It is safe to say that PS4 owners have been the ‘winners’ in the whole Rise of the Tomb Raider exclusivity debacle. They may have had to wait a year, but they are receiving the best edition of one of last year’s best games (you can read Nick’s original review here), as well as all of its DLC, including the fantastically trippy ‘Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch’ and the borderline-survival-horror of ‘Cold Darkness Awakened’. The main game also receives an extreme survivor difficulty that removes all checkpoints from the campaign, along with plenty of new outfits and ‘classic’ skins, which replace Lara with her Tomb Raider 2, 3, or Angel of Darkness models. This 20 Year Celebration edition also introduces co-op support for Endurance mode, which is a Don’t Starve-style hunt for food and resources while trying not to snuff it.
The bulk of the new content in the 20th anniversary edition is set in Croft Manor. The first piece is an hour-long story mission called ‘Blood Ties’ (also playable with PSVR), and the other is a score attack mode called ‘Lara’s Nightmare’ in which players must survive for as long as possible while under attack from hordes of zombies.
‘Blood Ties’ sends Lara on a scavenger hunt around Croft Manor to find her father’s will, in order to prove her right to the estate. Players are restrained from shooting anything while wandering around the dusty old mansion. Instead, the mission takes Lara down memory lane, remembering the time she spent with Winston the butler as a kid (including her love of locking the poor bugger in the freezer), and players even discover why Lara flexes her shoulder during her idle animation.
Having fond memories of playing the original series back on the PS1, returning to the mansion came with mixed feelings. It was great to be home, but, like the reimagined Lara in the new adventures, home is not the same as I fondly remembered it. Winston is gone, the gym in the ballroom has been dismantled, and young Lara has not yet installed a pool; instead, a large tree occupies the West Wing. Still, we are still firmly in reboot territory so things were always going to be a little different. Despite these changes to the layout of Croft Manor, finding out a little more about Lara’s early years is a lot of fun and contains plenty of knowing nods and winks to the original series.
‘Blood Ties’ is also a clever way to familiarise players with the layout of the mansion before they take on ‘Lara’s Nightmare’, the other new mode set in Croft Manor, meaning that the old mansion still works as a kind of training level. That being said, it may have been more fun had Crystal Dynamics recreated the mansion as it was in earlier incarnations and given players free reign to abuse the butler and swan dive from gym equipment as in Tomb Raider 2.
It is worth bearing in mind that if you decide to play ‘Blood Ties’ using PSVR, the default controls are set the way they are for a very good reason—the alternative twin stick controls can cause severe motion sickness in some players after only a brief period of play. This is by no means a deal breaker as the experience of being literally placed inside Croft Manor is a profound one and a superb added extra for those with the means to access it.
‘Lara’s Nightmare’, meanwhile, sees Croft Manor invaded by zombies. The mission is straightforward—destroy three flying skulls, find a master key, and defeat the boss—but that does not mean it is easy. Ammunition is incredibly scarce, and weapons, keys and the skulls’ locations are randomly generated for each playthrough. Furthermore, zombies are everywhere and a complete pig to kill. The mode can be completed in about 15-20 minutes on a good day, but it can also stretch on for far longer. Finally, ‘Lara’s Nightmare’ also comes with a leaderboard, inviting those players so inclined to dip into it from time to time.
The biggest problem with the mode is that, since the placement of the skulls, guns and ammunition are random, getting a better score seems as much the result of luck as skill. In my first attempt, I failed to escape the first room before a group of zombies were chowing down on me. In another, I managed to get my hands on a shotgun and the master key in the first couple of minutes (I still ended up zombie chow, but for a moment, I thought I had hope of beating the thing). Overall though, it is a fun, if brief, distraction.
Finally, there is Endurance mode, which, as mentioned earlier, can now be played co-operatively online. Of all the new additions, this is the one most likely to hold players’ attention over time. As before, players must survive in the Siberian wilderness by skinning animals and raiding camps for food and setting fires to create camps. The difference is that it is now possible to battle the ravages of hunger and cold with a friend. Be warned, however, it can, at times, be as much a battle against your teammate’s poor decision-making skills as it is a fight for survival.
For those who have not yet played Rise of the Tomb Raider, it goes without saying that the game deserves a place in your collection and it would be so even if this PS4 release was a straight port. Combining beautiful visuals, thrilling set pieces, and a fantastic blend of action and exploration, Rise of the Tomb Raider gives Uncharted 4 a run for its money. Uncharted may have the more charming protagonist and a marginally better narrative, but Rise of the Tomb Raider is a much more expansive and complex game with far more to see, do, and discover.
The inclusion of all previously released DLC adds so much content that it almost overloads the player with random collectibles and minor tasks to complete. The Soviet Installation section of the map, alone, contains 110 different points of interest to find and interact with, and that is only one of 11 areas to explore. Completionists have their work cut out for them. Even for those who do not care for collectibles, the game still includes a plethora of optional tombs to plunder and side missions to complete, meaning that along with the main and ‘Baba Yaga’ campaigns, there is a considerable amount of content here.
As for the extras, players are most likely to run through ‘Blood Ties’ only once or twice, (depending on whether you have a shiny new PSVR), while ‘Lara’s Nightmare’ has limited appeal, and co-op Endurance mode, while great, may force you reconsider some long-standing friendships if you play it for too long. However, this all just icing…Wait, no, the DLC is the icing. This 20 Year Celebration is the cherry on an already delicious birthday cake for one of gaming’s most iconic, enduring, and beloved series. Happy Birthday, Lara! Here’s hoping you don’t have to reinvent yourself again for your 30th anniversary!
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20th Celebration was reviewed on PS4/ PS4 Pro with a copy provided by the publisher.
Publisher: Square Enix | Developer: Crystal Dynamics | Genre: Action/Adventure | Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One | PEGI/ESRB: 18+/M | Release Date: October 11,2016