Rise of the Tomb Raider made its debut late last year to overwhelmingly positive reception, being a highly engaging adventure that focused more on raiding tombs rather than tipping the scale in favor of an excess number of action sequences that was seen in the reboot. Crystal Dynamics isn’t done with the game just yet, though, as the developer has been hard at work fulfilling their Season Pass promise with various story related content. While the first extra side story, The Temple of the Witch, had promising elements that put Lara into dream-like sequences, it ultimately didn’t live up to expectations, being a short, somewhat underwhelming deviation. With the latest entry, Cold Darkness, the Los Angeles-based studio is focusing on a little more freedom, creating an open are to explore that’s inhabited by new baddies and bits of context spread throughout. Will Cold Darkness Awakened be a breath of fresh, albeit cold, air or was it better left in the darkness?
While The Temple of the Witch was integrated straight into the core content of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Cold Darkness takes place outside of what we love, and instead is located within the Expedition mode. This mode, if you’re unaware, is dedicated essentially to time trial and score attack missions from various sections of the campaign, be it the tombs or story related missions. It tested your skills and memorization on locations that were in the main game, while putting you up against friends and others on the global leaderboards. Because of this, Cold Darkness is far more taken out of the story of Rise of the Tomb Raider and feels like its own one-off adventure, despite Nadia, the girl Lara saves in The Temple of the Witch, being Lara’s guide. Fortunately for her, she does bring some charm and humor to this rather dark and depression slice of short content. Its appearance strictly in the Expedition mode is bizarre, and the whole context of what you’re doing feels very much removed from what you’ve come to learn with Lara over her adventures. While it’s more or less the same game, it’s now somewhat limiting Lara’s skillsets depending which cards are brought in.
The story feels somewhat slapped together, as well. Lara Croft is investigating a decommissioned research facility where there’s great concern over nuclear contamination. This has resulted in a seemingly infinite number of men going mad, showing similar traits to the creatures from say The Last of Us, although these enemies are more interested in cleaving and slashing wildly at Lara rather than tearing at their throats. Conveniently enough, this infection doesn’t affect women, so Lara and any of the prisoners around the environment are safe. Speaking of the prisoners, this aspect, while ties into a collection aspect, is confusing. Lara is facing off against crazed men who will kill anyone at sight (or technically sound as they have poor vision), yet you will find prisoners simply tied up sitting on a chair. This is baffling considering these enemies don’t really seem to have a mind of their own and simply have a desire to kill anything that moves. Suffice to say, the reasoning behind a lot of this content seems a bit baffling; just know Lara wants to destroy this facility because it could lead to very bad things.
The new area itself is somewhat lengthy in size, although by no means in comparison to some of the more open areas in the main campaign. As mentioned before, there are activities to accomplish in the world outside of burying this dangerous facility, such as finding prisoners, weapons (which you only begin with a crossbow), documents, and more. Unfortunately, just like the story itself, the core pacing feels slapped together as it can be completed in half an hour. When outside, the stealth elements are demonstrated fairly well, especially considering there’s still a decent number of locations to explore. Even some of the puzzle solving, which there’s a few instances of, will make you think instead of what most games do: hold your hand through everything. Unfortunately, it’s the action portions that stick out like a sore thumb. The puzzle solving and exploration elements are decent, but the occasional forced combat encounters, such as running through waves of enemies, feels tedious and not enjoyable at the least. These events aren’t particularly set up well and especially drags down what’s supposed to be an exciting finale. If anything, the final stretch should have been more about scripted traversal scenarios rather than enemy spawns.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: Cold Darkness Awakened has a lot of promise, focusing on the strong stealth and puzzle mechanics that made the core game so popular, but unfortunately it fails to leave a lasting impression. The short adventure is confined within a small area that has limited replay value and no rewarding values in general. It does offer puzzle mechanics that forces players to actually use their head instead of being reliant on following icons, but it’s the combat scenario at the end that feels thrown in and unnecessarily dull. While short, at least The Temple of the Witch was properly integrated into the story, whereas this one-off adventure simply brings familiar mechanics to a somewhat empty environment. In the end, Rise of the Tomb Raider: Cold Darkness Awakened ends up being a forgettable experience