PC owners finally get to play what can only be described as the definitive version of Lara Croft's latest adventure, Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Square Enix's sequel to the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot was released late last year as a timed Xbox exclusive. With fantastic visuals on the Xbox One, Rise of the Tomb Raider fast became a critical and commercial success. Now it's PC owners turn to experience Lara's quest, following in the footsteps of her father, to find the lost city of Kitezh and unlock the secret of immortality.
Like it's predecessor, the plot shies away from having Lara globe-trotting to reach her goal, confining the story to a prologue in Syria with the rest of the game set in the Siberian tundra. Lara is pursued by the clandestine organisation, Trinity.
The bad guys will be familiar to fans of Dark Horse's Tomb Raider comic. Indeed, the Rise of the Tomb Raider story is written by Rhianna Pratchett, responsible for the scripting both the comic book and the previous game.
Camilla Luddington returns as the voice of Lara, with what I consider to be an increasingly grating performance as she forces a BBC-style British received pronunciation accent, a far cry from her natural mid-Atlantic voice. Her voice acting isn't helped by her overly-breathy line delivery that makes her sound like a posh late-night sex-line advert voiceover.
The annoying voice aside, though, Luddington's mo-capped performance is superb, really bringing the character to life. The character models are great and full of expression, complementing the incredible detail of the game levels.
As you'd expect, the already gorgeous Xbox One graphics have been given a makeover for high-end PCs. Running the game with the visuals set to very high, FXAA, double buffered v-sync, ambient occlusion set to HBAO+ and anisotropic filtering at 16x, I achieved a steady 60fps (my monitor's max) at 1920x1080 on an i7-3820 with 32GB of RAM and 2xGTX 980 SLI. For reasons explained below, I had to run the game windowed, which meant no actual SLI advantage.
Playing the game across three monitors proved to be a little more difficult compared to Lara's last outing. I got a fairly consistent 40fps at 5760x1080 using NVIDIA Surround, but the game gave me a blank screen bevel-corrected to 5880x1080, which was disappointing as this is my favoured triple monitor resolution. A bit of tweaking could, no doubt, have got the framerate up to 60fps at 5760x1080, but I was more interesting with what was happening at 1920x1080.
Even with the newer “game-ready” NVIDIA drivers, the Rise of the Tomb Raider just wouldn't let me play fullscreen at 1920x1080. With the “Exclusive Fullscreen” option switched to “on” the display was stretched vertically and with the option off, the visuals degraded to a sub-Xbox 360 resolution. Very strange, especially as I suffered no issues with the previous game. The price of having two monitors more than you need, I suppose.
Single-monitor setups shouldn't have any of these issues. Although machines without suitable grunt may still suffer some drops in framerate. I think the PC port still requires a bit of optimisation and NVIDIA, who really seem to be off their game with their driver releases at the moment, need to refine their GeForce driver support for the game.
Whilst the graphics are gorgeous, especially on PC, swapping the bleak island of Yamatai for the equally bleak Siberia tundra is a bit uninspired. I would have liked to see Lara visit somewhere a bit more exotic. But this is still the rise of the tomb raider- Lara not quite the seasoned adventurer that we know from old, so there's plenty of time for her to explore the world.
The game mechanics stick closely to those of the previous game- a case of don't fix what's not broken. This time there are apparently more tombs to raid, but there didn't really seem to be that many more, if you ask me. As before, weapon and skill upgrades are available as camp locations; collecting scrap and weapon parts as you progress unlocking crafting opportunities.
Whilst the story is a little formulaic- a means to an end more than anything, the campaign game is a very polished experience. The gameplay is superb with the sort of tight controls required when you are climbing ice walls, swinging across ravines and jumping from ledge to ledge.
The stealth gameplay, which was introduced in the last instalment, returns and offers players an alternative to an all-out gunfight. Moving from cover to cover, Lara can dispatch enemies from the shadows or silently take them out using her very satisfying recurve bow.
The campaign takes Lara through icy caverns, an abandoned soviet-era base, secret tombs and a lost city, all beautifully modelled. Pulling all these elements together puts the game at least on par with 2013's Tomb Raider- with a few enhancements that many will find makes it the best Tomb Raider yet.
Rather surprisingly, Rise of the Tomb Raider does not have a multiplayer component, at least not in the traditional sense. Whilst the multiplayer element of 2013's Tomb Raider was a competent effort, it didn't seem to really engage the community in the same way that the similarly-styled Uncharted multiplayer mode did.
For Rise of the Tomb Raider the developer, Crystal Dynamics, have included Expeditions. These allow players to create their own activities set within the environments of the main game. Levels can be simply replayed or, using cards unlocked in the main game or purchased with real money, customised with player-enhancing boosts, increased challenges and bizarre modifications.
On successful completion, custom Expedition missions are posted online for others to play- very similar to the contracts mode in Square Enix's Hitman Absolution. Players can compare their scores with other via the mission leaderboard.
As expected, the game utilises the extra processing power of the PC to bring PC gamers the definitive Rise of the Tomb Raider experience. Teething issues and tweaking setting is all part of PC gaming, especially at this early stage of a game release. But, with enhanced ambient occlusion, dynamic foliage and superior anti-aliasing the PC version of the game is the one that you really ought to be playing.
Rise of the Tomb Raider cements Lara Croft as a hero for the ages. Rebooted away from the over-sexualised caricature of the 1990s, this modern take on the origin of the Tomb Raider instead gives us a smart but vulnerable young woman continuing her journey to become the famous adventurer that we fell in love with all those years ago.