After successfully rebooting the "Tomb Raider" franchise in 2013 by reintroducing Lara Croft as a shipwreck survivor who washes up on a deadly - and really weird - island off the coast of Asia, the developers at Crystal Dynamics have returned with a solid follow-up that finds the iconic adventurer tackling snowy peaks, a private military and daddy issues in Siberia.
"Rise of the Tomb Raider" (for Xbox 360 and Xbox One, $59.99) focuses on a more capable and driven Croft as she attempts to retrace her archaeologist father's steps in his undaunted quest to discover an ancient artifact and lost city. However, she's not merely back to hunt treasure. This version of Croft is also looking to clear her family's tarnished name.
It's an ambitious story, one that slips and stumbles as much as Croft does throughout her epic voyage over cliffs, through abandoned Soviet installations and into creepy crypts. The gorgeously detailed atmosphere of "Rise of the Tomb Raider" makes up for the shaky plot, which will feel eerily similar to those who played "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves."
The designers have constructed a colossal mountaineering playground for Croft. The valleys and caves that hopefully lead to the mythical Kitezh are supremely more expansive than the perilous vistas of the Yamatai island depicted in the previous "Tomb Raider." There are scads of intricate nooks and crannies ￢ﾀﾔ some inaccessible at the start, some open ￢ﾀﾔ worth visiting.
From a massive ship frozen vertically in ice to a bloody bathhouse submerged underwater, the game's subterranean areas are absolutely stunning, so it's confounding that the developers have again opted to make entering most of these areas optional excursions. This is a "Tomb Raider" game. Shouldn't raiding tombs be, you know, mandatory?
Anyway, Croft has an obligatorily evil organization standing in her way this time named Trinity. The group's seemingly endless waves of troopers ￢ﾀﾔ with a few religious zealots thrown in for good measure ￢ﾀﾔ mostly serve as cannon fodder for Croft, who is better equipped to handle baddies on the fly with her snappy bow and assortment of guns and explosives.
The developers have smartly expanded Croft's ability to upgrade her gear. At a moment's notice, the British survivalist can now craft ammo, bombs and distractions. For example, plucking mushrooms mid-battle will assist in making impromptu poisonous arrows. It's a handy touch that illustrates players are portraying a more savvy Croft in "Rise of the Tomb Raider."
As with the previous game, actress Camilla Luddington is pitch-perfect as this Croft, and the developers have mostly created an experience that's as sharp as Croft's trusty climbing ax. "Rise of the Tomb Raider" continues to move the revamped Croft down the right path. It will be interesting to see where she goes next. Three-and-a-half stars out of four.
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