Are we supposed to like Lara Croft or not? If I was trying to create a relatable protagonist for a game I don’t think I’d go for a rich kid, jetting around the world killing endangered animals and hunting out treasures for her own collection. Typically, undiscovered treasure belongs to the government of whichever country it’s in so she is literally a thief, guys. And why does she always do everything on her own instead of with a team, which would make it about a thousand times easier? Because of narcissism, that’s why.
Game: Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
(Review copy provided by publisher)
Either way, after about a year of being an Xbox exclusive, Rise Of The Tomb Raider has now arrived on PS4. Having made a successful reboot in 2013, this is the sequel to that, in which wearer of tiny jackets Lara is flung around the world to finish off her dad’s work. In fact throughout the game she mentions her dad more than a lost child in a supermarket. As this was initially released in 2013, you can read our original review here, in which we awarded the game a 10/10. This will therefore be more of a recap and consideration of the additions, as there’s little point in reviewing a game twice in one year.
As this was my first time with ROTR I was initially surprised by that 10/10, as the game makes a weak start. It really does look incredible, there is no denying that; the level of detail around the environments as wildlife dent the crisp snow of Siberia, and the mountains on the horizon can rival anything that this year’s Uncharted entry could muster, the latter being an obvious point of comparison now we have this PS4 edition, not least for wrestling with their main character’s less-than-moral choices. There’s a lot of effort in the sound and audio, too, but this isn’t enough to hide the fact that the first couple of levels are painfully linear; frustrating, when playing a game that is literally about exploring and you’re being funnelled along from one QuickTime event to another, feeling about as involved in Lara’s fate as the Lib Dems probably do in British politics. At one point you’re presented with a wild, angry bear and rather than getting to fight it properly, you’re forced to flee and hit a couple of buttons to dodge some attacks.
Luckily, this is explainable by simple tutorialisation. There are a few things to get to grips with, such as the crafting mechanics, stealth sections and combat, so this is perhaps forgivable in hindsight. Once you hit a certain point, which I’d still argue is too long coming, the reigns are finally taken off and you’re given leave to explore. You do also get another crack at the bear in a proper fight, and it’s about here that the game really becomes something special and earns that lofty score from last year. While it is at points still a bit too keen to lead you by the hand, the stealth sections, which allow you to hide in trees and deliver death from above are huge fun. Hunting animals is also a nice addition to this new reboot of the series, enabling you to collect animal hide for making equipment, which you can also do by stripping wood from trees and taking feathers from nests to make arrows. And you’ll need a lot of arrows; I don’t know what they make bears from in Siberia, but I had to turn one into an angry pin-cushion before it even considered rolling over and dying.
The most intriguing new addition to this edition is of course the VR version of the walking simulator-esque Blood Ties mission; set in a rather dilapidated Croft Manor on the verge of being repossessed, leaving Lara facing homelessness. You’re in the mansion to find clues and explore hidden passageways (but not to do any combat, sadly), and it’s a fun diversion if you already have a PSVR headset. It is quite some way from being worth getting VR just for this, but that’s obvious. The VR game offers you the choice of ‘comfort’ mode or ‘free’ mode for walking around. Comfort mode will be familiar to anyone who’s played the HTC Lab or similar, and basically involves teleporting to where you want to be and turning using L1 and R1 to rotate 30 degrees at a time. Free mode is more what you’d expect from VR, using the dual analogue sticks to move as you normally would in a FPS. The latter is very much not recommended; having played around 20 VR titles to date on the Vive and PSVR and having no problems, this was the first time I really felt ill effects from the movement in such a game. To get more of this, check out our video on YouTube; Ben and I believe this is due to the motion blur that you get when you use the right stick to turn rather than your head, something that didn’t happen with the very similar movement mechanics in Resident Evil 7 in VR. Either way, all in all this addition is a far from an essential experience, but a nice bonus in the event you were going to get this anyway and happen to have a PSVR headset kicking around.
This 20th Year Celebration edition also arrives with the DLC that was released periodically for the Xbox One and PC version, the non-VR version of aforementioned mission Blood Ties and, most notably, two further add-ons throwing zombies into the franchise. I’m not really sure what zombies have done to secure their place as essential DLC for every action franchise going, but I was pleasantly surprised to find these aren’t just throw-together afterthoughts; they each take an element of the main game and explore it further. Firstly, Cold Darkness Awakens drops you into a soviet industrial area, in which a dormant chemical weapon has been released and turned anyone in the area into infected, undead monsters. It appears to only affect men and not women, so Lara and her buddies, free of Y-chromosomes, are able to infiltrate and shut down the machinery pumping out the chemicals. Due to the sheer numbers of enemies, which are mostly blind so detect you from sound and smell, you’re forced to play your stealth card. The factory setting is perfect for this, and provides a great playground for hiding and also beating a hasty escape when you get rumbled. It’s not a long addition, but it’s a good one nonetheless.
Finally, we’re met with Lara’s Nightmare; you’re back in Croft Manor and again confronted with hordes of horrors, some of which have shields and armour oddly. While stealth is possible, the close confines of the mansion and the zombies not being blind lends itself to some dense combat. It’s survival horror time, so cherish your ammo and know when to run. There’s also additions to the endurance mode this time around, and all in all these constitute some different directions for the game, from zero-fighting to doing ALL THE FIGHTING, and makes this a more than worthy purchase if it wasn’t for you already.
One year on and, unsurprisingly, Rise Of The Tomb Raider is still a very good game. Even alongside Uncharted 4, a Sony exclusive that appeared in the gap between the original release and this edition, Crystal Dynamics have updated the franchise to fit snugly alongside the contemporaries that have appeared in the last 20 years. Stunning looking and with a good variety of gameplay, added to by the inclusion of the DLC, this is fully worth your time if you haven’t played it yet, or even if you just fancy it on PS4 instead.
Lara Croft may be despised by animal rights charities, but she’s still rightly loved by gamers.