to the great overall level design of the game. Rise's areas are multi-tiered and labyrinthine, which satisfyingly reward you as you play through and unlock new items and abilities. If there's anything to lament, it's that occasionally the game feels too easy when played on normal difficulty. Gunplay is generously in Lara's favor, and each scenario provides you with a handful of overly convenient ways to use the environment to your advantage.
On-the-fly crafting plays a major role in Rise of the Tomb Raider, so you're never without a few perfectly placed bottles or cans for a quick Molotov cocktail or DIY grenade. With these items so prevalent it's almost as if Lara has infinite amounts of explosive ammo. Of course, you'll need to collect resources in the world to complete the crafting of items, but they also overpopulate each area. They can even get in the way. The same button to reload also picks up an item, so odds are you'll do one and not the other by accident -- and when you're being shot at it's really frustrating.
In my first five hours of play I started to feel like I had an unfair advantage because everything I needed to pay attention to was highlighted yellow whenever I used Lara's special vision mode. Luckily, you do have the option to turn that off if you want to figure all of the puzzles and resource locations yourself. It's something I recommend trying out, although you're likely to unlock a skill that makes notable items glow automatically.