2015 Game of the Year #8: Rise of the Tomb Raider

This week Shacknews is counting down its top ten 2015 Games of the Year, as tabulated by both staff votes and input from our own Chatty community. At the #8 spot we have Crystal Dynamics' continued evolution of a gaming icon, Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Steve Watts, Editor-in-Chief: Remember how after a long spate of mediocre sequels Lara Croft had become something of an industry punchline? What a difference a few years makes. Crystal Dynamics set out to revive the flailing franchise with 2013's Tomb Raider, and succeeded beautifully. In this year's Rise of the Tomb Raider, the studio iterated on what works, largely threw out what didn't, and proved this heroine still has plenty of room to grow.

The marquee features seemed directly aimed at fan complaints, particularly the addition of more tombs to raid. For me, though, the standout was the core gameplay loop of upgrades and crafting. I explored every nook and cranny because I wanted--needed--to turn my version of Lara into an unstoppable force of justice. The end result was an archer who would split Robin Hood's arrow in twain. On top of that, Crystal Dynamics accentuated Lara's role as an archeologist: translating ruins by brushing up on ancient languages and adding her own insightful commentary to the staid old audiologs trope. 

Nathan Drake may have stolen Lara Croft's mantle, but this year she took it back. She's not just a lucky adventurer with a too-cool attitude. She's a smart, capable survivalist. Your move, Naughty Dog.

Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor: Yeah, I love that they made the optional tombs the side missions that they should be, but the incentives were good enough to make you want to take time out to finish them. You could finish the game without them, but you probably don't want to, because they make life a lot easier. And these tombs are worth finishing, because the design and the puzzles are just so well crafted.

Not to mention, they really do play up Lara the archaeologist. It doesn't entirely address one of the biggest issues regarding her character, in that her biggest character trait is still a woman with daddy issues, but it does emphasize her intelligence. It makes the explorer side, the archaeological side, a point of emphasis. Her intelligence is a game mechanic and I love how it logically addresses items you can't read yet as her being rusty. It highlights her knowledge, but doesn't just hand you everything.

And there's just so much to play with out there beyond all of that. That's a huge playground filled with wild animals out there.

SW: I do love how they dealt with the "daddy issues" trope, because that was always a part of the character and they couldn't exactly ignore it. Rise of the Tomb Raider addresses it head-on in a pretty grisly fashion, and without spoiling anything, it lets Lara move past it. Instead of that shadow looming over her for several games, we had one game where she dealt with that baggage and became her own person. As a building block towards a franchise, this was the best way to deal with that aspect of the character and move on.

And it clearly is a building block. Rise of the Tomb Raider gives Lara her own arch-nemesis organization that can be explored over the course of several games. Konstantin was the big-bad of this game, but he's a cog in a machine. What's more, he was a pretty sympathetic cog once more revelations came out about his rationale and background, and that's not something you can say for many action games or even many works of action-oriented fiction in general.

Which brings me back to what I love so much about this modernized Lara. She's representative of a smarter brand of action hero, and that's a trend I'd love to see continue both in this series and in the industry at large.

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