After spending a year of console exclusivity on the Xbox One, Playstation fans can finally take on the Siberian Wilderness in Lara Croft’s latest adventure. Rise of the Tomb Raider is now available on the Playstation 4 in the form of the ’20 Year Celebration’ edition, bringing with it all previously released DLC as well as a few extras that make up for the long wait. There’s even a segment of the game that can be played in Playstation VR, immersing you in the world of ‘Tomb Raider’ more than ever before.
So let’s face it, Rise of the Tomb Raider has been around for a while now and has had widespread praised heaped upon it from all corners. It takes everything that worked in 2013’s excellent ‘Tomb Raider’ reboot and somehow improves upon it, bringing an adventure that’s more exciting and perilous than ever. It also feels like a true sequel in the sense of character progression too; we saw Lara Croft develop from a somewhat frail girl to a more battle hardened woman in the ‘Tomb Raider’ reboot, something which is more obvious by her more daring personality in Rise of the Tomb Raider. The sense of adventure and bravery within her is more in line with the Lara Croft we knew from the original ‘Tomb Raider’ back in 1996, in a way bringing the character full circle with her origins.
Rise of the Tomb Raider’s story is a tale of greed, corruption, and the supernatural – you know, the usual for a Lara Croft adventure. Looking to clear her Father’s name following claims of insanity preceding his suicide, Lara seeks out an artifact known as ‘The Divine Source’, something that cures all wounds and illnesses effectively granting the bearer immortality. Lara’s Father became obsessed with the artifact’s existence so finding it will be able to prove that maybe he wasn’t as crazy as people would believe. Of course she isn’t the only one looking for the artifact, with an ancient and mysterious organisation known as ‘Trinity’ also out to find it through a more nefarious means. This brings a conflict of interest between the two and given Trinity’s willingness to achieve their goals by absolutely any means necessary results in them being the main antagonists of the game.
The story will keep you engaged from start to end; whilst there is a sense of predictability to each of the twists and turns that come your way, you’ll still be able to enjoy them due to the action-packed way they play out. There’s also a lot of detail to be found in the backstory, with plenty of documents and recordings to find littered around your surroundings. These collectables actually add a real sense of humanity to the characters around you in the game – you’ll find plenty of entries made up of uncertainty, a sense of adventure, or even of a cruel malice. Most of these entries aren’t necessarily key to the plot, but they’ll strengthen your knowledge of the events occurring around you as well as of the organisation you’re up against.
The main gameplay elements are as strong as ever too, with it still as satisfying ever to control Lara as you climb across cliffs, gather resources, solve puzzles, and make incredible leaps between dangerous platforms. The combat is great too, with Rise of the Tomb Raider allowing you to tackle most combat scenarios in different ways. You can go out guns blazing and take out your enemies head-on, or you can take the stealthy approach and sneak around to take enemies on instead. Lara’s bow makes a welcome return from the last game too, so you’ve got an incredibly effective and satisfying means to take out foes whilst making little noise. You can still craft different arrow types though, so if you’d rather just blast a fire arrow at your foe and ignite them in flames you can still take that approach too. However you decide to take out your enemies, it’s always fun to do so.
Of course it’s not all about combat, with Rise of the Tomb Raider also featuring plenty of platforming segments and puzzle solving that requires you to think outside of the box. These segments are most obvious in the ‘Tombs’, a series of hidden areas that task you with completing challenges that mix up tricky platforming with puzzling. As before, the puzzles require you to investigate your surroundings thoroughly to find clues or objects that’ll help you solve each enigma – they really do test you on your ‘tomb raiding’ ability. Every Tomb is well hidden and incredible to look at; whilst Rise of the Tomb Raider is a consistently stunning game, sometimes it’s the Tombs themselves that stand out the most with designs that are not only architecturally impressive but scaling in size too. It’s still a little baffling to me that the hidden Tombs are optional; they’re so well designed and such enjoyable endeavours that the prospect of them getting completely skipped over by some players is a huge shame.
Whilst the Tombs look great, the same could be said for the rest of the game too; Rise of the Tomb Raider is a phenomenal looking game, with Lara venturing across a ton of incredible looking environments that are certainly a treat on the eye. It’s clear from the start of the game that it’s certainly going to deliver in the looks department though. The first scene alone sees you scaling an icy mountain with snow that rips apart underneath Lara’s feet, climbing up a glowing icy cliff side that slowly crumbles with each inch Lara climbs up it, and eventually being chased down by a dangerous avalanche that simply roars down the mountain. That’s within the first few minutes alone too, though it’s only a precedent of what’s to come – Rise of the Tomb Raider is certainly one of the most impressive looking console games I’ve ever played.
Whilst there’s no doubting that Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great game in itself, the ’20 Year Celebration’ release comes with all the previously released DLC too. This includes the two single player expansions ‘Baba Yaga: Temple of the Witch’ and ‘Cold Darkness Awakened’. ‘Baba Yaga: Temple of the Witch’ is a spooky venture that sees Lara investigate a witch from old Russian folklore, whilst ‘Cold Darkness Awakened’ takes a semi-survival horror approach by pitting you against a menacing foe. They’re both enjoyable albeit brief affairs that both add something a little different to the overall experience – neither will blow you away, but they’re certainly well worth playing through.
The all new ‘Blood Ties’ section of the game take a non-combat approach as you explore Croft Manor, offering a line of gameplay that’s more like akin to the ‘walking simulator’ genre than the action adventure we’re used to. The whole experience further strengthens the character that we’ve seen in Lara Croft across the two games, especially regarding the relationship she shares with her Father. It delves right into their history and explores sides of the character that have never been shown in the whole twenty years of the franchise. With the reboot of the series there’s been an extended emphasis on exploring Lara’s backstory and what motivates her to be this daring adventurer. Whilst ‘Blood Ties’ certainly expands upon this, it also brings with it a more personal, emotional side that offers something that players will easily empathise with.
‘Blood Ties’ can also be played in Playstation VR. I’ve seen reports of people suffering bad nausea whilst doing so, but I managed it will very little fuss – that was playing outside of the game’s recommended ‘comfort mode’ too. Whilst the VR experience comes at the expense of graphical fidelity, it still manages to look impressive and feels more atmospheric than ever.
There’s also an expansion known as ‘Lara’s Nightmare’ that again takes place in Croft Manor, but this time focuses on supernatural combat by having you take down a series of zombie-like enemies. It’s ok, but it’s probably the weakest of the included extra content. It’s just consists of taking down a constant barrage of enemies which is enjoyable enough, but feels a little one dimensional when compared with every other experience the package offers.
Last but certainly not least is the ‘Endurance mode’ that turns Rise of the Tomb Raider into a survival simulator. You’ve got to make sure Lara is kept warm, fed, and looked after as she searches for resources and unique artifacts. It’s a complete change to the standard formula of the main game and, like ‘Blood Ties’, almost takes on a whole different genre altogether. It’s refreshing, fun, and can also be played in online co-op – it’s the only multiplayer component of the game since the competitive element was dropped, but is actually incredibly fun and rewarding when played with a friend. I haven’t put as many hours into Endurance as I’d like to yet, but I’m looking forward to sitting down and seeing how many days I can keep Lara alive for…
There’s also the neat addition of extra skins to use during the game. They’re mainly cosmetic with very little enhancement to the gameplay, but it’s still great to have a wide range of different outfits to check out. There’s also the classic skins that you’ll unlock upon completing the game, which are a fantastic blast to the past. Have you ever wanted to play through a modern ‘Tomb Raider’ game as the classic Lara Croft from older releases? Now you can; it looks complete and utterly bizarre, but the addition certainly brought a smile to this long-time ‘Tomb Raider’ fan’s face.
I’d already played through Rise of the Tomb Raider when it released on the Xbox One last year, but going through it all again reminded me of just how good the game is. The intriguing story, the intense action, the stunning visuals – they all tie together perfectly to offer an action-adventure experience that gamers should simply not miss out on, regardless of whether or not they’ve played any of the previous entries in the series.
Add to that the addition of all previously released DLC as well as the all-new ‘Blood Ties’ (which can be played in VR), ‘Lara’s Nightmare’, and online co-operative ‘Endurance’ mode, and you’ll find that Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration offers the most definitive release of the game yet.
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 11/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC