Rise of the Tomb Raider Playthrough Journal: PART 1
Journal Entry One: Base Camp Wilderness Refuge
Completion: 7% Total Play Time: 3hrs. 30 mins. Times I Killed Lara: 3
Playthrough (Part 1): Rise of the Tomb Raider begins in epic fashion with young Lara Croft standing high in the Siberian mountains on a jagged snowy edge while behind her, sherpas refuse to go on and her only friend Jonah, not willing to leave her alone, shrugs off her suggestion to stay with them. She is looking at an enormous, rocky peak in the near distance where beyond, she is convinced lies the lost city of Kitezh, believed to have an artifact that can grant immortality. I didn’t know that at the time. She was just staring at a mountain determined to climb it. I’m just here to click the buttons.
The scene then jumps to Lara and Jonah on the face of the steep icy mountain and the gameplay begins. Right away, I had to stop, simply to take a look around. The details are incredible, from the near knee-high snow the characters are trudging through, which drifts and piles aside as they walk through it to the gloriously rendered sunlit mountain peaks surrounding their location. This is some seriously good looking terrain. Swirls of snow-laced wind bends the characters shoulders and howls of a brewing storm echo. I spend seven minutes taking screen shots with the Xbox One share feature and I have yet to move Lara more than five steps. I spun her a lot though.
I eventually guide Lara along a terribly precarious edge where she looses her footing and is swept down an embankment thousands of meters high. Slipping down an ice fall, the first “prompt” blinks on the screen, suggesting I press the “X” button (Xbox One controller), which I hurriedly do and out comes the shiny red ice axe, which she thrusts into the icepack just before hurdling down to what would certainly have been death. Good for me. From there, I learn how to shimmy and jump to other climbable surfaces and continue to marvel at the stunning graphics. Lara looks amazing. She is fluid, moving about with some genuinely realistic looking animations that truly impress. I like her hair. Just saying. The developers clearly did some work on that, and considering I’ll be watching the back of her for an untold number of hours, I’m grateful for the attention to detail. More on that later.
Jonah and Lara get separated, naturally, and the first twinge of “gamery” comes when Lara survives a fall that would kill the Hulk. At least it stuns her. She gets up limp, holding her head, topples over and is slow moving until she gets her bearings. That’s a nice touch and I hope it hints at keeping some of the perfunctory tumbles that have become trademark since the last game a bit more realistic (Lara is a very fall-downy girl). As she goes on, there are a number of simple learning tutorials, mostly involving the ice axe and navigating the harrowingly high handholds. I miss one and, less than four minutes in, it happens. Lara plummets to her unseen death in the ebony abyss below. It won’t be the last. There appears to be no penalty though as I start right up (almost immediately) where I lost her. Also, she doesn’t seem to mind.
After some scrambling about, I barely survive a nifty looking avalanche in a series of fast-paced jumping puzzles and tumble down a slope into a bank of snow and enter a cutscene that tells me it’s now a few weeks earlier. There’s Lara in her father’s house, discovering clues about a mysterious organization called Trinity that is searching for the artifact that grants eternal life called The Divine Source. Lara’s father’s assistant Ana shows up and reminds her that she is a little strange for doing the things she does and then, a bit later, Lara is attacked by an intruder that steals her’s father’s book and runs off. Jonah and Lara decide they have to find the artifact first and head to Syria and an ancient tomb where a sarcophagus is rumored to hold the magical trinket. I honestly didn’t keep up with most of that as I was admiring the pretty graphics and light effects. I should really pay more attention to the story.
Syria is dusty and dry and a starkly opposite environment compared with the intro. After Lara is attacked by a helicopter (Trinity is on to her), she scurries off into the mountains and makes it to a crevice in a cliff side. I guide Lara inside. She breaks out a glow stick and I eventually get her down to a room past scorpions and skeletons where she discovers her first clues. The room is small, but I learn a lot about what is coming, at least as far as the mechanics for collecting loot and various other incidentals that the player menu calls “Region Summary” which lists hidden items, small treasures, documents and more. While some glow orange when nearby, others remain invisible until Lara is nearly on top of them before a prompt appears. I’m a maniacal “completionist” so I spend entirely too much time in this decrepit ruin until I find everything. I like this part of the series and while I rarely listen to or read all the clips and clues each one generates after finding them, I appreciate their value, or at least the chance to do some exploring, even if this single tiny room doesn’t offer much in terms of searching, I get that it’s a teaching tool. I’m a quick learner. There will be harder challenges ahead for sure. Moving on.
After some easy puzzles that task Lara with raising the water levels in order to proceed, I make sure to find all the remaining Region Summary items before activating the next segment. Lara goes swimming, which she couldn’t do in the previous game, and it looks great when she climbs out of the water. Her clothes and hair remain drenched for a time, which gives it some authenticity. In a very humanizing touch, she also sluices the water from her ponytail. Kinda neat. I told you there would be more about that. Then I step on a hidden trap and kill her. My bad.
She makes it to the sarcophagus and big surprise, it’s empty. And it wasn’t by the Trinity people either because they rig the temple to explode and crash through the crumbling tomb roof and are as shocked as Lara was, though finding her hiding inside the casket was a little unsettling for them as well. A brief cutscene introduces us to Konstantin, the leader of the group, and after that, with some tricky slight of hand, Lara is able to nab the detonator and set it off as means of escape, and it’s time to bust out Lara’s pistol to shoot people. The first kills of the game come as she runs through a rain of brick and stone as the massive building falls apart, giving me my second miss-timed leap and sending Lara to her doom (again) where her head is crushed by a falling stone pillar in slow motion. Nice. More colorful Lara death animations are sure to be a big part of my future.
Once free of the collapsed temple, it’s back to the present and on the snowy mountain again where a freezing Ms Croft is in the darkening snow fall as the day dwindles. Lara shivers and clutches her arms as she trudges forward, commenting to herself (and me) how she needs to make a camp and build a fire if she is to survive. Not long after, she comes across an abandoned hunting camp, or rather lean-to, and decides this is where she’ll stay the night. She chats on about needing dry wood and I guide her to some small twigs in the snow and what’s this? A dead deer. She says there’s no meat remaining (the carcass has been gutted by wolves who are baying in the distance)(I also spot a tree-stand and some frayed flags ahead), but the hide will be valuable for crafting. We make it back to the lean-to and build a fire, make a bow and arrow and I have successfully saved at Base Camp One: Wilderness Refuge.
Impressions: Impressive graphics aside, the controls are spot on, manipulating Lara a joy. She is responsive and easy to move about, with jumping, climbing and attacking very intuitive. So far, this is a lot of fun with a nice story and very convincing dialogue.
Best Moment: The snow. Mostly Lara walking in it.
Part Two Coming Soon