Rise of the Tomb Raider: Cold Darkness Awakened Review
A competent but unremarkable survival-horror skew on Tomb Raider
If you ever wondered what would happen if you took a Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider game and cross-bred it with one of the steam early-access survival horror crafting titles like The Forest, the final piece of Rise of the Tomb Raider DLC will prove enlightening. The Cold Darkness Awakened is an experience mostly separated from the story of the main game, and involves Lara going into another abandoned Soviet industrial complex at night to shut down some towers that are spewing toxic gas that conveniently turns only men into zombie-like mutants who can’t see but can hear acutely (because of Testosterone or something).
The thin narrative premise translates into Lara creeping around a sizeable and totally open level, shutting down the towers, rescuing prisoners and collecting weapons all while trying to avoid the mutant soldiers. The package feels a bit bland overall due to the setting that feels similar to what the base game offered, but the slick mechanics and relatively challenging encounters that occur when you make too much noise result in an engaging and sometimes harrowing experience.
At the start of Cold Darkness Awakened, you are plunked down at the start of the level with nothing but a basic bow and some arrows. Stealth is the name of the game here, especially early on, as the plentiful mutant soldiers can hear acutely but they can’t see you, and with your starting gear you will struggle to take on more than a couple at a time. Even trying to quietly take out enemies with bow-headshots can be a risk as if you miss a shot, the mutants will annoyingly run to your location instead of the location where the arrow lands. As a result it is in your best interest to creep around and attempt to find some weapons, crafting equipment and rescue prisoners which provides Lara with random skills similar to those obtained from completing optional tombs in the base game.
The early stages of the Cold Darkness are the most tense as you lack firepower, and any noises you make will cause nearby mutants to run to your location. You can try and fight them off, or flee using the great climbing mechanics to try and outrun and outsmart your enemies, who will climb and jump after you but at a slow enough pace that outrunning them is doable if you plan out a route. There are a few types of mutants, the basic ones who will run after you with knives, strong ones wearing armor and wielding shovels, mutants carrying shields and others who lob grenades. You will need to change up your fighting style if you take them on, but all can be avoided by keeping quiet or lobbing objects for distraction.
Once you progress a bit further and have a few skills and weapons, you might have more success fighting the mutants, though they seem to respawn so you can never really clear out an area. If you die, you restart nearby with all of your gear, though you will still need to deal with groups of enemies at objectives. The story objectives come in the form of towers which must be disabled to stop them spewing toxic chemicals. You do this by completing some simple puzzles, which involve identifying a variety of devices and mechanisms within the tower and following a series of instructions on how to disable them. These puzzles aren’t much fun as early on you will struggle to identify the right components and later they just involve following the instructions. If you do something wrong a few enemies will show up, but generally the puzzles are easy enough that you will be finishing them unharassed.
It might take a couple of hours to shut down all of the towers and complete the closing sequence, significantly more or less depending on how carefully you explore for prisoners and collectibles and also the difficulty level you play on. Replaying is incentivized through cards which can be purchased with currency earned by completing challenges like completing the DLC quickly or only using certain weapons. The cards you purchase with this currency let you start with some gear and skills instead of having to find it throughout the level. Since the location of weapons, prisoners and towers doesn’t seem to change I didn’t feel much need to go through it multiple times but the options are still nice to have.
For ten bucks, Cold Darkness Awakened is not a bad purchase if you enjoy the stealth, exploration and crafting elements of the newer Tomb Raider games. The enemy AI’s hearing can be overly acute at times and their frequent respawning can be annoying, but generally the right balance of tension is present most of the time. Even though the puzzles that make up the story objectives are weaker than the optional tombs in the main game, they help give purpose and structure to the experience, and the level is large and detailed enough that exploring it is generally interesting and offers up nice rewards.